A heavy thud could be heard stage side each time UFC Heavyweight Champion and Cleveland native Stipe Miocic landed a punch against his trainer’s padded gloves. He moved with a beat and occasionally stopped his short workout to relish in the cheers of his fans.
Miocic, 34, sparred for about 15 minutes and was one of a handful of fighters who participated in open workouts Wednesday under a white tent at Quicken Loans Arena. On Saturday, Miocic will defend his title against Alistair Overeem in UFC 203.
PHOTO GALLERY | Wednesday's UFC open practice
The 6-foot-4, 245 pound fighter appeared to be poised and focused as he spoke to a crowd of reporters. He said he was confident and was not worried about critical comments Overeem made about Miocic’s lifestyle and relaxed disposition after winning the championship.
Overeem, the first fighter to workout during Wednesday’s open training session, told reporters he would win by knockout in the second or third round. Overeem, 36, has won his last four fights – three by either TKO or knockout and another by a unanimous decision.
“It’s business,” Miocic said to a handful of reporters, cameras and smartphones. “I’m going to go in there and do my job. I’ve trained so hard. I’ve trained too hard to give it up.”
Saturday’s fight gives Miocic hometown advantage. He is an Oakwood and Valley View firefighter and trains out of Independence.
The UFC event, headlined by Miocic and Overeem’s fight, is being held in Cleveland for the first time. The magnitude of UFC’s presence shows Cleveland, a city that was catapulted into the national spotlight after the Cavaliers won the NBA Championship and the Republican National Convention flooded the city in July, is on its way to becoming a major player in sought after cities that appeal to blockbuster events. The pay-per-view event is nearly sold out and fans showed up under the sun’s heat to watch the workouts. The crowd was sparse, but the enthusiasm and trash talk was not.
— NewsChannel 5 (@WEWS) September 7, 2016
“UFC has never been here,” said James Wren, 28, a native of Cleveland. “It has never been in Cleveland, so just to get a chance to kick it with the fighters and everything is just a once in a lifetime thing. It means a lot just to Cleveland and the economy to the city. It puts it on the map. When they broadcast it will show Cleveland; it’s so electric.”
Wren, 28, who attended the open workouts with his 2-year-old daughter Brooke and his cousin, Jamil Bloxon, said he’s been to a few fights in Las Vegas, but this one means so much more because it’s home. He plans to watch ringside with his dad.
Wednesday’s workout was one of several free events for the public in the days leading up to the fight.
Peter Friesen, 23, took off from his job at the Cleveland Clinic to attend the workout. He led a series of chants “Let’s go Stipe!” and “Stipe’s gonna get ‘em!” He said the cheers were all in fun, but he already knows the winner and will be at a watch party front and center.
“I’m a Clevelander,” he said. “Alistair is coming into enemy territory and take on the city, then he’s going to fight all of us then. I’m part of the fight.”
— NewsChannel 5 (@WEWS) September 7, 2016
Hallie Yavitch, who works for “The Q,” is responsible for booking events arena and worked closely with UFC, said the biggest problem in the past was scheduling a UFC event that did not conflict with Cavaliers games or any other local events requiring “The Q.”
“It’s been most of a problem to get a date, so we just got lucky quite honestly,” she said. “It’s really a good opportunity that worked out.”
Ohio Athletic Commission Executive Director Bernie Profato said UFC has held fights in Cincinnati and Columbus in years past. But this year is expected to be a game changer and a knockout because of the hometown fighters who are on the card.
Miocic is one of two fighters from Northeast Ohio entering the octagon on Saturday. Jessica Eye, a 30-year-old from Barberton, trains out of Cleveland and is on the card to fight earlier in the night.
“Local headlines, especially one that is well respected like Miocic would bring a crowd,” Profato said. “The people of Ohio support the event. There’s that following.”
In fact, Miocic has a large following. It is almost a given for a heavyweight champion that has won his last three fights by either TKOs or knockouts. Being home is a good thing, Miocic said, but he has not lost focus or become distracted by the hype or emotion.
“Nothing is going to get in the way,” said Miocic. “I’m going to win the fight and I’m going to still be the champ.”