After defeating Shane Del Rosario at UFC 146 for his biggest victory to date, Stipe Miocic said he wasn't going to quit his day job as a firefighter and emergency medical technician in suburban Cleveland.
But as recently as last Friday night, Miocic was hard at work at his other job. The way Miocic sees it, keeping true to his working-class roots helps him keep a level head on his shoulders as he ascends the UFC ladder.
"My day job keeps me grounded," Miocic said in a Thursday telephone interview from Nottingham. "When I show up to work, I'm not some star fighter or anything, I'm just Stipe. I'm going to keep working in my hometown as long as I can."
Miocic's humble attitude goes a long way toward explaining how he's managed to come along as far as he has in a relatively short period of time. His UFC main event comes a week shy of a year after his UFC debut, a victory over Joey Beltran at UFC 136.
A solid all-around athlete, Miocic, a former Golden Glove boxing champ, wrestled and played baseball at Cleveland State University, where he was at one point roommates with former UFC fighter Gerald Harris. After college, Miocic's competitive fires were mainly kept alive by playing in local summer baseball leagues. At least until he he was asked to put his wrestling knowledge to work by training with veteran Dan Bobish.
"I worked with him and then I basically never left," said Miocic. "I loved it."
And it didn't take him long to realize that he had a knack for this mixed martial arts thing.
"I trained for about a year before I had my first amateur fight," Miocic said. "I won by knockout and then for my second fight, the guy didn't even show up. I'm thinking, ‘Hmm, maybe I'm cut out for this if they're afraid to even show up.' But with the guy not showing up it ended up being another year between amateur fights, so it might look like overnight success but it wasn't. I put in my time."
Six straight stoppage wins on the local circuit put Miocic on the UFC's radar, and since his company debut, he's cleared every hurdle the company has put in his path, from winning his debut fight with Beltran without any sign of "Octagon jitters" to finishing Phil DeFries in his first live cable fight to stepping up and taking a main-card PPV bout with Del Rosario and winning at UFC 146.
Miocic simply attributes the rise to his gym, Strong Style, where he works with the likes of former UFC fighter Forrest Petz.
"I've got a great team around me," Miocic said. "They keep me working hard, they keep me focused."
Struve represents, both literally and figuratively, Miocic's biggest challenge to date. With 29 pro fights and eight UFC victories under his belt, the 24-year old Netherlands native is by far his most experienced foe. And, to state the obvious, Miocic has never fought someone remotely close to the 6-foot-11 Struve's height and reach.
To that end, Miocic recruited 6-foot-8 former UFC heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia for training sessions which benefited both fighters.
"Tim had his short-notice fight with Andrei Arlovski coming up, and Andrei and I are both 6-foot-4," Miocic said. "So the height thing worked both ways, he came down and really helped me prepare for a bigger fighter."
Stylistically, pairing Struve with Miocic seems an obvious challenge to Struve (24-5) from the UFC brass. All three of Struve's UFC losses have come by way of knockout, and in Miocic, he's being placed with a fighter with seven knockouts and TKOs among his nine wins.
"I want to show everyone what I can do on my feet," Struve said. "I want to show everyone I know how to make use of my reach advantage and that I have finishing power."
Appraised of Struve's comments, Miocic left the fans with a prediction: "If that's case, expect fireworks on Saturday."