Stipe Miocic typically spends most of his time caring for others. This week, that’s never been more true.
As he prepares for a record fourth defense of his UFC heavyweight belt Saturday in the main event of UFC 226 against light-heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier, Miocic is doing his best to conquer apprehension as his pregnant wife outside Cleveland expects a baby girl any day.
“I’m going to do my best not to worry about it,” Miocic (18-2) explains.
But how can that be?
This is both a doting son so thoughtful of his mother, Kathy, that she receives the first phone call he makes after every fight, and a citizen so committed to helping neighbors that he serves as a part-time fireman even as his richest purse arrives Saturday night.
“That’s who he is, how he was raised, and that’s what keeps him balanced and motivates his fight experience,” Miocic’s manager, Jim Walter, said.
Hearing that, Steve Kinas, Miocic’s close friend and grappling coach, said, “He’s a people pleaser. As long as I’ve known him, there’s not a time he doesn’t try to please everyone around him. He goes out of his way to help people every single place he goes.”
Las Vegas oddsmakers have Cormier (20-1) listed as just more than a 2-1 underdog, but Miocic, 35, isn’t feeling the public’s confidence that he can retain his belt.
“He’s not going to be walking out with two belts,” Miocic said. “[Detractors] come at me with something, then I have to come back. I don’t have time for that stuff. I’m waiting for a baby, anyway.”
Cormier, 39, the former Strikeforce heavyweight champion, is quick to point out he has never lost a heavyweight fight, dating to his wrestling days, and Miocic credits his foe’s experience.
“He’s fought great guys,” Miocic said, “Great wrestler, comes from a great gym, the guy brings it.
“But I’m a different breed.”
Miocic showed that in the octagon in January when the UFC assigned him destructive puncher Francis Ngannou, and Miocic endured a pressurized first round before wearing down the challenger on the canvas to emerge with a unanimous-decision victory.
“Ngannou was tough. They hyped him up — a wrecking machine who throws heavier than a [fast-moving] Ford Escort. … I’m like, ‘Well, I work hard too,’” Miocic said.
“It wasn’t fun. I had a shiner, him throwing bombs like that, bobbing and weaving. It was tough. Then people say I was gassing … you try to stop that! You try to hold down a guy 30 pounds heavier than you.”
Two days before fighting Ngannou, UFC officials broached the idea to Miocic of taking a victory and participating on the reality television series “The Ultimate Fighter” with Cormier as they headed to the firstsuper-fight of champions since featherweight champion Conor McGregor knocked out lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez in November 2016.
Instead of quickly accepting, Miocic checked with his wife, Ryan, to see how she’d respond to his extended absences caused by training commitments and a fight date near the due date.
“She was the pregnant one, taking care of the dogs,” Miocic said. “It’s tough not being there, not going to the ultrasound, a child growing inside her, going to the doctors alone.
“My wife’s a tough cookie, though, captain of the ship. It would take me a while to get over not being there,” if the baby is born this fight week, “but I’m doing this for my family.”
The riches will be nice and launch Miocic into position to take on former champions Brock Lesnar or Jon Jones or a slew of upcoming contenders later this year. Still, the champion says he will remain true to his firefighting shifts.
“I love helping people. My whole life, I’ve been helped too. It’s my way of giving back,” he said. “People go through rough times. I had rough times. I used to work at a bar and trained, and then I took a year off for paramedics school. I stopped training for a whole year.