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UFC 146:

Firefighter, former college athlete Stipe Miocic making his mark in the UFC

Once reluctant to try mixed martial arts, Miocic on the verge of stardom

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Leila Navidi

Heavyweight fighter Stipe Miocic laughs during the press conference for UFC 146 in the lobby of the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on Thursday, May 24, 2012.

UFC 146 Press Conference

Fighter Junior Dos Santos, left, and fighter Frank Mir, right, speak to the media with commentator Jon Anik, center, during the press conference for UFC 146 in the lobby of the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on Thursday, May 24, 2012. Launch slideshow »

UFC 146 Workouts

Roy Nelson of Las Vegas talks to reporters during workouts for UFC 146 at the MGM Grand Wednesday, May 23, 2012.  UFC 146: Launch slideshow »

Getting punched in the face, Stipe Miocic will say succinctly, was never his thing.

The former two-sport Division-I athlete would lend a hand to professional fighters in the Cleveland area looking for help with their wrestling, but he wasn’t seeking a career in mixed martial arts.

“My coaches were like, ‘You’re going to fight,’” Miocic said. “I was like, ‘Eh, we’ll see.’”

Miocic looked at training in the gym more as a way of staying in shape not something to interfere with his job as a firefighter and paramedic. But as Miocic started to surpass the professionals he trained with, it became inevitable.

Miocic gave fighting a chance. It’s proven to be the right decision, as the 29-year old Miocic (8-0 MMA, 2-0 UFC) is arguably the top prospect in the UFC heavyweight division. He has an opportunity to further move himself up the rankings with a bout against fellow undefeated fighter Shane del Rosario (11-0 MMA, 0-0 UFC) on the main card of UFC 146 Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

“I was just having fun with it,” Miocic said, “but from Day 1, I took it very seriously.”

Miocic couldn’t help it in that regard. It’s in his nature to put everything into any sporting endeavor he tries.

A three-sport athlete in high school, Miocic only dropped one game — football — in college at Cleveland State. When wrestling season ended, Miocic would go from rolling around on the mats to rounding the bases on the diamond.

He was a third baseman with Major League baseball aspirations. It took a while for Miocic to realize that wrestling was the sport with the ability to catapult him into life as a professional athlete.

“I was actually helping a guy out, wrestling with him, and I just never left the gym,” Miocic said. “MMA was like wrestling; I love competition.”

Before he turned professional in MMA, however, Miocic had to give one more sport a chance. He tried boxing, advancing to the national quarterfinals of the 2009 Golden Gloves tournament.

But that experience ended up reinforcing the idea that he wanted to try MMA full-time. Miocic finished his first six opponents with strikes in an average of six minutes.

The UFC came calling a year and a half into his tear on the regional circuit and offered a contract. Miocic responded by winning a unanimous decision over Joey Beltran in UFC 136 and knocking out Philip De Fries in 43 seconds in UFC on FUEL TV 1.

He got the nod as a late replacement at UFC 146 after del Rosario’s original opponent, former top contender Gabriel Gonzaga, suffered an injury.

“People asked if this is going to be an easier fight,” del Rosario said. “Even though Gonzaga is a bigger name and he’s a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Stipe is younger and more hungry. He’s undefeated. We’re both trying to make a name for ourselves.”

Del Rosario predicted the bout to win Fight of the Night. That honor would win the fighters a bonus of at least $65,000.

In other words, Miocic is getting to a point in the UFC where most fighters would quit their day jobs. But he’s not interested.

He only works part-time as a firefighter and paramedic — albeit at two different stations — and has settled into a routine.

“I can pick my shifts, which is great,” Miocic said. “During a night shift, I’ll work out twice during the day. If I have to work during the day, I usually have guys at the station who will work out with me. Then at night, I’ll go train.”

His extensive athletic background shows Miocic as someone who likes to keep occupied.

Fighting and working can coexist for now.

“It’s like a big playground,” Miocic said. “There’s always something fun to do.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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