Cleveland sports fans are passionate about the teams they support, and that passion extends to fellow athletes from other sports, as the Browns found out on Wednesday.
During the day, the Browns welcomed to their Berea training facility a pair of Cleveland natives and Ultimate Fighting Championship mixed martial artists, Stipe Miocic and Jessica Eye, who were accompanied on the visit by UFC Hall of Famer Matt Hughes.
“I’ve always been a hometown supporter,” said Eye. “I love the Cavs. I loved the Lumberjacks when they were here. I will do anything to help my hometown team get the recognition that they deserve.”
Miocic added, “It’s awesome. They’ve got a lot of pretty cool stuff here. I’m impressed with what they do. They are really nice guys, and big boys. It’s amazing how fast they are on the field. My mom’s a real big Browns fan. When we watched the games, she’d pretty much tell me to shut up until the commercial.”
“I was able to sign my UFC contract actually in the Browns’ stadium on the field,” Eye said. “It gives the NFL fans a chance to see a whole different sport, that there’s MMA and there’s this girl that is repping them.
“I like being able to represent Cleveland because we’ve got die-hard fans and they want to see a successful person. Even if they’re not successful, I love the fact that they still stand behind them. They’ve always proven that they care about the individual and care about the sport. If it’s win, lose or draw, they have their backs. I want to give them that assurance, like, ‘Holy crap, we have a champion here in Cleveland.’”
During the visit to the training facility, Miocic quickly realized the similarities between how football players and mixed martial artists train for competition.
“It’s a lot of technique,” Miocic said. “Some guys have tendencies. You’ve got to figure those tendencies out. You’ve got to watch film of the guy. It’s about you and implementing your game plan.”
Hughes, who retired from competitive MMA after posting a 45-9 record and holding the UFC welterweight championship on nine separate occasions, particularly enjoyed interacting with the Browns’ strength-and-conditioning department and learning how they educate players on proper nutrition.
“I love coming to a place like this just because I can soak some stuff up, and even though I’m retired now, I can pass it on to the younger kids,” said Hughes, who now works in the UFC’s athletic development department.
Miocic is the No. 9 ranked heavyweight in the UFC, and is 10-1 overall after defeating former heavyweight title contender Roy Nelson via unanimous decision back in June. He is 4-1 in the UFC and is no stranger to winning, as he claimed the North American Allied Fight Series (NAAFS) heavyweight championship back in June of 2011.
Eye is 11-1 in her six-year MMA career, and earned a split decision victory over Sarah Kaufman in her UFC debut on Oct. 19, 2013.
Having grown up in Northeast Ohio, both fighters know how passionate sports fans are in Cleveland. And that is why they would love to bring the UFC to their hometown and fight in front of Browns fans, particularly if there were championships on the line.
“It’d be amazing,” Miocic said. “It’d be awesome. If Jessica fought too, we’d rock the house. Cleveland deserves a title, 100 percent.”
Eye added, “To be a champion, and fight here in Cleveland, I would set this town fire,” Eye said. “I know I could, and it wouldn’t be just for me. It would be for everybody. It would be for the whole town to enjoy, for the people around to enjoy it with me.”