Editor's note: Stipe Miocic defeated Daniel Cormier by TKO at UFC 241 to reclaim his title as UFC heavyweight champion.
VALLEY VIEW, OHIO -- Stipe Miocic gets out of his Dodge Rebel pickup, opens the truck's backdoor to grab a black UFC duffel bag and slings it over his left shoulder.
It's 7:16 a.m. in this Cleveland suburb. The sun is barely up, with another muggy July day expected. Miocic opens the side door of the Valley View Fire Department station house and makes his way in. The lights are dim inside.
In three weeks, Miocic will fight Daniel Cormier for the UFC heavyweight title in front of a sold-out crowd. He's part of the main event of UFC 241 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California. But today? He's a firefighter and paramedic arriving for a 24-hour shift.
Inside the house, the firefighters who worked overnight are beginning their day. "The Blind Side" plays on the television. Miocic goes into the adjacent room to change into his uniform: a navy blue T-shirt with the Valley View FD crest on the breast, black slacks and black boots.
The smell of pain-relief cream wafts in from the room where Miocic is changing. He says he's a bit "worn out." He has been in training camp for two months, juggling mixed martial arts training five or six days per week with three firehouse shifts per week. He trains sometimes twice daily, and those firehouse shifts are 12 or 24 hours apiece. This is his last one before he will celebrate his daughter Meelah's first birthday and start to focus full time on trying to reclaim the UFC title he lost to Cormier in July 2018.
Miocic's name is spelled incorrectly -- "Moicic" -- on his fire jacket, and he has never cared enough to get it changed. For the UFC, he's a headliner on the marquee, one of the greatest heavyweight champions of all time. At the station, spelling his name right isn't even a priority.
"No special treatment," veteran firefighter Duane Kattler says.
Miocic doesn't have to fight fires while pursuing his UFC career -- he chooses to. He identifies as much as a firefighter as he does an elite professional athlete, if not more.
In fact, Miocic, who began at the station 10 years ago, is trying to get hired full time with the Valley View Fire Department, which would nearly double his hours.
"I love what I do, man," Miocic says. "I work real hard here, and I love especially helping out people. Why would I give it up? Plus, it keeps my mind off MMA."
IT'S 7:30 A.M. sharp, the start of a new shift. Miocic heads to the garage for the morning truck check. He grabs a tablet from the adjacent office and goes down the digital list of things that need to be inspected: supplies, monitors, portable radios, oxygen, oil.
At 8:04 a.m., he goes to his locker in a room off the garage. Inside are all the usual things, such as gear and family photos, as well as something completely unexpected: a still-boxed action figure of UFC fighter Junior dos Santos. The other firefighters gave it to Miocic as a joke after he lost to dos Santos in 2014. The firehouse can be ruthless. The men will pick at any perceived vulnerability with jokes and pranks -- all in good fun, of course.
On TV, Miocic is one of the baddest men on the planet, appearing in nationally circulated Modelo commercials. Here? He's just one of the guys.
"If we're not f---ing with you, we don't like you," firefighter Jeff Satow says.
Miocic says the friendly hazing went up "tenfold" after he won the UFC heavyweight title by knocking out Fabricio Werdum in 2016. On his first day back, the other firefighters at Valley View made Miocic clean the bathroom -- toilets, showers and all -- while wearing the belt. There was also a bet made that if Miocic went outside and stood waving to passersby with the belt around his waist, no one would pull over and ask for a picture or autograph. After a few humiliating hours, Miocic won the bet.
"I can't be a baby about it," he says. "You give them one inch, they'll take a mile."
A CALL COMES over the speaker at 9:37 a.m., but it's not for Valley View. A man fell and hit his head, and an ambulance is needed in Cuyahoga Heights. The firefighters listen, and once they realize they won't be needed, they go back to milling around the kitchen and television room, cracking wise and telling stories.
Miocic has battled countless fires, seen multiple dead bodies and saved quite a few overdose victims in 10 years on the job.
When he started, a man dropped a candle while he was stuck in a crawlspace, igniting a fire. Miocic and the rest of the team had to pull him out. The man survived but was badly burned.
"His hands and feet were blistered up," Miocic says. "It was disgusting."
Miocic says he sees a dead body "a few times a year." It's a little easier to deal with when it's an older person, he says, but "intense" when it's someone young, which has not happened frequently. A common call is for drug overdoses. Miocic says every time he has gotten one of those calls, he has been able to revive the victim with Narcan, the opioid reversal medication.
"The bad part about that is once you get them back, they try to fight you," he says. "Sometimes they come swinging."
Only once, Miocic says, was he harmed on a call. The firefighters were sent out at 5 a.m. to a man's home after he "did a little too much partying." The guy was messing around with the ambulance door, he yanked on it, and the door hit Miocic in the face. Little did the inebriated fellow know he socked one of the most dangerous men on the planet.
"I started turning green," Miocic says. "[Valley View fire chief] Kenny [Papesh] was like, 'Easy, guy.' It was an accident. He didn't mean to do it. I calmed down."
MIOCIC FINISHES LUNCH after 1 p.m. and settles in to watch some of the Cleveland Indians' game against the Kansas City Royals. Miocic, a former college baseball player, is a huge Cleveland sports fan. The Cavaliers won the NBA title one day after his wedding, and Miocic says it is still "probably the best week of my life."
He's a regular at FirstEnergy Stadium for Browns games, though he felt awkward at first about taking advantage of his celebrity status and asking for tickets.
Miocic is the kind of guy who tips bartenders and servers more than 20% and brags about his 4.97 Uber rating.
"I take huge pride in that," he says.
Satow says it almost seems ridiculous to think that the Miocic from the firehouse is the same guy who climbs into the Octagon a few times a year.
"Since I first met him 10 years ago, he's always laughing and joking," Satow says. "You're like, this is the guy that gets into the ring and beats the s--- out of people? He's the nicest guy in the world. My daughter loves him. She bought him a Christmas gift last year."
At 6:45 p.m., Satow's wife, Rochelle, comes by with their 6-year-old daughter, Savannah. The affable, sometimes goofy Miocic is the center of attention. Savannah has just started training in Brazilian jiu-jitsu at Miocic's Strong Style gym in nearby Independence, Ohio.
Miocic loves kids. He dotes on Meelah over FaceTime several times over the course of his shift. His wife, Ryan, was pregnant with Meelah through Miocic's training camp for his previous Cormier fight and gave birth just days after the bout.
"As much as I said I wasn't, I was stressed about it," Miocic says. "It was definitely on my mind."
THE FIREFIGHTERS SPEND the evening playing cornhole outside the garage. The shift changes at 7:30 p.m. A couple of firefighters leave and a few more arrive.
Valley View has not received a call all day. It's a quiet summer Sunday in the town of about 2,000. The workweek, when thousands more enter for jobs at factories and other businesses, is much busier.
The night winds down. Miocic makes a bed but is not much of a sleeper. His brain is always active, whether he's on his phone, watching TV or playing video games. Call of Duty is his game of choice, and he frequently plays online with close friend and UFC fighter Gian Villante. When Miocic encounters someone he doesn't know online or in real life, he almost never tells them he's a UFC fighter.
"I just tell people I'm a firefighter," Miocic says. "I'm not looking for any acknowledgement. A lot of people still don't understand the sport. They're still learning."
Miocic spends more time working at a "normal job" than just about any other UFC fighter at his level. But he says he's working just as hard as everyone else in the gym and is not concerned with what his opponent has going on.
"I work my ass off," he says. "I'm focused. But also, you've gotta live your life. I'm not gonna sit there and worry about someone else. I worry about what I'm doing."
DARK TURNS TO light, and the process begins anew. Firefighters starting their shifts begin trickling in at 7 a.m. It's Monday morning, and Papesh, the chief, arrives for the workweek.
This is Miocic's final shift before his big title fight, and Cormier's name is mentioned by another firefighter. It's a dirty word at Valley View. Last year, Cormier came by the station and hung out with the guys in his job as a UFC analyst on the show "In the Clinch." This was before Miocic and Cormier were booked to fight, when Cormier was the light heavyweight champion and Miocic held the heavyweight belt.
"Cormier was all deferential to Stipe," Papesh says. "He came into our house and said he wasn't going to go up to heavyweight. Now, he's talking all that s---. He's not allowed back. He's not welcome at Valley View Fire Department anymore."
Cormier knocked out Miocic in July 2018, but it's what he has said since -- that Miocic wasn't deserving of a rematch -- that has ruffled feathers.
"It's brothers here," Miocic says. "You take one out, you f--- with all of them. He beat me. Whatever. We're not talking about that, but the s--- he's saying, I don't know. Like I'm entitled to something. Whatever. It is what it is. They have my back no matter what. Win or lose, they have my back."
There was a time when Miocic and Cormier were friendly, on texting terms. No longer. There is bitterness on Miocic's side, especially due to the fact that Cormier was trying to fight Brock Lesnar, who failed a drug test after UFC 200, rather than Miocic. Lesnar decided to stay in WWE, so Miocic got the spot.
"They'll find out how good I really am," Miocic says. "He was looking for an easy fight. That's what he was looking for. What are you gonna do? He tells me I should get another fight before I fight him, but you're the one that's trying to fight a dude that hasn't fought in three years and got popped for a bunch of steroids?
"I just know I'm a better fighter than he is. I'm just gonna go out there, beat his ass and get my belt back. It's not even about the belt. It's about the principle now."
Miocic's shift is supposed to be over at 7:30 a.m., but two firefighters aren't able to come in. So Miocic is back doing truck checks, just like he did 24 hours earlier. No special treatment.
"I'm buying a house today," he says. "I was gonna train twice today. It's always something with me -- whatever."
Miocic finally gets the OK to leave. He FaceTimes Ryan at 8:48 a.m. to tell her he has to go straight to the gym to train. He has been at the station for nearly 26 hours.
Just as he is walking out the door at 9 a.m., UFC bag slung over his shoulder, a call finally comes in over the speaker. There's a kitchen fire at a home in Valley View. The alarm sounds. Miocic shrugs his shoulders. The five firefighters on duty get ready to go.
Had it come while he was still on, Miocic would have gladly jumped in the engine and ridden out. Less than 30 days before he tries to win back the UFC belt? No matter.
"I love it," Miocic says. "It makes my mom proud of me. I made something of my life."