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Thrift and Thumping 

An afternoon with Cleveland's next best hope for a champion

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"It was a football game or something. My buddy got me good, real good," he says. "I got my licks in a few years later. But I'm not a fighter. The last time I fought was like when I was 12. I'm a passive guy. I try to avoid arguments. If you piss me off, I'll get fired up, but that's not really me."

Which is why the excessively violent career in the octagon is incongruous. Miocic has a beaming, ever-present smile. As a punchline to nearly every funny story, he contorts his lips into a stone-faced grimace as if he's angry. His underlying smile shines through, as do his soft eyes, revealing his jovial nature. It's all hijinks and jokes between him and the firehouse guys — not to mention his friends, his girlfriend, his coach, and fellow fighters. It's all fun.

No one likes getting punched, and Miocic is no exception. But even his worst moments on the receiving end aren't that bad.

"I really got clocked in my second pro fight," he says. "It wasn't that I was hurt. It was just that he caught me off-guard. In my head, I was just like, 'Whoa, I should keep my hands up.' With heavyweights, all it takes is just one punch. In one fight, this guy caught me and I kind of breakdanced across the ring, kind of slipping. It didn't really get me, but all I could think was, 'This probably looks really bad on national TV.'"

Miocic's mom wouldn't have seen that. She doesn't watch: supportive, but always worried, and not inclined to watch her son pummel and get pummeled.

"She saw one fight after the fact," he says. "The neighbor had taped it and told her it was OK to watch it because it only lasted 43 seconds. And I never do this, but that time I did the whole, 'I love you, Mom!' thing after the fight. She was crying afterward. But she just waits for the phone call, from me or someone else, to tell her I won and everything's OK. She's so proud. I call her first thing after each and every fight. Sometimes she'll be like, 'How's the other guy?' And I'll be like, 'I'm fine Mom, thanks. And the other guy is fine too.'"

He's got more family scattered across the area; his dad is back in Croatia. When Miocic travels to England, his father will be there in person. And all his friends will be there virtually, blowing up his cellphone one way or the other.

He tries to get back to everyone, and usually does, but after his fight in Vegas in May in front of 15,000 people — which he calls the best experience of his life — more than 250 messages of congratulations poured in, slowly killing his phone in the process. Back in the hotel room, Miocic was far too tired to deal with the onslaught and gave up replying halfway through. He'd also taken two Percocets, something he usually doesn't do, and was in the midst of dry heaving thanks to taking the painkillers on an empty stomach. The next week back in Cleveland, the recuperation would be all natural, but slow.

"The first night back, we went to Shooters with my girlfriend and coach and some people," says Miocic. "I went up to go to the bathroom, and it took me like 20 minutes hobbling up the stairs. I slept a lot that week and basically shut down."

Then it was back to Strong Style, the Independence gym where he trains, and the firehouse. Along with the routine have come some press, more attention, and a little more recognition around town.

"People are real nice," says the up-and-comer. "They just come up, shake my hand, and say, 'Good fight, man,' and leave me alone."

It's also brought another shot at moving up the ladder.

"It's been fun," says Miocic. "And when it stops being fun, I'll be done. But even then, being at the gym with the guys and training, that's all fun too. 'It's been a fun journey so far,' is what my coach says. 'A great journey, but it's not done yet.'"

Bigger paydays await, and Miocic had planned on waiting until after his fight in September to make any "big" purchases; until now, the biggest thing he'd splurged on was a new Mac computer. But he recently stumbled on a house in Parma and got a good deal. After 15 minutes of filling out paperwork and nervously pondering what he had just done, he finally calmed down, assured that he could not only afford his mortgage, but could probably pay off the whole thing at once. He'll move in next month, which means there are things to be bought and only one place to go.

"I was at T.J. Maxx shopping with my girlfriend," he says. "They have the bed and bath section, you know? And I was looking at these things like, 'Oh my God, look at this. Look at this. And look at this.' And she just shook her head. She's like, 'This doesn't match this, and this doesn't match that.' Just stuff I would never have thought of. And I wanted these towels, and she was like, 'You have neutral colors. You can't get that.'

"Maybe I'll just have a bed and TV," he says. "Get a table and dishes. It'll be OK. I'm just really lucky."

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