Giving Cleveland a Fighting Chance

For the better part of 20 years and throughout my entire life, Cleveland sports have been the punch lines to endless jokes from media outlets, rival cities and sports fans alike. The unfortunate presence of what seems like countless heartbreaking losses across three sports (with each loss so momentous that it is precluded by “The”) terrorize the souls of Cleveland sports fans, who, to this day, hold out hope that something will change.

From “The Shot” to “The Drive” to the ‘The Fumble” to “The Decision;” in the end all of these terrible occurrences carry with them a few ingredients that ultimately create a poop sandwich that tastes like no other. On almost every Sunday in the fall, on Opening Day in the spring and three times a week throughout the winter months, Cleveland fans are treated to a new variety of disappointment that consistently tops the one before it.

That is, until now. The past 30 days in Cleveland sports have been a rollercoaster of ups and downs that included some disappointing news as well as some historic moments that could potentially reshape the Cleveland sports landscape.

The term “New Cleveland” has been a normal saying as of late. The thought that generations of sports fans have been completely lost over the past 30 years has become an unfortunate fact, which cannot be changed. The only thing to do is look forward. To look towards what can happen if we just change our attitude. What are the possibilities if we embrace the diehard fandom we lay claim to and turn it into something positive? What if we stop with the “woe is me” attitude and give ourselves a fighting chance?

Thankfully, there is one man who is doing that for us in a sport that has become extremely popular, and as of Saturday night, that man has put Cleveland back on the map.

Stipe Miocic is an extremely talented athlete who is currently on the rise in the heavyweight division of the extremely popular UFC. The UFC, which highlights the world’s most impressive mixed martial artists, has taken over the sports world and provided sports enthusiasts with a fun, new, and exciting way to watch prizefighting.

Miocic, who hails from Independence, Ohio, and wears the loyalty of a Clevelander on his sleeve, is currently riding a three-fight win streak with one loss to Stefan Struve in September 2012 that stopped a nine-fight win streak dating back to 2010. Miocic, a wrestler by trait, is also an impressive striker and former Golden Gloves Champion. His last three fights have been impressive displays against three of the top heavyweights in the UFC.

On Saturday night, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Miocic was awarded the chance to headline his first UFC card and was tasked with the uphill battle of fighting a highly talented Brazilian fighter, Junior Dos Santos, on his home turf. An unfortunate incident sidelined Dos Santos, so his fellow countryman, Fabio Maldonado, stepped into the cage to face off against the native Clevelander Miocic on short notice.

Leading up to the fight, Miocic was put through the normal media gauntlet, premiering on the UFC’s main media outlet, Fox Sports 1, and taking to Twitter to answer questions from his fans. During his interview on UFC Tonight this past week, the conversation quickly turned from Miocic’s approach in his upcoming fight to how he felt about the Browns’ new 1st round draft pick, Johnny Manziel, and the Cavaliers recent receipt of the NBA’s 1st overall pick in the upcoming NBA draft. Miocic, who is a diehard Browns and Cavaliers fan, was all smiles while he answered questions about his sports teams and again proved that Cleveland is currently the talk of the sports world.

Over the past 30 days, Cleveland sports have been on the rise. While the Cleveland Indians have been somewhat disappointing in the early part of the MLB season, the Browns had a phenomenal NFL draft, which saw them picking two star athletes in the first round, and the Cavs were granted the #1 pick in the upcoming draft after having only a 1.7% chance of receiving it.

There was only one thing left for the month of May that would cement a historic month for Cleveland. And that was Stipe Miocic pummeling Fabio Maldonado in Brazil to continue his reign of terror through the heavyweight division.

Miocic, who is currently ranked #7 in the heavyweight division, did just that on Saturday night. After a long night of UFC fights that spanned two countries and included more than twenty fights, Miocic faced off against Maldonado in front of an excited Brazilian crowd.

It took Miocic less than one minute in the first round to lay Maldonado out with a huge right hand straight to the side of Maldonado’s head. Maldonado, a decorated boxer, was able to fire off two good shots immediately after the opening bell that appeared to get Miocic’s attention. Miocic, who has shown an uncanny ability to stay calm when pressured, reset quickly, landed good combinations and showed the world why he should be feared. A few good jabs allowed Miocic to set the range and within seconds, Maldonado opened himself up to the vicious right hand that would eventually end his night entirely. After hitting the canvas Miocic immediately pounced on Maldonado and ended the fight with multiple hammer fists. While the Brazilian fans looked for the nearest exit, Clevelanders celebrated the end to an amazing month of May.

The recent run of positive occurrences that support the idea of “New Cleveland” extend to pop culture as well as sports..

Currently, in boxing, “Showtime” Shawn Porter reigns as the IBF Welterweight champion and is coming off a brutal beating of ring veteran Paulie Malignaggi. The victory was recognized as the “coming out party” for Porter and has put Porter in line for a potential matchup with Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao.

In the world of music, The Black Keys have released a new album and continue to be recognized as one of the top rock bands in the entire world and has secured three Grammy’s in 2011 and four in 2013.

Did I mention that Cleveland lays claim to Chef Michael Symon, a four-time winner of The Food Network South Beach Food and Wine Festival for best burger in the country, and current daytime talk show dynamo on the highly rated ABC’s “The Chew”? While that may not seem like a big deal for some, trust me, it is for us Clevelanders.

You may be asking yourself why we are talking about boxing, music and burgers in an article about an MMA fighter? The answer is simple. There is a trend. And the trend is pointing up. If you know a Clevelander, then you know what I am talking about. We are proud of where we are from, and while some of us may leave Cleveland to pursue careers and family, the bond of a Clevelander can never be broken.

And now, Stipe Miocic, a warrior who puts the city he loves on his back, shined on an international stage and made his presence known. On Saturday night, Miocic entered the ring to a song called “Demons,” which is written and recorded by rap artist and Cleveland native, Machine Gun Kelly. This is not surprising. Again, we always have each other’s backs.

As we enter the month of June, we as Clevelanders do it with our heads held high. We know things can change in an instant. We have been down that road many times. But for now we are embracing “New Cleveland” and all of the excitement that comes with it.

Who knows how the Indians will finish the baseball season, if the Cavaliers will make the right selection in the NBA draft, or if the Browns will truly take the next step to being a contender on Sundays. I don’t know the answer to any of those things. But I do know this. When Stipe Miocic enters the Octagon, there will be excitement. And alongside Miocic, all of Cleveland has a fighting chance.

When you roll with Cleveland, you do it to the fullest and you don’t waver…ever.

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