Editor's Note: This story initially ran ahead of UFC 220 in January.
In the heavyweight division, it only takes one punch to become champion. Stipe Miocic proved that in 2016 when his right hook knocked out Fabricio Werdum in front of more than 45,000 people in Curitiba, Brazil.
The scene was magical. Miocic immediately jumped over the cage and into the arms of his team. Moments later he was presented with the UFC's heavyweight title belt.
Miocic was on top of the world. And a few days later he was scrubbing toilets.
"That's the big one," says Jamie Meklemburg, a close friend and fellow firefighter in Cleveland. "We make sure that his first shift after his fights, he knows we're going to have him clean the toilets. He's tried to avoid it, but we save that for him."
When Miocic isn't the "baddest man on the planet," he works part-time at the Valley View Fire Department in Cleveland. This requires at least 12 hours a week devoted to everything from putting out fires to helping resuscitate someone who has gone unconscious. Less than two weeks away from arguably the biggest fight of his life -- a title bout against Francis Ngannou at UFC 220 in Boston on January 20 -- Miocic worked a shift from 7:30 p.m. until 7:30 a.m.
His primary task, according to Fire Chief Ken Papesh, is as a paramedic working on medical calls. When not doing this, he's helping to make sure equipment is working properly and ready to go when needed. "Unfortunately it seems like a more junior-level role," Papesh says, "But it's probably the most important role in the station."
Miocic first came into the station around 2010 after 18 months of school and eight weeks of training. His jovial personality stood out immediately, and since that time little has changed. "He's a goof," Papesh says. "He was as genuine as a guy then as is he now. All of this fame and celebrity, he is still the same guy that walked into the station and met me. He's salt of the earth."
Papesh has worked closely with him over the past eight years, but one story stands out.
Less than a year into Miocic's time as a firefighter, he responded to a call from a woman complaining about chest pain. He and another firefighter visited her at work to check on the situation, but when they reached the office she said she felt better and no longer needed to go to the hospital. Miocic would have none of it.
He convinced the woman to at least get it checked out. Miocic sat in the back of the ambulance with her on the way to the hospital -- and then she went into cardiac arrest.
"Stipe said her name and she didn't answer," Papesh says. "And he looked at the monitor and was like 'oh my gosh.' He started CPR on her and got the defibrillator and shocked her to get her back. She ended up having open heart surgery and was able to leave the hospital fully mentally and physically intact because of what he did."
Miocic quite possibly saved her life that day.
And while he has been an enormous help to the Valley View Fire Department over the years, he has occasionally done the opposite.
Meklemburg jokes that Miocic's increasing popularity since becoming the UFC's heavyweight champion has occasionally made routine jobs more difficult.
"People recognize him out, whether it's our patients or people near houses that are on fire or at the hospital," Meklemburg says. "It's not distracting, but there are times when people recognize him at the wrong time, where we're trying to accomplish something and people are milling about in the background while we have somebody who is in the middle of a heart attack. They are trying to come in and meet Stipe.
"We try to embarrass him as much as possible on calls. 'Look everyone, it's Stipe!' He is a giant child, so any time there are children around, he's like a magnet."
Miocic has also enjoyed the opportunity to bring joy to others. When Jacob Papesh, the Valley View fire chief's son, was nine years old, his teacher asked the class to present a project about a famous figure in Ohio history, living or deceased. Jacob chose his friend Stipe and planned on wearing a full UFC outfit that day. But rather than Jacob simply making a poster board about Miocic's accomplishments in the Octagon, Stipe went out of his way to give Jacob the UFC's heavyweight title belt.
"Before he has to go to school for this presentation, Stipe walks in and sets the belt on my desk," the elder Papesh says. "I go, 'what's this for?' He goes, 'for Jacob. He needs something to be me in school.' I say, 'Stipe, he's not taking the heavyweight champion's belt.' He said, 'yes he is, I'm letting him borrow it.'"
It's safe to say Jacob had the coolest project that day.
When Miocic attempts to defend that same belt this weekend against Ngannou, a group of his fellow firefighters will be in attendance at TD Garden Arena in Boston. Meklemburg knows of at least 25 people going this weekend to support him. They've traveled to all of his UFC fights, including a few who even went to Brazil to see him claim the title for the first time. Others who cannot make the trip gather at a local bar or in their homes to watch their friend compete.
The job on Saturday night won't be easy. Miocic faces a fighter who is objectively one of the scariest to ever fight in the UFC's heavyweight division. Ngannou's most recent bout -- against Alistair Overeem at UFC 218 -- ended in one of the most vicious knockouts ever. That's one of the reasons why Ngannou is the betting favorite heading into Saturday's heavyweight championship fight.
The men and women at Valley View Fire Department would have it no other way.
"I don't think I've ever seen him this focused. Make him the underdog every time. We've always said that. It flips a switch," Meklemburg says. "When he wins on January 20, he'll be the best heavyweight of all-time. But he also knows he has to do something after fighting. That's where this is. He has his foot in the door and is getting prepared for that next step."