Machine Gun Kelly has known Stipe Miocic for a long time, but he doesn't hesitate when asked about his favorite memory of their friendship. Two years ago at the House of Blues in Cleveland -- the city from which both the rapper and UFC heavyweight champion hail -- he had just finished a performance. While walking off the stage "an old acquaintance" got in his face and tried to start a fight.
That's when Miocic stepped in.
"Everyone saw it looked like it would break out into something," Machine Gun Kelly says. "You just saw the world champ come out of nowhere and step in like, 'Who's messing with my boy?' Stipe almost came in and had to clean the dude up.
"That's like Muhammad Ali coming up to James Brown when he's getting into it, and Ali being like, 'Are you good? You need me to take care of it?' It's the most infamous fighting hands in the world."
One thing that has bonded Machine Gun Kelly and Miocic is their mutual embrace of their ties to Cleveland.
"Cleveland!" he yelled. "We got a champion, baby!"
Miocic entered the Octagon that night in Brazil with Machine Gun Kelly's song "Till I Die," written about what it means to come from that part of Ohio. The lyrics inspired him ahead of the biggest bout of his career. Since that night, he has played it ahead of every title defense, winning all three fights -- against Alistair Overeem, Junior dos Santos and Francis Ngannou.
He doesn't consider it a coincidence.
"I was listening one day, thinking, 'This is a great song ... why don't I walk out to this?'" Miocic says. "That song gets me going. It gets me pumped up."
The fit between fighter and entrance song was no more evident than when Miocic defended his belt for the first time at UFC 203 in Cleveland. Nearly 19,000 fans got on their feet and cheered along from the moment the first beat of "Till I Die" came through the speakers and Miocic made his walk through the crowd.
"It was pretty sweet to see everyone singing it," Miocic said. "I got really emotional. You didn't see it, but I was juiced up. My hair was up on my arms. That whole atmosphere was amazing."
Four minutes and 27 seconds later, he knocked out Overeem in the first round.
Machine Gun Kelly could not be there that night, but he was in attendance at TD Garden in Boston for UFC 220 in January. Miocic was facing his toughest test yet, a five-round bout with Ngannou -- a fighter many consider one of the most dangerous heavyweights in UFC history.
One month prior, Ngannou landed a left uppercut on Overeem that sent him flying to the canvas. Ngannou added one more strike for good measure, but his opponent was out cold. That win propelled Ngannou into a title fight in which he was the betting favorite against Miocic despite being the challenger, and it secured his status as a rising star.
Once again, Miocic came out to "Till I Die." Machine Gun Kelly, sitting just a few rows from the cage, went crazy.
"I was losing my s---," he said.
Despite some early trouble, Miocic controlled the majority of the fight against Ngannou by taking him to the mat at will and beating him up on the ground. Miocic won by unanimous decision. Machine Gun Kelly said he and Miocic ordered Subway together after the win and took it easy because the fighter's "eye was swollen to the size of a baseball."
There won't be a Subway run this weekend in Las Vegas when Miocic defends his heavyweight title against Daniel Cormier at UFC 226, though.
"I let him chill after that UFC 220 fight because he put all of his energy into that one," Machine Gun Kelly says. "I think this one is going to be a breeze, and I'm not letting him stay in a hotel this time. I'm taking him out until the sun comes out. We're celebrating the Cleveland way."
The rapper mentioned how, coincidentally, "Till I Die" went platinum this week, with more than 1 million copies sold. As of Wednesday afternoon it has more than 85 million views on YouTube. Rewatching the music video recently, Machine Gun Kelly said, "Cleveland looks totally different now.
"A lot of those places aren't there anymore. A lot of those people aren't there anymore," he says. "It's crazy. I was looking the other day, and there are some friends in that video that are gone. Either in prison or dead. That song to me means a lot more than just a song."
It means a lot more than just a song to Miocic, as well. Winning in the Octagon isn't just for him -- it's for his family, friends and the people from Cleveland who need inspiration.
"I'll put it like this," Machine Gun Kelly says. "If we had a mathematician that blew up and won a Nobel Prize, I'd be happy, but seeing one of our boys just go out there and knock people the f--- out is the coolest thing ever to watch. That may just be the savage in me in the way I was raised, but there's something exciting about that.
"The strong survive. And our boy is the strongest."