Reigning UFC champion Stipe Miocic watches Browns game in Kent


UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic stands with a fan in Water Street Tavern while the national anthem played before the Cleveland Browns game on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017.

Cameron Hoover

As the Kent Browns Backers huddled around television sets ravenously cheering on their Cleveland Browns Sunday afternoon, one larger-than-life figure seemed to blend right in.

Reigning UFC Heavyweight Champion Stipe Miocic maneuvered through the crowd, posing for pictures for fans with his championship belt and signing autographs for all who approached.

The 6-foot-4-inch, 246-pound Miocic stuck out in the crowd for his intimidating stature, but quickly began to look like any other Browns fan once the game started. A self-diagnosed “die-hard fan,” Miocic intently watched the game, clapping when the Browns picked up a first down and audibly groaning when they did not.

As the first quarter was underway, Miocic allowed himself a glimmer of hope despite acknowledging the Browns’ winless record.

“They’re doing all right,” said Miocic, who hails from Euclid, Ohio, about 15 minutes from FirstEnergy Stadium, home of the Browns, said. “They’re 0-2, but we’re definitely improved from last year. Coach (Hue) Jackson has a great philosophy. Rome wasn’t built in a day. They’re making strides.”

Miocic is the second high-profile athlete to visit the Kent Browns Backers this season. The group was designed to help raise funds through local charities while getting together every weekend to enjoy the camaraderie associated with being a Browns fan.

“People think that we’re just a group that gets together and drinks and has a good time,” said Steve Kraska, the secretary of Kent Browns Backers. “We like to do that, too, but our organization  — just here in Kent — has raised over $30,000.”

Among the list of donation recipients listed on the Kent Browns Backers’ website are the Cleveland Browns Foundation, Big Brothers & Sisters of Portage County, Akron Children’s Hospital and more.

“People don’t realize the undertones,” Kraska said. “But hey, come out here and have a good time. It’s all for a good cause.”

Even after the game started, Miocic gladly signed autographs and took pictures with anyone who approached his table. Mike Beder, the owner of Water Street Tavern, lauded Miocic for his kindness and energy throughout the event.

“I’ve met lots of professional athletes over the years, and I don’t think I’ve ever met a nicer one than Stipe,” Beder said. “I think since people see that he’s a heavyweight UFC champ, they view him as a tough guy, which he is, but there’s no one more polite, friendly and down-to-earth. He deserves all the success he’s getting.”

Kraska said Miocic’s appearance means a great deal to the Kent Browns Backers organization as a whole.

“What’s great is that we have a great host here at Water Street,” Kraska said. “You walk around and you can see it’s packed and everyone is having a blast. All of the appearances love it. They come back year after year, so it’s great for us.”

Miocic said even though he doesn’t get to visit the area as much as he did when he was in college, he still loves coming to Kent.

“This is my second year coming here to Water Street,” Miocic said. “I love it here. The people are great here. I came here with my friends, and we came back. We’ve had an amazing time. It’s a great city.”

Miocic hasn’t fought since May 13, when he beat Junior Dos Santos by technical knockout two minutes and 22 seconds into the first round of UFC 211. Miocic said he’s been biding his time waiting for his next fight to come by “being regular, hanging out with friends and family, cutting the grass, doing yard work.”

Miocic said he plans to fight again early next year.

Cameron Hoover is a sports reporter. Contact him at [email protected].