The UFC is making its debut in Cleveland, Ohio in a big way. At the Quicken Loans Arena on Saturday night, heavyweight champion and Cleveland native Stipe Miocic makes his first title defense in front of the hometown crowd at UFC 203.
Miocic was the first man to bring a title to Cleveland in decades, winning the belt roughly a month before the Cleveland Cavaliers won their first NBA championship. Miocic celebrated his UFC title win by riding in the Cavaliers parade and he'll get to walk out at at the Arena before LeBron James and company as well, which is only fitting as the man responsible for ending the curse single-handedly.
It also is the debut of former WWE Superstar CM Punk, which is brings with it a set of wrestling fans and new eyes to the MMA world. The venue also holds significant meaning for Punk, who has joked that he is cursed in the building. Punk quit the WWE and had his infamous showdown with chairman Vince McMahon in Cleveland, leaving the company and driving west to his home in Chicago.
As Punk has pointed out, it's almost poetic that one career begins where another died. While he was one of the best wrestlers in the world, its known where he fits in the mixed martial arts realm. The UFC could've given him an easier opponent and a better chance at a win to begin building on his star power. Instead, he is getting a tough test against a younger, more experienced opponent.
Punk’s opponent is Mickey Gall, a brilliant self-promoter and businessman. In his professional debut at a regional show, UFC president Dana White was in attendance filming his show Lookin' For A Fight, and Gall seized the moment. He got his hands on a microphone and called out Punk, right in front of White. Gall knew they needed an opponent with a light record, and he had one. He also knew there was an opportunity, he threw his name in the proverbial ring when he had the chance and it has paid off for with a second fight in the UFC.
Clevelander Jessica Eye, on a three-fight losing streak, also is on the fight card. She has discussed in length about the turmoil in her personal life that has affected her career, and she feels comfortable saying those issues are in the past. After seeing Felice Herrig bounce back from issues in her personal life in front of her home crowd at UFC on FOX 20 in Chicago, Eye could follow suit.
Three Things You Need to Know
1. First UFC event in Cleveland
It is hard to believe that a major U.S. city with three professional sports franchises hasn't hosted a UFC event before, but the timing couldn't be better. A Cleveland native holding onto a UFC title, there’s reason for the crowd to get loud.
2. CM Punk's debut
It’s is obvious, but hard to ignore. The heavyweight division hasn't been necessarily the most appealing division to watch in the UFC, but Punk making his UFC debut on this card brings about a lot of intrigue. Fans will be tuning into watch to see him succeed or fail spectacularly.
3. Alistair Overeem's legacy
Overeem is a former Strikeforce Heavyweight Champion, DREAM Heavyweight Champion, and K-1 World Grand Prix Champion. He is also one of only two fighters to hold world titles in MMA and K-1 kickboxing at the same time. The one thing missing from his illustrious career is a UFC championship. It's hard to believe he hasn't even fought for the UFC title before, but he is deserving of this moment.
Reasons to Watch
- Stipe Miocic's hometown reception. You saw the parade, this could be bananas.
- Jessica Eye: Another Cleveland native, ready to end her losing streak.
- CM Punk’s debut (duh).
- Strawweight show down. Perhaps the most entertaining division.
- Can Alistair Overeem get it done?
- Will LeBron James or the any of the Cavaliers be there?
Fighter to Watch
- Mickey Gall - Talented prospect getting a shot at the spotlight courtesy of CM Punk, and is already prepared to call out the next fighter to help him climb the ladder.
Underdog of the Night
It is easy to say it's CM Punk. He has never fought in MMA at the amateur or professional level and is fighting a very skilled Mickey Gall who has years of experience on Punk despite being over a decade his junior.
But Jimmie Rivera could be the man to watch. He is fighting a legend in Urijah Faber, a man who just went five rounds with bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz. Rivera is 19-1, 3-0 in the UFC, and hasn't faced a test like Faber. While he is certainly an underdog, he could shock a lot of people on Saturday night.
Walk Out Music
While it is normally absurd to focus on walkout music at a UFC event in a preview, it is a talking point leading up to the fight. First, will CM Punk walk out to "Cult of Personality" like fans are familiar with from his time in the WWE? Punk has been coy about what music he will choose in the build up to his debut.
Also, Cleveland natives Stipe Miocic and Jessica Eye walk out to "Til I Die" a Cleveland anthem from local rapper Machine Gun Kelly. Eye actually had a version of the song recorded specifically for her, now that Miocic is the champ will he also have one? Machine Gun Kelly could be in attendance as well.
How to Watch
There are three portions to the card. The opening prelims have three fights and are aired exclusively on UFC Fight Pass, a streaming service and video library of UFC content that requires a monthly subscription.
The second preliminary card will be aired on Fox Sports 1 and features four bouts, headlined by Eye in a bantamweight bout with former title contender Bethe Correia.