Once upon a time, Cleveland was a cursed sports city.

No baseball titles since the 1940s, no football titles since the NFL took its current form and no titles of any kind from either its basketball or short-lived hockey team.

Then came Stipe Miocic.

The native of nearby Euclid, Ohio — about 12 miles to the northeast — made a big impact on his home region on May 14, when he ventured to South America and returned with the UFC heavyweight crown.

“Cleveland, we’ve got a champion,” he shouted, moments after starching then-champ Fabricio Werdum with a single right hand in Round 1 of their bout in Curitiba, Brazil.

Just that quickly, everything else changed, too.

Miocic became a symbol of the city’s newfound competitive spirit, and was a big-screen fixture throughout a LeBron James-steered playoff run that yielded an NBA title 36 days later.

He’ll step out of the whirlwind on Saturday night when he heads back to Quicken Loans Arena — home of the Cavaliers, naturally — to make the first defense of his belt against No. 3-ranked Alistair Overeem atop the UFC 203 pay-per-view extravaganza.

And he insists he’ll be no worse for the celebrity wear.

“(Overeem will) find out Saturday whether I’ve been training or not — when he’s sleeping,” Miocic said. “I’ve been doing what I’m supposed to do. I’ve got obligations, but I’ve been training all the time. Everywhere I go I bring a coach with me. I’ve brought guys to spar with me.

“It’s business. I’m going to go out there and do my job. I’ve trained too hard to give up my title. Nothing has changed with my training except that I’m training harder than I ever have before.”

Overeem, meanwhile, has waited for a title nearly as long as the Cavs.

The 36-year-old has no less than 55 fights on a mixed martial arts resume dating back more than a decade, including Strikeforce and Dream championships and a first-round erasure of Brock Lesnar in his UFC debut in 2011.

miocic-overeem.jpgStipe Miocic and Alistair Overeem are ready to battle. Getty Images

Losses in three of his next four followed, though, and it took another four straight victories over 21 months since late 2014 to earn the shot at Miocic, whom he believes has spread himself too thin.

“It’s all about if he can stay focused,” Overeem said. “It’s all about how you deal with that. If you’re doing the appearances and the pool parties, and yes we’ve seen him at not one but several, he’s enjoying the life. It’s not a bad thing, but know someone is coming and they’re going to take that belt.”

The Miocic-Overeem matchup will top a five-bout, pay-per-view card that will go live at 10 p.m. ET.

Also on the main show are a heavyweight matchup between Werdum and Travis Browne, the long-awaited debut of former wrestler CM Punk against middleweight Mickey Gall, bantamweights Urijah Faber and Jimmie Rivera and women’s strawweights Jessica Andrade and Joanne Calderwood.

Fox Sports 1 will air a separate four-bout preliminary show that begins at 8 p.m. A UFC Fight Pass early prelims show includes two more bouts and airs at 7 p.m.

The newly-belted Miocic is a slight favorite in the main event. It’ll take a $140 wager to return a $100 profit on him, while a $100 outlay on Overeem would return $120 for an upset.

UFC 203 Main Card
Stipe Miocic, -140 (c)Alistair Overeem, +120Heavyweight
Fabricio Werdum, -200Travis Browne, +170Heavyweight
Mickey Gall, -450CM Punk, +350Welterweight
Jimmie Rivera, -125Urijah Faber, +105Bantamweight
Jessica Andrade, -145Joanne Calderwood, +125Women’s strawweight

Overeem, by the way, isn’t too concerned about the venom he’ll face along Lake Erie.

“I have had (dozens of) fights all around the world and I’ve seen it all,” he said. “Cleveland is nice, especially if you compare it to Russia and some of the places I’ve fought where everyone is cold and grumpy and all bundled up and they just hate you. That was hostile territory. This isn’t like that.

“This is the UFC. It’s Cleveland. It’s nice.”

How Miocic wins: The American was a decorated wrestler in college, but he’s earned his MMA chops based on what he can do with his fists. He’s especially heavy-handed with punches — as Werdum can testify — takes a strong shot and has an enviably large energy reserve for long fights. Whether he can hurt Overeem while avoiding the incoming KO shots will determine if he’s a one-and-done champ.

How Overeem wins: The blistering of Lesnar may have given Overeem a bloated sense of his power, but the subsequent three losses prompted a refinement of his game. He’s a more patient, calculated striker than the swarming Miocic, and, so long as he doesn’t get clipped with a crazy shot — a la Werdum — he’ll attempt to wear his man down with a prolonged series of powerful blows.

Prediction: Miocic enters as the champ, but the burden remains on him to seize control of the fight and dictate how it will be played out. The longer the two fighters are on their feet, the better it figures to look for the challenger — particularly if he’s able to play effective defense along the way and wear his man down with his hands.

The guess here is that Overeem will indeed take Miocic into deep waters and begin landing a bigger volume of meaningful shots in the fight’s second half. As the punishment mounts, look for him to register a belt-seizing stoppage in Round 4.

Source: CBS Sports Headlines / UFC 203 — Miocic vs. Overeem: Fight card, predictions, preview, odds, date