Stipe Miocic, Daniel Cormier successfully defend titles
Daniel Cormier wears the belt after a win over Volkan Oezdemir in a light heavyweight championship mixed martial arts bout at UFC 220, Saturday, Jan. 20, 2018, in Boston. (AP Photo/Gregory Payan)
DAN GELSTON, AP Sports Writer
BOSTON (AP) — Stipe Miocic set the UFC heavyweight record with his third straight successful title defense, turning the anticipated slugfest against Francis Ngannou into a methodical ground-and-pound bout to win the main event of UFC 220 at TD Garden.
Miocic won 50-44 on all three scorecards early Sunday and was never seriously tested by the raw but unrefined Ngannou.
Miocic (18-2) and Ngannou (11-2) had UFC fans buzzing with perhaps the most-hyped heavyweight title bout since Brock Lesnar was the class of the division. Both fighters have a violent history of finishing off their foes within two rounds and Ngannou was coming off a nasty knockout win just seven weeks ago.
Both fighters were winded by the third round and Ngannou looked sleepy as he whiffed on a few blows in the fifth.
For a round, the fight seemed like it could reach epic slugfest proportions. Miocic and Ngannou tagged each other several times in the first, leaving each fighter staggered and seemingly on the brink of trouble.
"He's a tough dude. Caught me in the first round but I took control," Miocic said.
The fight never really picked up from there. Miocic spent the rest of the fight just banging away as Ngannou mostly covered up, hoping for one last desperate knockout punch.
He never found it.
"I think I underestimated (him) a little bit," said Ngannou, whose rise from homeless to heavyweight contender captivated a sport eager for a new star.
Miocic beat Fabrício Werdum to win the heavyweight title in May 2016, and followed with wins against Alistair Overeem, Junior dos Santos and now Ngannou to slug his way into the record book.
Miocic could lay claim as UFC's greatest heavyweight.
"I mean I'm not the scariest, but I'm the baddest," he said.
Daniel Cormier locked a choke hold on Volkan Oezdemir with such force that the crowd exploded when the horn sounded to end the first round, thinking the fight was over.
Oezedmir was saved by the bell briefly. But the inevitable defeat was just moments away.
With a Boston crowd roaring and chanting his intitials, Cormier put on a dominant effort that showed why he's the best active light heavyweight fighter in UFC and defeated Oezdemir via TKO to retain the 205-pound belt.
Cormier raised his hands in triumph as UFC President Dana White wrapped the title belt around his waist. He dropped to his knees on the canvas and said this fight was the validation he needed to prove he was worthy of being called champion.
Cormier was awarded the title after Jon Jones was stripped of his light heavyweight championship when he failed his latest doping test.
Cormier has lived in Jones' shadow for the last few years of his career.
But against Oezdemir, he proved worthy of the title.
Cormier nearly put away Oezdemir in the first until the bell ended the violent round. But Cormier pinned Oezdemir against the canvas early in the second and finished him off with a series of shots to the face.
"I've lost twice to Jon Jones," Cormier said. "I said coming in here that I felt like I was fighting for a vacant title again. I got the job done, so I'm the UFC champion again. I can't ignore what happened in July. I'm a competitor. Even though I came in here as a champ, I needed a win to feel like one."
UFC stripped Jones in September of its light heavyweight title for a third time and reinstated Cormier as the 205-pound champion after Jones' latest failed doping test. UFC made the call after the California State Athletic Commission changed the result of Jones' victory over Cormier at UFC 214 in July to a no-contest. Cormier had lost the belt to Jones in a third-round stoppage.
Jones' backup sample also failed a U.S. Anti-Doping Agency test for the same substance, the banned steroid Turinabol.
"I proved I'm worthy of being called champion, but Volkan's on that level," Cormier said. "Every guy who makes it to this point is on the level. Volkan Oezdemir, I leave a piece of myself with every opponent. I'm glad you can take a piece back with you to Switzerland."
Oezdemir walked to the cage with his native Swiss flag draped over his shoulder to almost no reaction from the Boston crowd. Cormier, known for getting split reactions from the crowd, had fans standing on their feet, snapping pics and cheering. He took a lap around the canvas with his right arm raised in triumph, backed by "Let's go DC!" chants.
The TD Garden was packed and lit from the opening preliminary bout and the card was sprinkled with Massachusetts fighters that sent the crowd into a frenzy with each introduction.
UFC grabbed hold of the Boston sports scene for a few hours Saturday night on the eve of the New England Patriots' appearance in the AFC title game with a chance to go to the Super Bowl. The bars that surrounded the arena had UFC banners waving on a windy night. UFC President Dana White, who lived in Boston for 10 years, is a die-hard city sports fan and attended a Celtics game this week and was set to attend the Patriots game on Sunday. But for White, the main event of the week clearly took place inside the octagon, where the undisputed light heavyweight and heavyweight championships were defended on the same card for the first time since 2003.
UFC 220 has some star power on the sidelines for the opening fight.
Islam Makhachev needed just one left hand and 57 seconds to knock out Gleison Tibau in the first preliminary bout. Khabib Nurmagomedov was in Makhachev's corner and pounded a wall in celebration of his fellow Russian fighter's victory on Saturday night. Nurmagomedov is set to fight Tony Ferguson for the interim lightweight title at UFC 223 in New York.
The prelim card featured a quick contender for KO off the year — remember, Ngannou's spectacular KO of Overeem happened in early December.
Abdul Razak Alhassan caught Sabah Homasi flush with a right uppercut in the first round for one of the more spectacular knockouts in recent UFC history to win a welterweight bout. Razak Alhassan had already beat Homasi in a controversial stoppage at UFC 218. UFC granted an immediate rematch and Razak Alhassan left no doubt about this outcome.