Stipe Miocic defeated Francis Ngannou at UFC 220 to announce himself as the greatest UFC heavyweight champ
Francis Ngannou was billed as the next big thing – figuratively and metaphorically – to the point his hulking frame dominated the UFC 220 promotional spotlight and left the heavyweight champ in the dark.
But Miocic dimmed the Cameroonian’s incandescent hype with a dominant performance and in the process became the division’s longest reigning champion.
In truth, the fight wasn’t even close and it ultimately came down to one heavyweight first round.
Miocic survived the challenger’s early onslaught and escaped the session with only a swollen left eye to show for.
‘The Predator’ was on the hunt in the opening minutes with his violent combinations backing Miocic up against the cage wall.
But wearing the same unmoved, deadpan expression he carried into the Octagon, Miocic maintained his composure to impose his way by landing takedown after takedown.
He practically breezed through the four remaining rounds with the element of danger diminishing by the minute as an exhausted Ngannou ran out of steam.
In the end, Miocic’s versatility and experience sucked the super from Ngannou’s superhuman athleticism. The punishing defeat provided the promotion a painful reminder that star names are born rather than manufactured and while you have to admire Ngannou’s heart for enduring a five-round suffocation, respect has been a hard commodity to come by for Miocic.
Indeed, the currency of breaking title defence records has far more weight, merit and value than the gimmick of owning the hardest punch despite UFC president Dana White’s infatuation to add gravitas to Ngannou’s world-record strike.
While he justifiable hits like a Ford Escort – see his previous knockout of Alistair Overeem – the UFC forgot that the champ has the ability to halt the vehicle carrying any hype and after adding Ngannou to Overeem and Junior Dos Santos in his list of title defence successes, Miocic offered his own reminder.
“It was the Stipe show tonight,” Miocic said post fight.
“It wasn’t about him. It was about me, because I’m the champ. I broke the record. I’m the best.”
He added: “Yeah, I do (feel like the best ever). I had a killer’s row to get to it. I had a hard path to get to the title, and I had a hard path to defend the title. Nothing’s ever easy, but I’ve never had an easy road.”
The nature of Miocic’s title win over Fabricio Werdum at UFC 198 was a shock unto himself but his progression as a fighter is hallmarked the confidence he exudes now.
Nothing about his achievement is a surprise to him and having cleared out practically the entire top five there is no immediate obvious challenger.
The perennially injured Cain Velasquez’s return is TBD with a potential comeback not expected until the backend of 2018.
However, Miocic’s next opponent could be right under his nose, or rather right on his UFC 220 undercard.
Light-heavyweight champ Daniel Cormier’s situation runs parallel after he mauled Volkan Oezdemir to a second-round stoppage in Boston’s co-main event.
With Jon Jones heading for a suspension after a doping violation, Alexander Gustafsson is the sole challenger at 205lbs. The Swede, however, is out of action until at least the summer after shoulder surgery and it means Cormier could head north of his division for a fascinating superfight with Miocic.
White floated the idea when talking to FOX and Cormier, who fought his first 13 pro fights at heavyweight, offered his reply in the post-fight press conference.
“I haven’t really thought about it,” he said.
“It’s hard for me now, because Cain’s in the gym more. Cain’s in the gym now getting back, preparing to do what he does best.
“If he’s getting prepared to get that belt back, then I have nothing for that division. That’ll never change.”