BY DAN GELSTON
BOSTON (AP) — Stipe Miocic and Francis Ngannou had a violent history of first-round finishes.
By the time their heavyweight bout reached the fifth round, Miocic and Ngannou huffed, puffed and trudged around the cage without a knockout in sight. Miocic set the UFC heavyweight record with his third straight successful title defense, turning the anticipated slugfest against Ngannou into a methodical and masterful 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 and 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 built their reputations on the strength of nasty knockouts, and Ngannou was coming off a GIF-worthy KO 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.
In the first round, the fight seemed like it could reach epic slugfest proportions. Miocic and Ngannou tagged each other several times, 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.
Ngannou, a Cameroon native who this week criticized President Donald Trump for his profane description of African countries, never found that reserve power.
“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.
Oezdemir was saved from submission briefly. But the inevitable defeat was just moments away.
With a Boston crowd roaring and chanting his initials, Cormier showed why he’s the best active light heavyweight fighter in UFC and dominated 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. Cormier 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.
The 38-year-old Cormier was awarded the light heavyweight title after Jon Jones was stripped of the championship when he failed his latest doping test. Cormier has failed to beat Jones in two bouts and could not shake the stigma of those outcomes.
Against Oezdemir, Cormier proved worthy of the title.
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 of the title after the California State Athletic Commission changed the result of Jones’ stoppage of Cormier at UFC 214 in July to a no-contest. Jones tested positive for the banned steroid Turinabol.
Cormier lamented leading up to the fight that he would never again fight Jones.
“I’ve done everything right and I’ve just been dragged down by this guy constantly,” Cormier said.
White suggested Cormier return to the heavyweight division and fight Stipe. But Cormier said he had little interest in the bout and friend and training partner Cain Velasquez should be next in line for a title fight.
Oezdemir got almost no reaction from the Boston crowd as he walked out draped in the Swiss flag. Cormier, known for getting split reactions, 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.
“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.”
The TD Garden was packed and lit from the opening preliminary bout and the card was sprinkled with Massachusetts fighters to pander to the local crowd.
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. 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 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 featured two quick contenders 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 for one of the more spectacular knockouts in recent UFC history to win a welterweight bout. Razak Alhassan knocked Homasi cold with a vicious right that brought a gasp from the crowd and left Homasi motionless on his back for a couple of minutes. He eventually needed assistance to sit on a stool in his corner. Trainers placed bags of ice on his back and neck.
Razak Alhassan already beat Homasi in a controversial stoppage at UFC 218. The outcome of the immediate rematch left no doubt.
Calvin Kattar, a New England fighter who gave a shoutout to the Patriots, broke open a close fight against Shane Burgos and won via TKO in the third. Kattar staggered Burgos with a series of blows and nailed an uppercut that put Burgos on his back. Burgos absorbed more blows and briefly escaped until referee Dan Miragliotta stopped the fight.
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