Mixed Martial Arts, Sports

UFC 260 Recap: Ngannou triumphs over Miocic to capture heavyweight title

New UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou (16-3) defeated incumbent champion Stipe Miocic (20-4) Saturday night with a vicious second round knockout. Ngannou is the first Cameroonian UFC champion and African heavyweight title holder.

Ngannou entered the title bout on a devastating tear of four-straight first round knockouts over the likes of Curtis Blaydes (14-3, 1 NC), Cain Velasquez (14-3), Junior Dos Santos (21-9) and Jairzinho Rozenstruik (11-2). The run amounted to a total fight time of 2:47 across the four bouts, and earned Ngannou a second crack at the heavyweight belt.

Miocic, of whom many consider to be the greatest mixed-martial arts heavyweight of all time, recently capped off a trilogy with former champion, Daniel Cormier (22-3, 1 NC), in August with a convincing decision victory. Miocic cruised to a unanimous decision over Ngannou back in January of 2018 and marked a record third-consecutive defense of the heavyweight title.

Ngannou flexed a full arsenal of improvements in the first round of action against Miocic. A patient and measured approach allowed Ngannou to control the pace, land a combination of body and head strikes and even unleash an impressive head kick that landed on Miocic.

Perhaps most impressive in this 10-9 round for Ngannou was his ability to neutralize Miocic’s wrestling. With the fatal flaw in Ngannou’s game during their first meeting, Miocic’s single-leg attempt was stymied with ease. After stuffing Miocic’s head to the canvas and sprawling to safety, Ngannou deftly took the champion’s back and landed a takedown. Ngannou then unleashed a torrent of ground and pound that would leave Miocic with a gash below his left eye.

Ngannou would pick up where he left off in the second round, firing off a slew of strikes against Miocic — who continued to have no answer offensively. Ngannou landed a massive left hook that sent Miocic to the ground and followed up with a flurry of head strikes. Miocic was able to survive, reaching his feet and landing a solid head strike of his own that put Ngannou on his back foot.

Miocic tried to follow up his punch with another, but Ngannou remained in the pocket and launched a short left hook to Miocic’s jaw. The strike sent Miocic to the canvas unconscious, folding over his left leg in a grisly display. Ngannou followed Miocic to the ground and landed one final strike as referee Herb Dean crashed in to protect the fallen champion.

Ngannou’s ascension to the heavyweight throne is finally complete, a march that overcame undreamt-of odds both in and outside of the Octagon. At just 10 years old, Ngannou labored in the sand mines of his native Batié, Cameroon to support his family and education.

Seeking a better life and dreaming of becoming a world champion, Ngannou successfully completed a dangerous aquatic border crossing into Spain in 2013 after a year of trying from Morocco. From Spain, Ngannou made it to Paris, where he began his MMA training while experiencing homelessness. Ngannou would impress in his first professional fights and would sign to the UFC in 2015.

Ngannou’s first run at the title similarly featured his trademarked power and allowed him to claim six-straight UFC victories, despite owning a less-than-polished skill set. Ngannou would reach new heights of stardom after his viral uppercut knockout of Alistair Overeem (47-19, 1 NC) in December 2017, and found himself staring down a championship bout against Miocic just 49 days later.

Miocic exposed Ngannou’s greenness in the sport and took the hulking fighter down at will for five rounds. Ngannou would follow up his first UFC loss with an embarrassing performance against Derrick Lewis (25-7, 1 NC), where the pair combined for a paltry 31 total strikes across three rounds.

Facing an early exit from the UFC, Ngannou would begin a new camp led by Eric Nicksick and Dewey Cooper at Xtreme Couture in 2018. The switch would prove to be fruitful, for Ngannou found his confidence and knockout stroke again, laying waste to four top contenders between 2018 and 2020. Only one man remained in Ngannou’s path: the reigning champion Miocic.

Ngannou’s victory over Miocic Saturday makes for the first time since May of 2016 that a heavyweight champion not named Cormier or Miocic reigned over the division. Ngannou’s victory infuses a once-stagnant weight class with new blood and sets up a possible super fight against former light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones (26-1, 1 NC). A rematch with Lewis, or trilogy with Miocic would also figure to be on the table for Ngannou’s first title defense.

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