By Alistair Hendrie
Stipe Miocic took Francis Ngannou down, broke through with ground-and-pound and rubbished predictions of a knockout defeat, convincing the judges that he should remain UFC heavyweight champion by scores of 50-44 on all three cards. By dominating Saturday’s UFC 220 main event at the TD Garden Arena in Boston, the Croatian-American broke the record for consecutive UFC heavyweight title defences (three) and tamed a beast who many thought was unstoppable.
Rather than attempt to deflect and parry the bombs coming his way, Miocic built his landslide victory on scoring with two and three punch combinations and alternating between single and double-leg entries to plant Ngannou on his back and leave him helpless. While the champion was able to pile up the points from half-guard, side control and the crucifix position in round one, the French-Cameroonian was exhausted by the second phase.
Indeed, given Ngannou’s fearsome reputation, athletic gifts and habit of knocking his rivals senseless, the way Miocic drove him the length of the cage for another double-leg tackle in round two was astonishing. He ended that stanza probing for a rear naked choke, chipping away with the kind of patience Georges St-Pierre would be proud of.
In round four, Miocic found the mark over and over again with punches and hammer fists. Ngannou shipped punishment like a proud man. His determination should be admired, but by round five, his face was a mess and he had nothing left. His punches, slow and lumbering, were a sorry sight. With that, Miocic bagged his sixth win in a row, cementing his form and ensuring his place as one of the best heavyweights of all-time.
In the co-main event Daniel Cormier put on another wrestling clinic to defend his light-heavyweight belt against Volkan Oezdemir, sealing the fourth defence of his strap in round two with relentless ground-and-pound. Much like in the main event of the evening, the champion was taking on a ruthless finisher, a challenger who'd left a trail of destruction in his wake when decimating his first three UFC opponents. However, Cormier parried and ducked aside Oezdemir’s strikes in round one and sank in a rear naked choke. He was only denied by the buzzer. Make no mistake about it; he had it in deep.
In round two, as if to compound his dominance, Cormier span into a lovely single leg takedown, driving Oezdemir down into no man’s land in the middle of the cage. From there, the American switched from side control to the crucifix position, peppering away with punches with such volume and regularity that referee Kevin MacDonald had no other option but to stop the onslaught. Indeed, the way Cormier stamped his authority on the ground, finding his own punches and leaving his arms, neck and head out of danger, will send a statement to the division. Already holding victories over Alexander Gustafsson and Anthony Johnson (twice), Cormier can dominate at 205lbs for as long as Jon Jones stays in the wilderness.
Elsewhere on the main card, Boston featherweight Calvin Kattar put on a show for his home crowd, finishing Shane Burgos with a volley of strikes in round three. And boy, did he need that finish. In a close and thrilling encounter, both men traded in the pocket as Kattar trebled up on his jab and Burgos ripped to the body. They cranked up the output in round two and by the decider, they were neck-and-neck.
However, Burgos had previously shown a tendency to expose his chin and in the first thirty seconds of the third, he absorbed a one-two and an overhand right that scrambled his senses and sent him tumbling forwards. Pouncing on his opportunity, Kattar snapped Burgos’s head back with an uppercut. Burgos dropped to the canvas like a discarded piece of litter. He was wide open for Kattar’s finishing strikes. The New Yorker can come again, but you have to admire how Kattar snared out the finish after counter-punching on the back foot during the first two frames.
Meanwhile light-heavyweight Gian Villante inched past Francimar Barroso by scores of 30-27 (twice) with one judge seeing 29-28 the other way. Cornered by Chris Weidman, Villante pushed the pace with uppercuts, jabs and leg kicks, frequently dropping his hands and beckoning Barroso in. Still, the Brazilian played the matador and spent 15 minutes circling away, countering with teep kicks, leg kicks and ramrod jabs to the body. Villante, who snapped a two-fight losing streak here, impressed with his aggressive tactics and variety on the feet, but he can look even more talented with a willing dance partner.
The main card kicked off with Rob Font exposing Thomas Almeida, handing the Brazilian his third defeat in four bouts and rising up the 135lbs ladder in the process. The American utilised his reach to gain inroads with jabs and leg kicks on the outside, ending matters in round two with a head kick and a slew of uppercuts to the jaw. Font stayed patient to earn the knockout but once again, Almeida let his guard slip and showed a lack of defensive nous.
Elsewhere, there were plenty of featherweight fisticuffs on UFC Fight Pass Prelims. Kyle Bochniak outscored Brandon Davis by measures of 29-28 (twice) and 30-27, while Julio Arce showed superior kickboxing to get past Dan Ige by scores of 30-27 (twice) and 29-28. Flyweight Dustin Ortiz fought from behind to earn three 29-28s against Alex Pantoja, while welterweight Abdul Razak Alhassan shut off Sabah Hamasi in round one with an uppercut.
There were two bouts on Early UFC Fight Pass Prelims, as featherweight Enrique Barzola outgunned Matt Bessette by scores of 30-27 (twice) and 29-28, and lightweight Islam Makhachev starched Gleison Tibau with a punch in round one.
Stay tuned to Alistair Hendrie Sport for much more opinion and analysis on the UFC's first pay-per-view card of the year.