Stipe Miocic produced three 50-44 scorecards in a truly fantastic display to retain his title for a record-breaking third consecutive time at UFC 220.
Gold standard start
After Francis Ngannou had marched his way to the octagon and Stipe Miocic had followed suit with a stoic expression of carelessness across his face, the first round of the most anticipated heavyweight title fight in years finally got underway. And the opening 20 seconds seemed to summarise what many thought was to come, with Ngannou launching a rocket of a left high kick toward the champ’s head, and Miocic only able to retaliate with a single leg takedown that saw his opponent get back to his feet in seconds. As both men broke from the clinch, we were reminded of why the world, it seems, was betting on Ngannou as a thunderous left hand whizzed past the target, forcing Miocic to shoot once again and push the Cameroonian back to the fence. Ngannou stuffed the takedown efforts easily and began swinging huge haymakers as the under-pressure champion backed up.
But, even in retreat, the Golden Gloves boxing credentials of Miocic shone through as some precise head movement ensured he evaded most of the potentially catastrophic power. He then started to land some hard right hands of his own, all the while staying on his toes and avoiding any exchanges. With Ngannou still walking him down, the 35-year-old Miocic timed a beautiful takedown under a right hand and immediately shifted to side control. As many expected, Ngannou looked like a fish out of water here and Miocic was very much in his element, posturing up to land some significant shots.
Both men were back on their feet for the end of the round and, as John Anik said on the broadcast, Ngannou was “visibly fatigued”. The round came to a close with a flurry of right hands from the champ that caught “The Predator” clean and had him backed up against the fence where, as the clappers sounded, Miocic was able to land another impressive takedown. Some early adversity meant that the Croatian-American went back to his corner with a growing welt under his left eye, but that was the price to pay for the points after five minutes.
Championship caliber cardio
Unfortunately for all the Ngannou fans, the worst case scenario came to fruition as the 263lb giant looked exhausted at the start of round two, drained from the bombardment of futile punches that he threw at Miocic in round one. Miocic, who has proved he can go all day long in previous five round battles with Junior Dos Santos and Mark Hunt, pressed the action straight away with kicks to the gut and legs of Ngannou. He then demonstrated the power that has put away his last four opponents in the first round through a rapid overhand right that stunned the challenger, a sign of just how much faster the champion was after a grueling start to the bout. As the Boston crowd rallied behind Miocic, he drove Ngannou right across the octagon and into the mat as he chased a takedown, eventually pinning him against the fence.
It was here that the fight remained for the last two minutes of the round as Miocic made the weary Ngannou carry all of his weight, with punches to the head and knees to the body causing further damage. Any attempt to get back up resulted in the formerly homeless Ngannou being dragged back down in Khabib-esque fashion. Miocic briefly threatened with a rear naked choke as the klaxon rang out but couldn’t get it, instead going back to his stool with another round in the bag.
The third round appeared to be more of the same as the champ brought the fight back to the fence where he could continue to diminish the already empty gas tank of Ngannou. Ohio’s Miocic was cruising to an easy win when, after separating from the clinch, the first ever African-born fighter to challenge for a UFC landed a wrecking ball-sized right fist to the champ’s jaw, sending him on the back foot and presumably seeing some stars. It was one final sprint, a last bold dip into his barren energy sources to try and snatch the belt. As courageous as it was, it wasn’t enough to put away Miocic who was able to put Ngannou on his back seconds later and beat him up for the remainder of the round.
The first of two championship rounds was undoubtedly the most dominant period of the fight, a display of relentless pressure that merited a 10-8 score from all three judges. Miocic smothered Ngannou for the full five minutes on the open mat and up against the cage, never allowing the 31-year-old to have a second’s rest. There was a slight frustration from the crowd that the champion did not seek out a submission or TKO finish, but Miocic was understandably debilitated after already pushing the pace for 20 minutes.
The fifth and final round was largely about both men surviving whilst in a state of complete exhaustion. For the most part, Miocic had Ngannou tied up against the cage and landed some less-than-intimidating knees that resulted in Herb Dean intervening and getting the two man-mountains separated. The inactivity was very much the key factor once again in the striking range as both men were reduced to short bursts of one or two punches, with the power still (scarily) present in each strike. But once again it was Miocic that got the better of the exchanges, tagging Ngannou with his stiff jab on more than one occasion. After months of training at the MMA lab that is the UFC Performance Institute, Ngannou could only muster up the energy for a lackluster effort at a flying knee before being brought to the fence once more by the champion. The round ended with both men resting on each other so as to not collapse to the canvas in a sweaty heap, which would’ve been a testament to the demanding battle that they put one another through. Both men raised their arms for the crowd, but it was Stipe Miocic that was clearly the one that had triumphed.
Having had the belt strapped around his waist for a record third time, Stipe Miocic is now the most successful UFC heavyweight champion of all time. He’s beaten Werdum, Overeem, Dos Santos and now Ngannou during his reign and has surpassed the likes of Tim Sylvia, Brock Lesnar, and the great Cain Velasquez in terms of title defenses. The Miocic vs. Velasquez debate will now surely roll on until the two finally meet in the octagon (if they ever do), but it cannot be denied that Miocic is officially in the discussion for the greatest ever. Turning away one of the most ferocious hype trains that MMA has seen in a long time, in the fashion that he did it, truly cements his place in the hall of fame when he is done, regardless of what happens next.
As for Francis Ngannou, it is important to note that he only has 13 professional MMA fights and found himself in a heavyweight title fight at just 31 years of age. In a division where the very best don’t seem to blossom until their mid-to-late thirties, “The Predator” still has plenty of time to make adjustments and perhaps even challenge for the gold sooner than we think. There’s also a slew of talent to match him up with in the future, so be sure to look out for him taking some peoples’ heads off on pay-per-view after a few months rest. We are firmly in the Miocic era, but this isn’t the last we will see of Francis Ngannou.