Francis Ngannou stops Miocic, claims UFC heavyweight title

LAS VEGAS — Francis Ngannou claimed the UFC heavyweight championship on Saturday night, stopping Stipe Miocic with ferocious punches early in the second round at UFC 260.

Ngannou (11-2) avenged his blowout loss to Miocic in 2018 by demonstrating everything he has learned in the ensuing three years during a dominant victory. The first UFC heavyweight champion from Africa flattened Miocic (21-3) twice early in the second, finishing the fight 52 seconds into the round.

The fight ended quickly after Ngannou won the first round. Miocic recovered from his first knockdown in the second round and even landed a right hand that stung Ngannou, but the challenger replied with a picture-perfect left hook, depositing Miocic roughly on the canvas again for the finish.

The 34-year-old Ngannou is a former aspiring boxer who discovered mixed martial arts after he left Cameroon for France. He rose rapidly through his new sport with his fearsome power and growing all-around skill, but Miocic interrupted his ascent by winning every round of their first bout in Boston.

The long-anticipated changing of the guard atop the UFC’s heavyweight division finally happened in their rematch. In the Vegas cage, Ngannou was far too much for Miocic, the firefighter from Cleveland who is the most accomplished heavyweight champion in UFC history.

In the co-main event of this pay-per-view show at the UFC Apex gym on the promotion’s corporate campus, former welterweight champion Tyron Woodley lost his fourth consecutive fight when Vicente Luque submitted him with a D’Arce choke late in the first round.

UFC 260 turned into a showcase for Ngannou, who was up to the challenge this time.

Ngannou’s loss to Miocic in 2018 staggered the confidence of a once-dynamic fighter. He barely threw a punch in his next bout, an embarrassing loss to Derrick Lewis.

But Ngannou impressively regained his confidence later in 2018 and kicked off a run of four consecutive knockout victories against veteran heavyweights, putting him back in the cage with Miocic.

Miocic’s heavyweight reign has been the best in the history of a notoriously tumultuous UFC division. He reigned as champion for four of the past five years, winning eight of his last nine fights overall and emphatically avenging his only loss to Daniel Cormier.

Miocic won the final two fights of his trilogy with Cormier to cement his heavyweight supremacy over the only opponent he had fought since the first bout with Ngannou.

Woodley (19-7-1), who reigned over the 170-pound division for nearly three years until Kamaru Usman took his belt in March 2019, looked sharp early and landed some strong shots before he was staggered and finished by Luque (20-7-1), who has won 13 of his last 15 fights.

Earlier, bantamweight Sugar Sean O’Malley overcame an enormous early mental mistake for a vicious third-round finish of Thomas Almeida.

O’Malley, the thrilling fighter with rainbow-dyed hair, floored Almeida in the first round with a head kick and a big punch — but instead of finishing his opponent on the ground, O’Malley anticipated a stoppage and walked away before realizing the fight hadn’t been stopped.

When he floored Almeida again in the third, O’Malley briefly tried to walk away again before pouncing and throwing a final punch that bounced Almeida’s head off the canvas.

The UFC is headed to Jacksonville for its next pay-per-view show next month because Florida officials will allow Dana White to sell every seat in an arena, but the promotion still welcomed a few dozen fans to the Apex.

The crowd included Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, Megan Fox, Kourtney Kardashian, Travis Barker and former UFC owners Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta, who hadn’t publicly attended a fight night since they sold the company in 2016.

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