BOSTON — If Francis Ngannou is the future of the UFC’s heavyweight division, the future will have to wait.
The present belongs to Stipe Miocic.
Miocic (18-2) broke the UFC’s all-time record for consecutive heavyweight title defenses, as he defended his belt for the third time against a wildly hyped Ngannou at UFC 220 on Saturday night at TD Garden.
The Cleveland native absorbed Ngannou’s hardest shots, returned fire and leaned heavily on his wrestling en route to a dominant decision win. All three judges scored it for Miocic, 50-45.
“I’m the baddest,” Miocic said afterward.
The entire fight arguably came down to the first round, when Ngannou (11-2) was fresh. He caused significant swelling around Miocic’s left eye in the opening minutes and uncorked dangerous combinations after walking Miocic to the fence.
Miocic, 35, survived on his composure. He kept his head moving and circled out of the precarious positions on the outside. When Ngannou came forward too aggressively, he ducked under his punches and drove though multiple takedowns.
The final four rounds were significantly slower than the first, as Miocic’s grappling began to dictate pace. A former collegiate wrestler, Miocic converted 6 of 14 takedown attempts, according to Fightmetric, and forced Ngannou to wear his weight.
By the third round, Ngannou was visibly fatigued. He still managed to wobble Miocic with a wide right hand, but Miocic recovered and took the fight to the ground moments later. It was the last significant blow Ngannou would land.
“I think I underestimated him a little bit,” Ngannou said. “He’s very smart.”
“I do [believe I’m the greatest of all time],” Miocic said. “No one has ever defended the title three times. I had a killer row of fighters to get to it. I had a hard path to the title. Then I hard path to defend the title Top dudes. Arlovski. Werdum in Brazil. Next guy, Overeem, killer. [Dos Santos], who I lost to previously. Now, a guy who’s a phenom. Nothing is ever easy. I never had an easy road.”
Ngannou, of Cameroon, suffered his first loss in the UFC and first overall since 2013.
Following UFC 220, UFC president Dana White told ESPN he has interest in a potential super fight between Miocic and Daniel Cormier, who defended his light heavyweight belt over Volkan Oezdemir in Saturday’s co-headline match. Cormier has competed at heavyweight in his career.
Cormier, who may have suffered a broken thumb in the fight, was non-committal on any future bout. He is a longtime teammate of former heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez, and has stated he would not interfere with Velasquez’s attempt to regain the title.