DETROIT — The UFC has a heck of a heavyweight championship on its hands.
Cameroonian-French contender Francis Ngannou (11-1) solidified himself as the division’s No. 1 contender on Saturday in highlight-reel fashion, knocking out Alistair Overeem in the first round at UFC 218 inside Little Caesars Arena.
The finish came at the 1:42 mark. Ngannou blocked a wide left hand from Overeem (43-15) and then unleashed a heavy uppercut that knocked him out cold. Ngannou landed one follow-up shot on the floor, which the unconscious Overeem likely felt no part of.
The victory sets up an explosive heavyweight title fight between reigning champion Stipe Miocic (17-2) and Ngannou (11-1). Both men are riding respective streaks of four first-round finishes.
“I want the title shot,” Ngannou said. “[UFC president] Dana White said the winner will get a title shot. I think I got it.”
For Ngannou, a matchup against Overeem was a major step up in competition. Overeem, 37, was appearing in his 60th professional mixed martial arts fight, and he fought in professional kickboxing prior to that.
The veteran heavyweight rushed Ngannou early and looked to take him down, but Ngannou defended the shot easily. They jostled for position for a while against the fence before a referee separation.
Ngannou, who trains out of Las Vegas, looked extremely comfortable against such an experienced opponent. Earlier in the week, when the two squared off on Wednesday, cameras caught Ngannou telling Overeem, of Netherlands, he would go to sleep on Saturday.
It was the eighth knockout of Ngannou’s career, and the 12th time Overeem has suffered a KO in MMA. Miocic, a former collegiate wrestler and baseball player, is expected to defend the title in early 2018.
Alvarez takes Gaethje’s perfect record with third-round TKO
Alvarez, of Philadelphia, scored a TKO finish over Gaethje at 3:59 of the third round, as he put him down with a knee to the chin in the center of the cage.
According to Fightmetric, Alvarez out-landed Gaethje in total strikes 197 to 111 in a frenetically paced fight. It marked Alvarez’s first win since July 2016.
“That’s the [only title] I care about right now,” Alvarez said. “All these titles aren’t being defended. All the fans want to see is who is the most violent guy in here.”
Alvarez, 33, secured the finish despite barely being able to stand on his left leg. Gaethje attacked the leg with kicks from the start, which left Alvarez hobbling on it during the third round, changing his stance and even attempting to pull guard.
A former WSOF champion who came in undefeated, Gaethje is known for a style of constant pressure. Alvarez flipped the script on him beginning in the second round, as he maintained a nonstop barrage of jabs to the head and body shots.
Gaethje suffered a cut over his left eye early, but it was actually Alvarez who looked worse for wear by the end. It was clear Alvarez’s jaw was injured in the third.
Now training out of New Jersey, Alvarez picked up his 16th career win by knockout.
Cejudo leans on Olympic wrestling, controls Pettis in decision
All three judges scored the 125-pound fight 30-27 in favor of Cejudo, who took Pettis down early every round and controlled him on the floor.
An Olympic gold medalist wrestler for the U.S., Cejudo hasn’t always relied on his grappling to win in the UFC, but that was clearly the strategy for this matchup. He racked up 9:35 time of control, according to Fightmetric.
When Pettis, of Milwaukee, was on his feet, he appeared to have an edge — but it was difficult to say for sure, as the threat of the takedown had a clear effect.
Cejudo, of Phoenix, is back on a two-fight winning streak, after suffering back-to-back losses to Demetrious Johnson and Joseph Benavidez in 2016. He is knocking on the door of another shot at Johnson, who is sitting at 11 consecutive title defenses.
Torres continues to rise ranks, outpoints Waterson in close fight
The 115-pound bout was close, but not controversial. All three judges scored it for Torres, 30-27, 29-28, 29-28.
Torres, of Fort Lauderdale, out-boxed Waterson throughout the fight and proved to be too physical for her in the clinch. She landed one right hand after another, which caused a huge welt under Waterson’s left eye.
Waterson’s best moments came in the second round, when she put Torres on her back with a hip toss. A former atomweight, Waterson managed to keep Torres on the floor but struggled to posture and land anything meaningful.
Torres put a cap on the performance in the third, when she took Waterson’s back, flattened her out, and landed hard elbows to the side of the head. Waterson, who fights out of Albuquerque, New Mexico, proved resilient, but she couldn’t turn the tide late.
Now fighting out of Colorado, Torres won all three of her appearances in 2017.
Medeiros outlasts Oliveira in Fight of the Year candidate
Medeiros earned the TKO finish when Oliveira finally succumbed to punches at 3:02 of the third round. His legs buckled underneath him from a Medeiros right hand and it was clear he was unable to continue.
The action began immediately in the first round, when Medeiros knocked Oliveira down early, only to have the favor returned minutes later. Oliveira, of Brazil, poured on right hands and elbows up against the fence, but Medeiros somehow managed to survive the round.
Medeiros worked to top position in the middle frame, and he landed several elbows from full mount that badly hurt Oliveira. Oliveira’s nose bled badly from basically the first minute of the fight on.