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.”
Ngannou, of Cameroon, suffered his first loss in the UFC and first overall since 2013.