If modern MMA has advanced beyond the 2000-2010 era of wrestling/boxing specialists a la Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture and Forrest Griffin, UFC 220 at the TD Garden in Boston was a throwback to the old guard.
Takedowns and ground and pound dominated the co-main events on a night in which striking was neutralized by the guile of world-class wrestling.
Fittingly, the dominant performances on the mat were conducted by two fighters who have carried the torch from the days of Randy Couture and Brock Lesnar.
Two-time Olympian Daniel Cormier’s unstoppable grappling lifted him to a second-round knockout over little-known Swiss upstart Volkan Oezdemir. The first win for Cormier since he retained his title after Jon Jones’ PED suspension from USADA negated Cormier’s loss to Jones at UFC 214.
Cormier expertly used two single leg takedowns to win the fight over Oezdemir. The second takedown coming early in the second round proving to be the nail in Oezdemir’s coffin as Cormier quickly took side control before utilizing a barrage of punches to secure the TKO stoppage.
— UFC (@ufc) January 21, 2018
Cormier’s wrestling performance shouldn’t have surprised anyone, as he has made his living off of wearing out powerful Light Heavyweight strikers with Olympic caliber skills on the mat. Oezedmir’s 100 percent takedown defense entering his first title opportunity gave the challenger hope on paper, but ultimately proved no match for the wrestling of arguably the UFC’s greatest takedown artist of all-time.
Which style will make the difference? https://t.co/etiAxGGdVM
— FOX Sports: UFC (@UFCONFOX) January 18, 2018
In the main event, Stipe Miocic took the ground game to another stratosphere in a significantly tougher test as the previously unstoppable Francis Ngganou provided an uptick in difficulty level. The talk entering the fight gave Miocic plenty of motivation to employ a grappling attack with the majority of pundits predicting Ngannou’s raw striking power to be too much for the more experienced Miocic to overcome.
Instead, Miocic went away from his cherished boxing skills and used his advantage in the grappling game to nullify Ngannou’s power throughout a 25-minute masterclass from the defending champion. When Ngannou would look dangerous in striking exchanges, Miocic was quick to answer with a clinch or double leg takedown attempt and each attempt put Ngannou off balance.
Most importantly, Miocic’s takedowns and clinches of Ngannou against the cage clearly wore down the powerful athlete and took away the physical edge. Once Ngannou was fatigued, the powerful punches that made him the baddest man in UFC history looked significantly less frightening than in Ngannou’s previous and much shorter fights against top opposition.
At the end of the 25 minutes, Miocic was the clear winner with a 50-44 unanimous decision that confirmed the dominant performance from the champion who was counted out by Dana White’s hype machine.
Instead of the crowning of Ngannou as the Next Big Thing in the UFC, Miocic secured his place in history as the greatest UFC Heavyweight Championship holder of all-time. Humbling his hopeful successor and setting up a potential blockbuster rivalry for White and the UFC in the process.
In the fourth round, Miocic held an 82-0 striking advantage. The gassed Ngannou had no answer for Miocic’s double leg takedowns and spent his time exerting energy on survival rather than on loading up on powerful punches to score a knockout to reverse the judges’ scorecards.
What an insane fight!
— FOX Sports: UFC (@UFCONFOX) January 21, 2018
The ground game proved to be the crucial difference in Bellator’s two co-main events on Saturday with Rory MacDonald’s fifth-round takedown allowing the former Canadian UFC phenom to survive a badly injured leg and win the Bellator Welterweight Championship.
In the Bellator 192 main event, fellow member of the MMA Wrestling fraternity Chael Sonnen used his trademark takedown offense to beat Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson by decision in the first fight in the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix.
— Scott Coker (@ScottCoker) January 21, 2018
In a night expected to be the beginning of a new era for the UFC’s Heavyweight division, it was instead the return of MMA’s old style that allowed for a career-defining night for two classic fighters and in two of the biggest fights in Bellator’s history.
With so much emphasis on striking and submissions in the current MMA landscape, the return of the grinding style of old was a welcome display. At a moment where two of the best grapplers in the game are atop the UFC’s two marquee weight classes, the return of wrestling may be here to stay in 2018 if Miocic and Cormier can continue their title reigns.
If Francis Ngannou was wise, he will be spending plenty of time on the mat to prepare for a rematch if he wants to knock off a complete fighter who showed it is possible to negate the most powerful punches the MMA world has ever seen. It takes a lot of effort to keep a man of Ngannou’s stature on the ground for as long as Miocic did tonight over the course of five rounds and that alone is as impressive as any devastating knockout.