LAS VEGAS — The storyline going into Saturday’s UFC 260 main event at the Apex is how much has Francis Ngannou improved since he lost in his first bid to dethrone heavyweight champ Stipe Miocic three years ago.
Miocic, though, wants to remind people that he hasn’t exactly rested on his laurels since winning that unanimous decision at UFC 220 on Jan. 20, 2018.
“He definitely deserves another shot at the title,” Miocic told ESPN. “He’s been on a tear. He’s evolved, he’s gotten better. Fortunately, so have I. I’m the champ and I’m not giving up my belt. There’s no way.”
Stipe Miocic, the man many consider MMA’s heavyweight GOAT, is back to defend the UFC heavyweight championship against the best knockout artist in the sport, Francis Ngannou. Miocic has spent the past three years in a trilogy with Daniel Cormier. Ngannou has spent the past three years waiting for this opportunity.
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UFC 260: Miocic vs. Ngannou
• Saturday, March 27, UFC Apex, Las Vegas
• Main card: 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV
• Prelims: 8 p.m. ET on ESPN/ESPN+
• Early prelim: 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN/ESPN+
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Miocic (20-3) is the best heavyweight champion in UFC history. The Ohio native, who still works part-time as a firefighter and EMT, has the most successful UFC heavyweight title defenses at four, which is double the next men in that category. Miocic, 38, is coming off a unanimous decision victory over Daniel Cormier in a trilogy bout at UFC 242 last August. He owns wins over former UFC heavyweight champs Cormier (twice), Junior dos Santos, Fabricio Werdum and Andrei Arlovski. The only defeat he has not avenged in his career came against Stefan Struve in 2012.
Ngannou (11-3), meanwhile, is perhaps the most dangerous knockout artist in UFC history. The Cameroon native, who now lives and trains in Las Vegas, has won four in a row, all by first-round KO/TKO. In those past four bouts, the 34-year-old Ngannou has stopped his opponents in 72 seconds or less. He has eight first-round finishes in 10 UFC wins.
In the co-main event, former UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley will attempt to stop a three-fight losing skid — and potentially keep his spot on the roster — against the surging Vicente Luque. Woodley (19-6-1) has lost three in a row to the top fighters in the division: champion Kamaru Usman and top contenders Colby Covington and Gilbert Burns. Luque (19-7-1) has been on a tear, winning eight of nine. ESPN has Woodley ranked No. 10 in the world at welterweight and Luque is trying to land a spot among the elite.
If Francis wins tonight it will be in devastating fashion and he becomes a megastar, if he loses its hard to see him getting a title shot again anytime soon being 0-2 against Stipe.
— Funky (@Benaskren) March 27, 2021
Also on the card, popular bantamweight prospect Sean O’Malley returns against Thomas Almeida, rising women’s flyweight fighters Gillian Robertson and Miranda Maverick will face off and Abubakar Nurmagomedov, the cousin of UFC legend Khabib, takes on Jared Gooden in welterweight action.
Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi and Jeff Wagenheim recap the action as it happens. Purchase UFC 260 here.
Fight in progress:
Lightweight: Khama Worthy (17-2, 2-1 UFC, -130) vs. Jamie Mullarkey(12-4, 0-2 UFC, +110)
Light heavyweight: Alonzo Menifield (10-2, 3-2 UFC) defeats Fabio Cherant (7-2, 0-1 UFC) by first-round submission
Menifield is not one to waste time. He won for the 10th time in his career, all of them by finish, eight in the first round.
He surged across the cage right at the start and pushed Cherant against the cage, and before the flight was half a minute old, Menifield had slammed his opponent to the canvas and gained side control. Cherant, who had won the first five fights of his career by submission, went for a guillotine choke. But he neglected to recognize that he, not Menifield, was the one in peril of being tapped.
Whether you call it the Von Flue or the Von Preux, @alonzomenifield just locked it up for the finish 😏
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) March 28, 2021
Menifield, who is 33 and fights out of Dallas, drove his shoulder into Cherant and locked in a Von Flue choke, eliciting the submission at 1:11 to end a two-fight losing streak. Those losses were the only two of his career.
Cherant, a 26-year-old from Wrentham, Massachusetts, saw a three-fight winning streak end in his UFC debut. The bout was contested at a 206.5-pound catchweight after Cherant weighed in a half pound over the limit for a light heavyweight nontitle fight.
Watch this fight on ESPN+.
Welterweight: Abubakar Nurmagomedov (16-3-1, 1-1 UFC) defeats Jared Gooden (17-4, 0-2 UFC) by unanimous decision
It wasn’t your typical “Nurmagomedov” performance. But it was still extremely effective.
Nurmagomedov, with his cousin and UFC legend Khabib in his corner, beat Gooden by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27). Unlike his famous relative, Nurmagomedov’s game revolved more around striking, not wrestling. He got the better of Gooden on the feet in every round.
— UFC (@ufc) March 28, 2021
In the first and second rounds, Nurmagomedov landed solid boxing combinations, a hard body kick and nice left hook. Then, in the third round, he went back to the bread and butter of his region of Dagestan: wrestling. He took Gooden down midway through the round and Gooden never got up. There wasn’t a ton of damage done on the mat, but it was more than enough to seal the victory.
Nurmagomedov, 31, picked up his first UFC victory with the win. He had not fought since a loss to David Zawada in November 2019. Nurmagomedov infamously was one of Khabib’s team members who entered the Octagon at UFC 229 in October 2018 to engage Conor McGregor in a brawl, an incident that drew Nurmagomedov a one-year suspension by the Nevada State Athletic Commission. Gooden, a 27-year-old fighting out of Atlanta, has dropped his first two UFC fights.
Watch this fight on ESPN+.
Light heavyweight: Michal Oleksiejczuk (15-4 1 NC, 3-2 1 NC UFC) defeats Modestas Bukauskas (11-4, 1-2 UFC) by split decision
From the opening bell, Oleksiejczuk and Bukauskas set a pace on the feet that no one thought was sustainable. Apparently, it was.
Oleksiejczuk, of Poland, earned his first UFC win in more than a year, in a hard-fought split decision. Two judges scored the back-and-forth light heavyweight contest in Oleksiejczuk’s favor, while a third saw it for Bukauskas.
The margins of the fight were razor thin, and it might have been Oleksiejczuk’s constant forward movement that earned him the edge. He walked Bukauskas down with combinations to the head and body, but walked into plenty of significant counterstrikes in doing so. According to UFC Stats, Bukauskas actually outlanded Oleksiejczuk in total strikes, 58 to 47.
In addition to outlanding Oleksiejczuk, Bukauskas hurt him on several occasions in the first and second rounds. He backed off Oleksiejczuk with a hard right hand in the opening round, and closed out the second round with a momentum-stealing combination. Oleksiejczuk answered in the third, though, and hurt Bukauskas badly with a left hook to the body.
Oleksiejczuk bounced back from two losses to Ovince Saint Preux and Jimmy Crute. Bukauskas, who was born in Lithuania, fell to 1-2 overall in the UFC.
Watch this fight on ESPN+.
Men’s featherweight: Omar Morales (11-1, 3-1 UFC) defeats Shane Young (13-6, 2-3 UFC) by unanimous decision
Morales, 35, is back on track, although it took a lot of fighting in close to get the job done.
The former lightweight from Venezuela lost for the first time in his career last October, to Giga Chikadze, in his first UFC fight at featherweight. To get beyond that, he had to push himself against Young, an opponent who was the aggressor and just kept coming.
— Michael Chandler (@MikeChandlerMMA) March 28, 2021
All three judges saw the fight 30-27 for Morales.
There was a lot of circling and measuring to start the fight, followed by clinching against the cage, with each man briefly seizing an advantage. But for the most part, they neutralized each other.
That continued in the middle round, although Morales started to find a home for his left jab, and that led to some overhand rights finding their target as well. But Young, who is 27 and from New Zealand, returned fire and kept moving forward. He attempted multiple takedowns, but Morales fended them all off.
In the end, Morales secured the win with a key takedown of his own, utilizing a body lock to get the fight to the canvas, with him in side control. Young, who lost his second in a row, did get back to his feet quickly but was playing catchup the rest of the way.
Watch this fight on ESPN+.
Middleweight: Marc-André Barriault (12-4 1 NC, 1-3 1 NC UFC) defeats Abu Azaitar (14-3-1, 1-1 UFC) by third-round TKO
Barriault pulled off one of the most dominant rounds you’ll ever see in the UFC.
After a hot start by Azaitar, Barriault took over late — in a big way. He spent most of the third round in mount or with the back of Azaitar, raining down blows. Finally, with four seconds left in the bout, referee Jerin Valel pulled the plug. The result was a TKO at 4:56 of the third round for Barriault in the middleweight opener of UFC 260. It was the second-latest finish in UFC middleweight history.
Azaitar was the clear winner of the first round. He landed big punches that hurt Barriault, some hard body shots and a nasty knee to the head in the clinch. But Azaitar quickly started to lose steam and Barriault took over in the second round with hard elbows in the clinch and a series of uppercuts. Azaitar landed a big left that wobbled Barriault in the second, but that was his last significant offense.
Goodness that was brutal! #UFC260
— Tatiana Suarez (@tatianaufc) March 28, 2021
In the third, Barriault put forth an onslaught on a very tired Azaitar. At one point, Azaitar had his mouthpiece fall out and he reached down to grab it despite being in the middle of an exchange. Barriault capitalized and got into top position, which he kept for the rest of the round. Barriault landed hard punches and elbows from the top, slipped to mount, took Azaitar’s back and landed shots from all those positions until Valel stepped in.
Barriault, 31, earned his first official UFC win and first overall victory since 2018. The Canada native had his victory over Oskar Piechota last June overturned due to a positive drug test for the banned substance ostarine. Barriault was suspended for six months by the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) and this was his first fight back.
Azaitar, a 35-year-old Germany native of Moroccan descent, was fighting for the first time since July 22, 2018.
Watch this fight on ESPN+.
Still to come:
Heavyweight: Stipe Miocic (c) (20-3, 14-3 UFC, +115) vs. Francis Ngannou (15-3, 10-2 UFC, -135)
Welterweight: Tyron Woodley (19-6-1, 9-5-1 UFC, +200) vs. Vicente Luque (19-7-1, 12-3 UFC, -240)
Men’s bantamweight: Sean O’Malley (12-1, 4-1 UFC, -330) vs. Thomas Almeida (22-4, 5-4 UFC, +260)
Women’s flyweight: Gillian Robertson (9-5, 6-3 UFC, +140) vs. Miranda Maverick (10-2, 1-0 UFC, -165)