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UFC 249 -- Francis Ngannou makes statement; Cowboy Cerrone's skid hits four

Francis Ngannou wants a title shot, and he showed his power in a hurry Saturday night. Cooper Neill for ESPN

Francis Ngannou said he had been training 15 weeks for Saturday night's bout against Jairzinho Rozenstruik, and it ended in just 20 seconds.

In one of the most anticipated fights of the year, Ngannou starched Rozenstruik with a looping left hand and some follow-up shots to score the knockout in the opening seconds of their UFC 249 showdown at an empty VyStar Arena in Jacksonville, Florida.

The bout could act as a heavyweight title eliminator, putting Ngannou next up for a title shot. But it's unclear when Stipe Miocic will next defend his title against former champ Daniel Cormier. Miocic recently said he wanted a full training camp, which is difficult during the coronavirus pandemic, and he's also busy as a part-time firefighter in a suburb of Cleveland.

But UFC president Dana White has said he wants the division to get moving, so there's some speculation Miocic might be in danger of being stripped of his title if he doesn't fight soon.

"That's very frustrating," Ngannou said to Joe Rogan afterward. "Where I feel like I fit, I don't know. ... After [beating Junior dos Santos], I expected to fight for the title. It didn't happen."

Ngannou came forward right at the start with some giant punches. He whiffed on a big overhand right, dodged a Rozenstruik punch and then landed the enormous left hand.

Rozenstruik fell against the cage on impact. Ngannou landed some punches after that, but it was academic. Rozenstruik was unconscious, and the fight was over.

"He has a lot of potential, but I think he has to take a step back," Ngannou said.

Ngannou, 33, has won four straight by KO/TKO and none of those previous four opponents have made it more than 1:11 against him. Ngannou is the first fighter in UFC history to win four in a row by KO/TKO in the first 90 seconds. The Cameroon native fell to Miocic in a 2018 title fight but has certainly rebounded since then in a big way.

Rozenstruik, a 32-year-old Suriname native, had won all four of his UFC fights coming in by KO/TKO.

-- Raimondi

Watch this fight on ESPN+.


Interim lightweight championship: Justin Gaethje (22-2) defeats Tony Ferguson (26-4) by fifth-round TKO

The UFC was hoping to be an entertaining respite for those starved for live sports during the global coronavirus pandemic. Consider that a mission accomplished, courtesy of Justin Gaethje and Tony Ferguson.

Read the full story.


Bantamweight championship: Henry Cejudo (c) (16-2) defeats Dominick Cruz (22-3) by second-round TKO

Henry Cejudo, a two-weight champion in the UFC and a former Olympic gold medalist wrestler, is apparently going out on top.

Read the full story.


Featherweight: Calvin Kattar (21-4) defeats Jeremy Stephens (28-18) by KO in the second round

Kattar might have ripped off the highlight of his career in the form of a step-in, standing right elbow to Stephens' nose. Kattar dropped Stephens with the elbow midway through the second round and finished him with follow-up elbows and punches on the ground.

Referee Jason Herzog waved off the featherweight bout via TKO at the 2:42 mark of the round, handing Kattar his fourth knockout win in the UFC. It was a satisfying win for Kattar, who was originally supposed to face Stephens in April and was one of the fighters who had to extend his camp.

Stephens added fuel to the fire on Friday when he missed weight for the bout by 4.5 pounds. Kattar admitted afterward that he wasn't happy with his opponent's lack of professionalism. Stephens, who debuted with the UFC in 2007 and has logged over six hours of fight time in the Octagon, looked good early on, as he busted up Kattar's lead leg with kicks and tracked him around the cage with the right hand.

Kattar weathered the early storm, however, and started to find his timing on counter punches. He caught Stephens with a few good left hooks, including a thudding one to the body. Kattar, of Massachusetts, looks the part of a featherweight contender, with an overall UFC record of 5-2. His only losses have come against Renato Moicano and Zabit Magomedsharipov, whom many see as a potential future champion.

Stephens has now lost four bouts in a row.

-- Okamoto

Watch this fight on ESPN+.


Heavyweight: Greg Hardy (6-2) defeats Yorgan De Castro (6-1) by unanimous decision

Hardy, who suffered a decision loss in November to ranked heavyweight Alexander Volkov, cruised to unanimous 30-27 scores. De Castro completely faded in the second and third rounds. Hardy improved to 3-2 in the UFC with the win. His other loss was a disqualification against Allen Crowder in January 2019, for an illegal strike.

De Castro came out aggressively in the opening round. He fired some wild haymakers in the opening minutes and went to work on Hardy's lead leg with low kicks. The low kicks were effective, however Hardy did well making De Castro miss on the punches, and he scored with some big shots during an exchange at the end of the first round.

It looked like a fight destined to end in a knockout until De Castro's output fell off a cliff midway through the bout. He appeared to possibly injure his lower leg during a kick.

"Thank god for not having a crowd," Hardy said. "I heard [UFC commentator Daniel Cormier] telling me to check the kick, so I started to check it. Lifesaver."

De Castro suffered the first loss of his professional career.

Hardy, who was favored to win the fight, picks up the first decision win of his career.

"It went exactly how I thought it was going to go," Hardy said. "I said we would either bang it out in the first or we were going to bang it out for all three, and that's exactly what we did. We played a smart game, but we were both in there to throw haymakers.

"My corners always tell me to use my athletic ability and stay smart out there, so that's what I was trying to focus on and still deliver some big-boy punches. I'm an advanced fighter, this is the third time I've done it -- three 15 fights, three decent opponents, three great strikers, three great athletes. I feel like I proved that I can stay focused, stay in the pocket and do my job. I'm here to stay, here to evolve and do my job."

-- Okamoto

Watch this fight on ESPN+.


Welterweight: Anthony Pettis (23-10) defeats Donald Cerrone (36-15) by unanimous decision

Pettis became one of only two men to defeat Cerrone twice in his career, as he picked up a unanimous decision against his familiar foe. Pettis and Cerrone have become close friends since Pettis knocked him out in the first round the first time they met back in 2013. That didn't stop them from agreeing to meet again at welterweight in 2020, when Pettis earned unanimous judges' scores of 29-28. Pettis and former lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos are the two athletes who have beaten Cerrone twice.

It's a tough result for Cerrone, 37, who has now lost four in a row for the first time in his storied career. All of his losses have come against elite competition, however, as the slide includes Tony Ferguson, Justin Gaethje, Conor McGregor and now Pettis. Judging by his immediate reaction, Cerrone didn't feel as though he lost the bout. He rocked Pettis with a head kick in the third round that had the former champion clearly dazed. He also scored a handful of takedowns in the first and second rounds, both of which were close.

Pettis also appeared to poke Cerrone in the eye in the third round, although the referee didn't see it and the bout continued.

Pettis scored throughout the fight with counter left hands and jabs and from his southpaw stance, as well as kicks to the body.

Cerrone, who looked determined to make up for a lackluster performance against McGregor in January, absorbed Pettis' offense well. Pettis, who fights out of Milwaukee, snaps a two-fight skid with the win. He went into this bout coming off losses to Nate Diaz and Diego Ferreira.

"I'm better than I was when I won the belt," Pettis said. "I think each part of your career requires a new version of yourself, and I'm finding the version that makes sense. When I was 155, I wasn't as good, but I didn't give a f---. I still don't care, Cowboy is a beast and I took him on 21 days' notice; I'll fight anyone. That's where I think I've been finding my mixed results.

"Me and [his coach Duke Roufus] sat down and talked about it -- after this fight, let's figure out what's our real career path. Where do we want to go and stick to that, not who's the next big guy in line, who will give me a title shot, because that's what I've been doing and we've seen what that's gotten me -- mixed results. I'm excited, as you can tell. I'm excited that I won and that I get to go back to the gym as a winner and build off of this."

-- Okamoto

Watch this fight on ESPN+.


Heavyweight: Aleksei Oleinik (59-13-1) def. Fabricio Werdum (23-9-1) by split decision

After 24 years as a professional MMA fighter, Oleinik now has his first victory over a former UFC champion.

Oleinik beat Werdum by split decision (28-29, 29-28, 29-28) on the UFC 249 prelims in a plodding, back-and-forth bout. Oleinik, 42, turned pro in 1996, and this is his fourth decade in the sport. Werdum, coming off a USADA suspension, had not fought since 2018.

It was all Oleinik in the first round. Werdum came out slow on the feet, and Oleinik made him pay with several punches, including some uppercuts that clearly hurt the former champ. In the second, Oleinik clearly slowed, and Werdum was able to get him to the ground. But once Oleinik got up, he was firing shots again. A surprising spinning back elbow seemed to get through Werdum's guard.

Werdum took the third. He was able to get Oleinik to the ground and work for several submissions. At one point, Werdum nearly had a kimura but used it instead to sweep Oleinik and achieve full mount. The fight came to an end with Werdum working on a guillotine choke. Werdum, a former four-time Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion, also had two armbar attempts in the third round.

Oleinik has now won two straight and four of his past six. The Ukraine native is the third fighter in UFC history to win at least five fights at 40 years old or older, per ESPN Stats & Information research. He joins legends Randy Couture and Dan Severn. Werdum, a 42-year-old Los Angeles resident, has dropped two straight. His last bout was March 17, 2018, before testing positive for a steroid. USADA initially suspended Werdum for two years, but that was reduced to 10 months.

"This means a lot for me because you can fight with one guy, two guys, 10 guys, but not a name," Oleinik said. "If you only fight people with no name, you will have no name yourself. If you fight with big names, with legends of mixed martial arts like Alistair Overeem, Mark Hunt, like Fabricio Werdum, you will go to the highest rankings and get bigger and bigger names, too. If you want to be a legend, you have to fight with legends. There are some big guys like Greg Hardy and Francis Ngannou. If I have very good technique, I might not still win because they are big and strong. But, I'm still here, I'm still in UFC, the best of the best promotion in the world, and I'm not last in this promotion.

-- Raimondi

Watch this fight on ESPN+.


Strawweight: Carla Esparza (17-6) def. Michelle Waterson (17-8) by split decision (30-27, 29-28, 27-30)

Former strawweight champion Carla Esparza pulled out a split decision victory over Michelle Waterson -- despite the fact one judge thought she lost every single round.

It was a bit of an odd fight, as illustrated by three very different scorecards. Two judges had the bout for Esparza, via scores of 30-27 and 29-28. A third judge had it for Waterson 30-27.

It was a difficult fight to score due to inactivity. Waterson clearly wished to keep things on the outside, utilizing push kicks and counter punches to keep Esparza at bay. Esparza occasionally tried to get the fight to the ground but had little success. She managed to score only one takedown the entire fight, although she did land some good flurries when the action was in tight.

The issue was the action was rarely in tight. So, judging came down weighing Waterson's point-fighting from the outside versus Esparza's sporadic activity in close. Ultimately, the scores went in Esparza's favor, resulting in her third win in a row. Waterson looked genuinely surprised as the final scores were read.

Waterson, 34, has now dropped two in a row after winning three consecutive bouts in 2018 and early 2019.

-- Okamoto

Watch this fight on ESPN+


Welterweight: Vicente Luque (18-7-1) defeats Niko Price (14-4) by TKO (doctor's stoppage)

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0:26

Joe Rogan announces Ryan Spann's name to an empty audience

Ryan Spann isn't thrilled with his performance despite the win, and Joe Rogan can't break an old habit by announcing his name to a vacant crowd.

Luque let loose with a whipping left hook in the third round, and Price -- clearly in pain -- crumpled to the canvas. Shortly after, the fight was over.

The action was paused, and Price's many cuts and swollen eye were examined by the ringside physician. The doctor recommended to referee Jason Herzog that Price should not continue, and Herzog waved the bout off -- a doctor's stoppage TKO at 3:37 of the third round.

Seconds later, Price's right eye was completely swollen shut.

"I'm an entertainer," Luque said. "First event back from everything going on, I think I brought it."

No doubt about that. He and Price both had strong performances in a bloody, violent, back-and-forth bout. Price had moments in the first round when he landed a hard front kick to Luque's face and then flurried against the cage.

In the second, Luque dropped Price with a combination while Luque's back was against the cage. Price's right cheek was bleeding and swelling from those Luque left hooks, which gave way to the big one that ultimately finished the bout in the third.

"I had to keep on punishing him until I got the finish," Luque said.

This was a rematch of a 2017 clash, also won by Luque. That time, Luque finished with a second-round submission.

"I beat him last time," Luque said. "I knew he was not gonna come easy. He wanted to take my head off, I expected that."

Luque, 28, is the third fighter in UFC welterweight history with 10 finishes. The New Jersey-born Brazilian has won seven of his past eight fights.

Price, a 30-year-old Florida native, has lost three of five. Price has not gone to decision in 11 UFC fights, a feat matched only by Royce Gracie, Nikita Krylov and Gabriel Gonzaga, per ESPN Stats & Information research.

-- Raimondi

Watch this fight on ESPN+.


Featherweight: Bryce Mitchell (13-1) defeats Charles Rosa (12-4) by unanimous decision

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Vicente Luque drops Niko Price with a vicious right hand

Niko Price looks to pour it on Vicente Luque, but he gets dropped with a vicious right hand in round 2.

Mitchell failed to submit Rosa, but it wasn't for a lack of trying.

Mitchell thoroughly dominated Rosa over the course of three rounds and nearly submitted him at least a dozen times. Rosa proved to be resilient, but that was about it, as he had no answer for Mitchell's grappling acumen.

All three judges scored it a blowout for Mitchell: 30-25, 30-25 and 30-24. Rosa was so overwhelmed on the floor, cameras actually picked up Rosa asking Mitchell if they could get up and stand.

"Ninety-nine percent of people [would have tapped]," Mitchell said, respecting Rosa's fortitude.

Mitchell improves to 4-0 in the UFC. His wrestling and submission skills have made him a standout prospect in the featherweight division.

Nearly the entire fight took place on the ground. Mitchell transitioned seamlessly into arm triangle attempts, as well as rare twister attempts, which place a tremendous amount of pressure on the spine. There have been only two twister finishes in UFC history, and Mitchell owns one of them.

The 25-year-old Arkansas native has been adamantly asking the UFC if he can wear camouflage shorts into the Octagon. According to the broadcast, UFC president Dana White approved the request immediately after Mitchell's dominant win.

"I just think that I proved that I got world class teammates and coaches," Mitchell said. "I've been saying that for years, what they're telling me to do and what I'm doing is world class s---. I've always believed that and I guess people are starting to believe that themselves now, but even when nobody did believe I don't give a damn I'll go out there and fight anyways."

-- Okamoto

Watch this fight on ESPN +.


Light heavyweight: Ryan Spann (18-5) defeats Sam Alvey (33-14) by split decision

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Mitchell works for another twister

After winning his last fight with just the second twister in UFC history, Bryce Mitchell works for the submission again vs. Charles Rosa.

Alvey had Spann in big trouble in the third round. He rocked Spann with a hard right hand, nearly choked him out with a guillotine and then wobbled him with another right before Spann escaped. It ended up not being enough. In the UFC 249 opener -- the first UFC fight since March 14 -- Spann edged out a split-decision win (29-28, 28-29, 29-28) in front of an empty arena.

Spann controlled the first round, appearing to nearly choke out Alvey while they stood against the cage, but Alvey survived.

It was Spann's fourth straight win in the UFC, tying Jon Jones and Magomed Ankalaev for longest active win streak in light heavyweight division. It's his eighth straight overall.

Alvey has lost four straight.

"I wanted to look more imposing, but overall I'm happy to get the win, just disappointed in the way we got it, but we're back," Spann said. "It's cool to be honored and be mentioned with [Jones], the champion of the division. I want to have the most dominant streak not just in my division, but in the whole UFC. I just need to come in and be me, have fun and take over like we can."

Watch this fight on ESPN+.

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Pettis eats a head kick from Cerrone

Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone lands a clean kick onto the head of Anthony "Showtime" Pettis in the third round.