LAS VEGAS -- From most feared to undisputed best, the Francis Ngannou era has begun.
Ngannou knocked out Stipe Miocic to win the UFC heavyweight title Saturday night at the UFC Apex. The finish came at 52 seconds of the second round.
Ngannou dropped Miocic with a left hand, but Miocic got up, recovered and wobbled Ngannou briefly with a right hand. But Ngannou was quick to counter with a left hook that sent Miocic down again. Ngannou put Miocic out for good with a punch on the ground.
Miocic was transported to the hospital for a precautionary CT scan of his head, according to the UFC.
"The game plan was to be relaxed, not to rush at all," Ngannou said. "Calm down. My team knows that that's the moment I have the best of myself. When I'm relaxed and not rushing."
With this title win, Ngannou is now expected to fight UFC all-time great Jon Jones, who is moving up to heavyweight after dominating the light heavyweight division for the last decade.
Ngannou said in his post-fight news conference that he wants Jones next, saying that he "makes the most sense for me," but added that he'll go along with what the UFC decides.
"In my opinion, Jon Jones is the greatest of all time in mixed martial arts," Ngannou said. "Him moving up is going to be a challenge I will take. It'll be a very good challenge. ... But this time I am the champ, he is coming up and looking for me. I am ready any time soon."
UFC president Dana White said Derrick Lewis is the fight to make next for Ngannou, but said the ball is in Jones' court and that if Jones really wants to fight Ngannou for the title, the bout is his. White said earlier this year that Jones will fight the winner of Miocic-Ngannou.
Jones, for his part, tweeted immediately after Ngannou's win, "Show me the money."
"If I'm Jon Jones and I'm home watching this fight, I start thinking of moving to [middleweight]," White said when told of Jones' tweet. "What's 'show me the money' mean? You can say you want to fight somebody -- but do you really want to?"
Jones was quick to respond on Twitter, scoffing at White's suggestion that he might not really want to fight Ngannou.
"I quit the light heavyweight division, literally gained a massive amount of weight. And now people are saying I'm afraid?" Jones tweeted. "Everyone but me claiming that I'm afraid. All I asked was to get paid."
Saturday's main event was a rematch of a bout that Miocic won in fairly one-sided fashion over an unanimous decision at UFC 220 on Jan. 20, 2018.
Ngannou said having to wait three years to avenge the loss to Miocic made Saturday's victory even sweeter.
"When the journey is longer, the reward is always more appreciated," he said. "I'm sure I would have been happy three years ago, but I think now I have a different perspective about it, being happy with my improvement and my fighting IQ."
Coming in, Miocic was atop ESPN's heavyweight rankings with Ngannou at No. 2. ESPN had Miocic ranked No. 3 in the world pound-for-pound. Ngannou won the title by finishing a man who many, including UFC president Dana White, feel is the best heavyweight fighter in MMA history.
Ngannou said he doesn't feel the need to fight Miocic again, but would reconsider depending on the circumstances.
"He's the greatest heavyweight of all time," Ngannou said. "It makes sense for me to fight him if needed."
UFC 260 took place with COVID-19 protocols in effect at the UFC Apex, a facility across from the promotion's corporate campus. The card could be the last UFC pay-per-view event to take place at the Apex without fans with the promotion going back to full arenas beginning with UFC 261 on April 24.
Ngannou (16-3) is perhaps the most dangerous knockout artist in UFC history. The Cameroon native, who lives and trains in Las Vegas, has won five in a row, all by first-round KO/TKO. In those last four bouts coming into Saturday, the 34-year-old Ngannou had stopped his opponents in 72 seconds or less. He has eight first-round finishes in 10 UFC wins.
Ngannou has 12 career knockout finishes overall. His 10 UFC knockouts are tied for the second-most in UFC heavyweight history behind Lewis (12). Ngannou is now the third African-born UFC champion, along with Kamaru Usman and Israel Adesanya. Usman was in Ngannou's corner at UFC 260.
Miocic (20-4) is considered by many 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 (4) ever, which is double the next men in that category.
Miocic, 38, was 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.