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Miocic, Ngannou boast heavy artillery at start of UFC's needed strong year

Miocic, Ngannou boast heavy artillery at start of UFC's needed strong year
Francis Ngannou, left, hits Alistair Overeem with a punch in the first round during a UFC 218 heavyweight mixed martial arts bout in Detroit on Dec. 2, 2017. (Jose Juarez / Associated Press)

Intent to avoid another year of disappointing cards, the UFC is opening 2018 with a doozy.

Heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic will try to become the first to successfully defend that belt three times when he meets Cameroon's Francis Ngannou in the main event of UFC 220 at Boston's TD Garden on Saturday.

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The bout is perhaps the UFC's most significant heavyweight fight since Cain Velasquez became the organization's first Mexican champion more than seven years ago by knocking out Brock Lesnar at Honda Center.

The co-main event is reinstalled light-heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier's title defense against No. 2-rated contender Volkan Oezdemir (15-1) of Switzerland.

Cleveland's Miocic (17-2) has maintained an unbending confidence since the fight with devastating puncher Ngannou (11-1) was made, even in the face of his destructive, first-round knockout punch of Alistair Overeem on Dec. 2 in Detroit.

Again this week, underdog Miocic has proclaimed, "I'm winning," and posted on Twitter his first-round stoppage times on Andrei Arlovski, Fabricio Werdum, Overeem and former champion Junior Dos Santos, writing after Francis Ngannou, "#AndStill."

Miocic has 11 UFC victories and five consecutive finishes.

But Ngannou's dominance has been startling, and another similar showing champion Miocic could elevate him to a level reserved for the likes of Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey.

"So fast, great power, very athletic … that's why he's here," Miocic said.

Miocic has said he intends to force Ngannou to have his cardio tested by taking the bout through its five-minute rounds into the third, fourth and fifth rounds.

"You've got a scary guy who hits as hard as anybody you've ever seen and a guy on the cusp of becoming the greatest UFC heavyweight champion of all time," said Cormier, also a Fox television analyst. "Somebody's going to sleep."

The UFC, which functioned without McGregor in the octagon in 2017, needs the quick start after a slew of underwhelming pay-per-view cards scarred by withdrawals by women's bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes and lightweight contender Khabib Nurmagomedov.

Even the loaded July card in Anaheim was marred by Jon Jones having his victory over Daniel Cormier stripped following a positive test result for a performance-enhancing substance. Then, after returning to win the middleweight belt in November, UFC legend Georges St-Pierre relinquished the belt with no return date mentioned.

Miocic-Ngannou is a throwback to boxing's great heavyweight battles, except they're using four-ounce gloves.

"I don't care," about being an underdog, Miocic said. "I know he hits like a Ford Escort, but I'm going to do what I need to do and win it."

And the card leads to other strong ones, including a March featherweight title defense by champion Max Holloway of Hawaii against former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar, and the April 7 lightweight title fight between champion Tony Ferguson of Costa Mesa and unbeaten Russian Khabib Nurmagomedov (25-0).

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Then, the UFC hopes, McGregor returns for the winner.

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