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UFC 220: Miocic stops Ngannou in Boston

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BOSTON — If, for some reason, Stipe Miocic still had to answer any questions about his place atop the UFC’s heavyweight hierarchy, there’s no doubt about where he stands after Saturday night.

He’s No. 1, and it might not be all that close.

In one of the most highly-anticipated heavyweight fights in MMA history, Miocic avoided Francis Ngannou’s terrifying knockout punches and put on a smart, dominant show for the Boston fans at UFC 220.

There are levels to this game, as so many fighters have said before.

On Saturday night, Miocic proved he’s on another level.

In doing so, he officially became the first UFC heavyweight champion to ever defend his belt three times, so it might be time to start talking seriously about whether Miocic is not just the greatest heavyweight of his era, but also of all-time.

“The baddest man on the planet,” Miocic said.

Ngannou came in to Saturday night with all the hype. He’d knocked out Alistair Overeem in early-December at UFC 218 and had put together a string of highlight-reel knockouts the likes of which MMA bosses can only dream of.

But on Saturday, Miocic kept his head out of the way of those shots in the early-going and then used his far-superior wrestling and grappling to burn Ngannou out.

By midway through the second round, the Cameroonian star-in-the-making had nothing left. When he did connect with a punch, Miocic immediately took him down. Even when the champion wasn’t throwing his thunderous ground-and-pound, he was leaning all his weight into Ngannou’s body, further exhausting the challenger.

By the end, all three judges awarded the fight to Miocic by a 50-44 scoreline, and the planned-coronation for Ngannou was delayed.

The positives for Ngannou were obvious. He took a brutal beating with lots of damage, but he survived. The holes in his game were exposed, and it’s probably time for him to get in a wrestling gym and really focus on improving that side of his game.

But he went five rounds with the champ. He’s the first fighter to do that since Mark Hunt in May 2015. That counts for something.

For Miocic, meanwhile, his place in history is secure. Nobody’s defended the title three times except for him, so by definition he is the most dominant UFC heavyweight champion of all-time.

There are other challenges down the line, but few loom as large as Ngannou seemed to prior to Saturday night.

Miocic didn’t just survive, he thrived and, in doing so, proved once and for all that he’s the best heavyweight fighter on the planet — at least until Ngannou’s ready for a rematch.

AND STILL

Appreciate Daniel Cormier now, because he won’t be around forever.

On Saturday night in Boston, Cormier put on yet another dominant performance, smashing an up-and-comer who had seemed invincible and retaining the UFC’s light-heavyweight title.

Cormier straight-up smashed Volkan Oezdemir. He survived an initial onslaught of strikes without taking much damage, and then turned it all the way on.

By the time the fight was called off at the two-minute mark of the second round, there could be no question that Cormier was on a completely different level than Oezdemir.

Cormier took his Swiss opponent to the mat and smashed him up with strikes. Only the bell saved Oezdemir from a rear-naked choke at the end of the first-round, but there was nothing that could prevent the inevitable in the second.

Cormier got Oezdemir down and pounded away. There could be no complaints about the stoppage, but this one was done the second Cormier got the fight to the mat.

The victory provided a measure of redemption for Cormier, who lost his 205 lbs. title to Jon Jones last summer at UFC 214, only to be reinstated when Jones tested positive during an in-competition drug test after the fight.

“I lost to Jon Jones, and as I said, I came into this fight and I said I felt as though I was fighting for a vacant title because he beat me last time,” Cormier said. “I got the job done, so I’m the champion again.”

Cormier is being hard on himself. It wasn’t his fault Jones tested positive, and he was given his belt back because that fight at UFC 214 was ruled a no-contest. He never technically lost the belt.

On Saturday, though, he reminded the world why he ought to be considered one of his generation’s absolute best MMA fighters.

He’s lost to Jones, yes, but that’s it.

Oezdemir was heavily-hyped coming into Saturday, and was absolutely no match for the champion.

Same thing happened to Anthony Johnson, and Alexander Gustafsson couldn’t get the job done either.

Cormier is 38-years-old and he’s promising he’ll retire before he turns 40.

Enjoy him now. The fight game is going to miss him when he’s gone.

MAKHACHEV MAKES QUICK WORK OF EARLY FIGHT

Considering the top-heavy nature of Saturday night’s UFC 220 card, it was always a little strange that Islam Makhachev was slotted to fight Gleison Tibau in the very first bout on the prelims.

It only took Makhachev 57 seconds to ensure he’ll never be scheduled in such a low-visibility position again.

Makhachev stormed out at the beginning of the first round and connected with essentially the very first power-punch he threw.

The left connected right on the button, and Tibau was done.

Suddenly, Makhachev has strung together an impressive three-fight win streak and has put himself in a position where he’s earned a match against someone in the lightweight division’s top-15.

And like any smart fighter, the Dagestani knew exactly who he was going to ask for.

“In the top-15, there are a lot of bum opponents,” Makhachev said. “I think the No. 1 bum opponent is Kevin Lee. UFC, give me Kevin Lee.”

To be fair, Makhachev might be getting a little ahead of himself if he thinks the UFC is going to give him Lee, who was last seen in the octagon back in October when he was fighting for the interim 155 lbs. title against Tony Ferguson.

Tibau’s no slouch, but he’s not exactly the type of guy who gets you a shot at one of the best in your division when you beat him.

Tibau, after all, hadn’t fought in two years and while he’s a veteran of the sport whose time in the octagon is worthy of respect, the Saturday night loss was his third straight UFC defeat.

He’s not considered an elite fighter by anyone, and was seen as a stepping stone for Makhachev prior to UFC 220.

That Makhachev disposed of him so easily proved he could rise to the challenge, but it doesn’t make him deserving of a tilt with an opponent as accomplished as Kevin Lee.

Makhachev may get there soon, but the UFC will likely ease him into the top-15 with a matchup against a lower-ranked opponent.

Whoever the opponent, he certainly won’t be fighting on the very first fight of the undercard.

GOOD-LOOKING FONT

Rob Font was never described as the next big thing the way Thomas Almeida once was.

On Saturday at UFC 220, though, Font left little doubt that in early-2018, he’s a considerably more dangerous fighter than the Brazilian.

After a relatively even first round, Font unloaded an absolutely vicious beating on Almeida that had referee Herb Dean mercifully stepping in to stop the fight at the 2:24 mark in the first round.

It took a lot to put Almeida down and the Brazilian should be credited for his toughness, as he survived a perfect straight right to the temple, multiple heavy punches in and around his skull and then a head kick that essentially put the fight to bed.

The whole time, Font’s hometown Boston crowd was losing its mind as their man ensured he bounced back from an embarrassing first-round submission loss to Pedro Munhoz last-October.
That defeat had slowed Font’s rise up the bantamweight rankings, but Saturday’s big win should put him back on track towards the top-10.

For Almeida, meanwhile, a once promising career has gone way, way off-the-rails.

Since suffering his first professional defeat to Cody Garbrandt in May of 2016, he’s now beaten Albert Morales and fallen to both Jimmie Rivera and Font.

All three of his losses have come against elite competition, but Almeida was once treated as Brazil’s next-great UFC star.
That appears less and less likely to ever be the case.

NO DOUBT

Two months ago, Abdul Razak Alhassan had his hand raised after a referee stoppage that was widely decried as coming way too early.

The decision left Sabah Homasi furious, as he understandably felt he’d been robbed by an overzealous referee.

The UFC did the logical thing and booked the two for a rematch at UFC 220, and this time there was no doubt.

Alhassan, from Ghana, connected with a terrifying uppercut late in the first round that left Homasi completely unconscious.

There was no controversy this time, it was game-set-match from the very second that Alhassan landed his shot.

“Last time you saw me, I was here and I wasn’t happy about it,” Alhassan said. “Because our kind of job, you want the crowd to kind of accept your win. When that fight happened you saw the boos, it wasn’t good, I wasn’t even happy about that win.

“It wasn’t something that you can boast about . . . I wasn’t happy at all. This one I can be like, yeah, there was no doubt. It was no fluke.”

The highlight reel finish likely put Alhassan at the front of the line for a $50,000 performance of the night bonus from the UFC, and he had a message for all the fighters coming after him on the card.

“Take your time, no need to rush, don’t knock anybody out,” Alhassan said.

ACTUALLY, MAYBE

Under normal circumstances, Dustin Ortiz would be nowhere near a title shot.

But in the UFC flyweight division, there’s a strong argument to be made that if you’re going to choose anybody to fight champion Demetrious Johnson, it might as well be Ortiz.

Sure, the American is ranked No. 10 in the – incredibly flawed – official 125 lbs. rankings, but he just beat Alexandre Pantoja at UFC 220 and that should push him up a couple spots.

And honestly, it’s not like there’s really anyone else who Johnson hasn’t beaten, so you might as well give Ortiz a title shot just to spice things up a little bit.

daustin@postmedia.com

UFC 220 RESULTS

MAIN CARD

Stipe Miocic def. Francis Ngannou
via unanimous decision

Daniel Cormier def. Volkan Oezdemir via first-round TKO

Calvin Kattar def. Shane Burgos via third-round TKO

Gian Villante def. Francimar Barraso via split decision

Rob Font def. Thomas Almeida via second round TKO

UNDERCARD

Kyle Bochniak def. Brandon Davis via unanimous decision

Abdul Razak Alhassan def. Sabah Homasi via first-round KO

Dustin Ortiz def. Alexandre Pantoja via unanimous decision

Julio Arce def. Dan Ige via. unanimous decision

Enrique Barzola def. Matt Bessette via unanimous decision

Islam Makhachev def. Gleison Tibau via first round KO

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Don Cherry comes back with a new show

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They may have knocked Don Cherry to the ice with a hit he didn’t see coming.

Now watch him get back up.

You people out there who want the 85-year-old Cherry back, here’s the news you have been hoping for.  You people who wanted him to fade away are out of luck as the former NHL coach of the year is going to be able to exercise his free speech, after all.

Don Cherry’s Grapevine is back once again. This time as a podcast.

Coach’s Corner may be “no more” as his one-time Hockey Night in Canada sidekick Ron MacLean announced on Saturday. Cherry was fired by Rogers and Sportsnet for his “you people” who “come here” comment that was misunderstood and later spun as discriminatory.

Cherry wanted his opportunity to properly explain it. Now he is going to get that chance.

You read it right: Don Cherry and his no-holds-barred views are coming back on the air.

The Toronto Sun has learned you won’t have to wait long for the first installment of the new Grapevine. It will drop Tuesday morning and be available on Spotify and other streaming services every Monday during the hockey season.

And yes, the very first one will address Cherry’s firing from Sportsnet.

“But that’s not all we talked about,” Cherry told me Monday. “We are talking hockey, of course. It’s going to be terrific. In this one I am talking about The Rocket (Maurice Richard), one of the all-time greats.”

One thing for sure about the new show is MacLean will not be in his foxhole.

So who will be?

You may have noticed the word “we” in Don’s comments and since so many scrutinize every word he says and what he means by it, I asked.

Turns out Grapes has a new co-host. And perhaps hosts.

“My son, Tim, is going to do it with me and my grandson Del,” said Grapes. 

At least he knows they won’t turn on him when the waters get rough as MacLean did.

“They did great,” Don said of Tim and Del. ”I think people are really going to enjoy this one and the ones we do down the road.”

Tim Cherry tells me the plan is to tape and post it every Monday.

“That way we cover off what happened on the weekend in hockey,” said Tim. “It’s going to be fun.”

For Don’s fans, who are already missing him and unlikely to tune into whatever Sportsnet comes up with to replace the 38-year-old segment, this will give them the opportunity to hear what he has to say. For Don himself, it will connect him with the hockey fans and players he loves while getting back on horse quickly.

It will be in audio broadcast to start with but Tim says it could grow into a TV-style show with cameras and sponsors.

If The Grapevine title sounds familiar it’s because Don’s television show, which Tim produced, was on the air from 1982-93 — filmed in Hamilton.

The new project will feature Don talking about the NHL and hockey and whatever he wants without any censorship.

If he wants to talk about poppies, he can do it without being fired. If he wants to talk about the troops or cops or firefighters or honour the fallen, no one can tell him to keep his nose out of it.

Mostly the plan is to talk hockey. And he won’t have just seven minutes to get it all out.

“The first podcast is about half an hour,” said Tim.

But if they ever find themselves in a position to need more time, or less, the beauty of podcasts is there are no constricting rules.

It also keeps Grapes in game shape while he considers other potential TV offers and opportunities.

Mostly it’s just the perfect outlet for Don Cherry to do what he does best: Be Don Cherry.

Yes Coach’s Corner is over: The new Grapevine has just been planted. Just call this the coach’s comeback! 

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Injuries sideline Habs Drouin, Byron indefinitely

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Jonathan Drouin and Paul Byron will be out of the lineup indefinitely as the result of injuries they suffered in Friday night’s win over the Capitals in Washington.

Jonathan Drouin and Paul Byron will be out of the lineup indefinitely as the result of injuries they suffered in Friday night’s win over the Capitals in Washington.

Drouin underwent wrist surgery on Monday, and Byron is scheduled to undergo knee surgery on Tuesday.

“We’ll a better idea of a timeline after the surgery,” coach Claude Julien said after the Canadiens practised in preparation for Tuesday’s road game against the Columbus Blue Jackets (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio).

The Canadiens recalled Charles Hudon from Laval. He played Saturday against New Jersey and was sent back to the minors after the game.

Julien said Carey Price will start in goal, and he will wait to decide on a goaltender for Wednesday’s home game against the Ottawa Senators.

phickey@postmedia.com

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NHL commissioner says Ron MacLean spoke from the heart

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TORONTO — NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says Sportsnet broadcaster Ron MacLean “spoke from the heart” during his monologue on “Hockey Night in Canada” over the weekend.

MacLean opened the first intermission segment on Saturday night — the first since Cherry was fired last week — by speaking alone on camera for nearly five minutes.

Bettman, a panellist at today’s PrimeTime sports management conference in downtown Toronto, says MacLean “obviously made his feelings clear.”

Bettman declined to weigh in on Cherry’s departure, saying he’s not going to start another news cycle.

Cherry used the phrase, “You people,” during the “Coach’s Corner” segment on Nov. 9 but later denied that he was singling out visible minorities.

MacLean, who apologized the day after, talked at length about his close relationship with Cherry but said he had to choose “principle over friendship,” adding “Coach’s Corner is no more.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 18, 2019.

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