CLEVELAND — Stipe Miocic broke this city’s curse in May, when he won the UFC heavyweight championship. On Saturday, he made sure the curse stayed buried.
Miocic (16-2) recorded his first title defense at UFC 203 inside Quicken Loans Arena, knocking out Alistair Overeem with strikes on the ground at 4:27 of the opening round.
It was a career moment for the Ohio native, who was forced to win the title inside the unfriendly confines of Curitiba, Brazil, against Fabricio Werdum at UFC 198.
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A former Strikeforce and K-1 kickboxing champion, Overeem (41-15) dropped Miocic with a left hand in the opening moments and immediately went for a guillotine. The choke appeared tight, but Miocic managed to shake free of it and get back to his feet. Overeem later claimed Miocic had tapped and the referee had missed it, but replays could not verify the claim.
Miocic, who recovered quickly from the knockdown after getting back to his feet, also said he wasn’t in danger on the choke.
“He kicked harder than I thought,” Miocic said. “He put me on my ass, and that guillotine — I trained to get out of it. I’m a boxer, wrestler, but I train that s— every day.”
It is the 12th knockout win of Miocic’s career. A former collegiate wrestler and baseball player, Miocic stunned Overeem with a jab and right hand after trapping him along the fence.
The Cleveland crowd roared as Miocic hammered Overeem with a right uppercut and another straight right moments later. On several occasions, Overeem literally ran away from Miocic in an effort to circle away from the pressure. He also threw a counter left hand to back Miocic off, but Miocic absorbed the punch well and continued to pursue.
The finishing sequence began when Miocic caught a side kick aimed at his legs, a staple of Overeem’s game since joining Jackson-Wink MMA in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Overeem tried to roll out of the takedown, but Miocic followed him to the floor on the scramble and got into top position with less than a minute left in the round. Two hard right hands left Overeem unconscious and officially guaranteed the UFC championship would remain in Ohio.
“Stipe was the better man today,” Overeem said. “He’s a great athlete. He’s tough.”
Originally from Amsterdam, Overeem suffered his first loss since Sept. 2014. It is the 10th knockout loss of the 36-year-old’s career. Prior to UFC 203, he had recorded wins over Stefan Struve, Roy Nelson, Junior dos Santos and Andrei Arlovski. Overeem was originally supposed to fight for the UFC title in 2012 but lost the opportunity when he failed a random drug test in Nevada. He went on to lose three of his next four fights before turning it around with a four-fight win streak.
Former champion Cain Velasquez (14-2) and Werdum (21-6-1) are the most obvious candidates to fight for the belt next. Werdum picked up a unanimous decision win against Travis Browne in Saturday’s co-main event.