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UFC champ Miocic survives knockdown, wins by KO

CLEVELAND: Alistair Overeem, left, from the Netherlands, punches Stipie Miocic during a heavyweight title bout at UFC 203 yesterday, in Cleveland. —AP
CLEVELAND: Alistair Overeem, left, from the Netherlands, punches Stipie Miocic during a heavyweight title bout at UFC 203 yesterday, in Cleveland. —AP

CLEVELAND: Stipe Miocic wouldn’t let his hometown down. The heavyweight champion kept his title with another Cleveland comeback. Dropped by an early punch, Miocic recovered and knocked out Alistair Overeem at 4:27 of the first round to conclude UFC 203 on Saturday night in front of more than 20,000 delirious fans. Miocic, whose title in in May set off a run of championships in a city that didn’t celebrate one for 52 years, was in big trouble after Overeem caught him on the jaw with a short left. Overeem pounced on Miocic, a Cleveland fire fighter, and put him in a guillotine hold as he tried to choke him out.

But the 6 foot-4, 240-pound Miocic, urged by the crowd chanting “Stee-pay, Steepay,” escaped the hold and quickly pressed the action. In the final minute of the round, Miocic stunned Overeem with a punch and then held him down and delivered four devastating righthanded punches to the challenger’s head to finish him off. “He hit harder than I thought, he knocked me down but I wasn’t hurt,” Miocic said.

“I said I would keep this belt for a long time and I did it. I wanted to shut him down, turn the mother board off.” When the fight was stopped, Miocic climbed on top of the octagon’s chained fencing and straddled the cage in triumph. Moments later, he took the microphone and yelled “O-H” to the crowd, which responded “I-0,” to its local champ, whose knock out of Fabricio Werdum this spring was followed by the Cavaliers overcoming a 3-1 deficit to beat Golden State in the NBA Finals.

“Stipe was the better man today,” said Overeem, one of UFC’s most experienced fighters. “He’s a great athlete, he’s tough. He won the fight. I thought he tapped.” Before Miocic’s stunning comeback, former WWE superstar CM Punk could have used a folding chair or a tag-team partner. Out of pro wrestling’s scripted ring, his first trip into the octagon didn’t last long. Punk, who was one of WWE’s biggest stars when he left it two years ago to try his hand in ultimate fighting, tapped out just 2:14 into the first round after he was pummeled and choked by welterweight Mickey Gall on the 203 undercard.

The 38-year-old Punk was on his back less than 10 seconds into the fight. Pinned up against the fencing, he was unable to get out from under Gall, who landed numerous blows to both sides of Punk’s head. Looking confident and mugging for the sellout crowd, Punk, whose debut had been delayed by injuries, entered Quicken Loans Arena to “Cult of Personality” by Living Colour, the song he used for years on the WWE circuit. After stepping into the eightsided arena for the first time, Punk smiled as he looked across at Gall, an up-and-coming welterweight from New Jersey who had called out the famous wrestler and pledged to “destroy” him. Gall made good on his promise, quickly shooting a double-legged takedown on Punk, who seemed in shock as he laid flat on his back. With Punk lying prone, Gall smashed a right hand into his temple and then kneeled on top of him and swung both arms like a pendulum, connecting with one hard shot after another

Punk nearly got free, but Gall regained a dominant position and squeezed his opponent’s head like he wanted to snap it off. Punk had no choice but to tap his hand on the mat, ending the fight the way many inside UFC predicted. “Yeah you know in life you go big or you go home,” Punk said afterward. “I just like to take challenges. It was a hell of a climb, I didn’t get to the summit tonight but it doesn’t mean I’m going to give up it doesn’t mean I’m going anywhere, it doesn’t mean I’m going to stop.” Prior to Miocic’s bout, former heavyweight champ Fabricio Werdum won a unanimous decision over Travis Browne.

Following the heated bout, Werdum put his gloved hands to his face and was pretending to wipe away tears when he was confronted by Browne’s coach Edmond Tarverdyan. Werdum tried to kick Tarverdyan and security rushed into the ring as both corners jawed at each other. Just climbing the steps into the octagon was something of a victory for Punk, who became a villain of sorts inside UFC circles as fans, wrestlers and fellow fighters questioned his motives for taking up a new sport with no experience. He was accustomed to the outside distractions – media requests, fans and travel – for years.

But despite working with Duke Roufus and other top trainers at the Roufusport Martial Arts Academy in Milwaukee for the past year, he wasn’t ready for Gall. Still, Punk intends to stick with his new love. “Obviously, Mickey’s a hell of a fighter. I will be back, believe it or not,” Punk said. “This was the most fun I’ve had in my life, second best night of my life after marrying my wife. I know there’s a lot of doubters but listen, life’s about falling down and getting back up. Doesn’t matter how many time you get knocked down, get back up.” —AP

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