Francis Ngannou stops Junior dos Santos by TKO at UFC Minneapolis


Francis Ngannou is among the most powerful punchers in UFC history. (Jose Juarez/AP)

Two of the hardest punchers in UFC history threw down Saturday night in Minneapolis and it was Francis Ngannou who emerged with his hand raised after making quick work of former heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos.

Dos Santos started strong by attacking Ngannou’s legs and body early, but the six-foot-four, 255-pound native of Batié, Cameroon clipped his Brazilian foe with a looping right hook that turned out to be the beginning of the end.

Ngannou landed several follow-up punches after dos Santos fell to the canvas and referee Herb Dean called a stop to the action just 71 seconds into the opening stanza.

Ngannou (14-3) has now won three in a row. It took him 45 seconds to dispose of Curtis Blades in November and he put another former champ, Cain Velasquez, to sleep in a mere 26 seconds in February.

Current heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier is slated to defend his title in a rematch against Stipe Miocic in August and in all likelihood Ngannou has done enough to earn a shot at the winner.

Ngannou fought for the title 18 months ago when Miocic held the belt. Miocic won every round en route to a dominant unanimous decision and the humbling defeat even affected Ngannou in his next outing — a lacklustre effort against Derrick Lewis at UFC 226 during which Ngannou looked uncharacteristically gun-shy.

The knockout artist has clearly turned things around since that brief two-fight slump in 2018 and has looked unstoppable ever since.

In the co-main event, Joseph Benavidez beat Jussier Formiga for the second time in his career to cement himself as the top contender in the flyweight division. The pair previously met six years ago with Benavidez also winning by TKO then.

Benavidez has won nine of his past 10 fights dating back to 2014 with his only loss during that stretch being a split decision to Sergio Pettis. Benavidez often goes the distance but has earned stoppages in two of his past three.

Benavidez is perhaps the most talented and accomplished fighter in UFC history to have never been a UFC champion and the next logical step would be for him to face 125-pound champ Henry Cejudo for the title.

The 34-year-old beat Cejudo, who is also now the UFC bantamweight titleholder, by somewhat controversial split decision in December of 2016. Having those two run it back would make a whole lot of sense. Cejudo, however, is expected to be out of commission until 2020 after recently undergoing shoulder surgery.

Here are the complete results from UFC Minneapolis:

— Francis Ngannou def. Junior dos Santos by TKO
— Joseph Benavidez def. Jussier Formiga by TKO
— Demian Maia def. Anthony Rocco Martin by majority decision
— Vinc Pichel def. Roosevelt Roberts by unanimous decision
— Drew Dober def. Marco Polo Reyes by TKO
— Alonzo Menifield def. Paul Craig by knockout

— Ricardo Ramos def. Journey Newson by unanimous decision
— Eryk Anders def. Vinicius Moreira by knockout
— Jared Gordon def. Dan Moret by unanimous decision
— Dalcha Lungiambula def. Dequan Townsend by TKO
— Amanda Ribas def. Emily Whitmire by submission (rear-naked choke)
— Maurice Greene def. Junior Albini by TKO

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