Francis Ngannou got back on track with a ferocious performance during UFC's first visit to Beijing, knocking out Curtis Blaydes just 25 seconds into the main event of a UFC Fight Night at Cadillac Arena.
Ngannou (12-3) embodied his "Predator" nickname for several years by winning his first six UFC fights, all stoppages inside of two rounds. His 2018 performances, however, had not lived up to the moniker. After being battered in a heavyweight title fight in January, the Cameroonian looked lost in his summertime return, a second straight defeat.
But on Saturday, the Ngannou that fight fans had come to regard as must-see made a reappearance. Afterward, the emotions that spilled forth from Ngannou seemed to be equal parts elation and relief.
"It's been a hard time," he said. "But listen, man, I'm back!"
Blaydes (10-2, 1 NC), who had been unbeaten in six straight fights since a 2016 defeat against Ngannou, tried to establish his wrestling game right from the start, but his attempt at a takedown was unsuccessful. Before he could try another, he was tagged by an overhand right, which dropped him to the canvas. Blaydes reached for a leg to try to save himself with some clear-the-cobwebs grappling, but he quickly wilted under an onslaught of fists.
"I had to do something. My last fight [against Derrick Lewis] was very, very stuck," Ngannou said. "And I still apologize for that fight. It wasn't me. It wasn't good."
This time Ngannou was himself. This time it was good.
As quick as the 32-year-old was in dispatching Blaydes, he was no less quick in looking for his next opponent. Ngannou mentioned a desire to fight Junior dos Santos and Alexander Volkov, but then he got down to business by calling out Stipe Miocic. It was the former champion who, while still wearing the belt in January, had started Ngannou's slide with a one-sided decision.
"That fight, I didn't do well," Ngannou said, "and I really want to fix it."
Overeem rudely welcomes Pavlovich to UFC
Alistair Overeem had lost two fights in a row and, at age 38, might have thought UFC was using him as a gatekeeper for its heavyweight division in booking him against Sergey Pavlovich, an unbeaten Russian making his debut for the promotion.
If the Dutchman took offense to his diminished place in the hierarchy, he took it out on Pavlovich (12-1), keeping the 26-year-old teammate of lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov a step behind the whole way in the co-main event.
After several exchanges on the feet did little for either man, Overeem (44-17, 1 NC) scored a takedown midway through the first round and quickly unleashed a ground-and-pound assault to get the TKO finish at 4:21.
It was an efficient performance, with none of the dramatics that had been plaguing Overeem in recent years.
"Hey, listen, The Reem is back," he said. "Boom!"