Over the course of his twelve-fight UFC stint, only three opponents have managed to avoid the fight-ending shots of UFC 260 heavyweight championship challenger, Francis ‘The Predator’ Ngannou; Anthony Hamilton refused to be separated from consciousness, however, submitted to a first round kimura. Derrick Lewis avoided a largely gun-shy Ngannou to take home a unanimous decision win, in one of the most forgettable fights in the history of the UFC. And Stipe Miocic, the defending champion.
Miocic met with Ngannou during the Cameroonian’s initial rise through the heavyweight ranks in emphatic fashion, completely mitigating the unmatched power of the challenger over five rounds to set a title defence record in the process.
That result, along with the forgettable matchup with Lewis has been touted as a wake-up call inducer for Ngannou, however, we’ve seen nothing beyond that summer 2018 clash with Lewis to suggest Ngannou’s made meaningful evolutions to his game come fight night. And there’s a simple reason as to why we’ve yet to view those changes, if any have been made, in fact. It’s his continued stopping power.
In the time since his pair of losses, Ngannou has returned with a vengeance back to the number-one rank in the division, stopping two former world champions, and two very altering stylistic opponents — all within the opening minute and a half of the first round. Frightening personified is quite the fitting description for Ngannou.
Despite the dominant fashion in which Miocic knocked back Ngannou at UFC 220 three-years ago in Boston, we’re still presented with some posing questions. How has the damage sustained by Miocic in the time since, namely a first round knockout loss to Daniel Cormier, affected his durability? And has Ngannou made the correct adjustments to prevent history from repeating itself against the consensus greatest heavyweight to ever walk the planet?
Some of the attributes presented by the two make for interesting comparing. Miocic is again, to the consensus, the more cardio-efficient fighter, the more wily and shrewd fighter in regards to movement and evasive manoeuvres. And maybe the most important factor; his wrestling prowess.
At the TD Garden at the beginning of 2018, Miocic managed to land six successful takedowns, seriously zapping the stopping-ability of Ngannou over the course of the five round main event. In the time since, no other opponent has managed to find the sufficient opening, or had the time to implement their own offensive grappling against Ngannou, even Juco standout, Blaydes, without finding themselves unconscious. Like the first matchup, grappling, particularly in this smaller scale UFC Apex Octagon should be a significant focus of Miocic’s early-round approach.
One attribute Ngannou’s got that trumps Miocic, and every other fighter on the roster, however, obvious it may seem — is his unrivalled ability to stop an opponent with a single shot. He’s the most formidable knockout-artist in the history of the UFC I’d argue, and with good reason.
Granted, both former champions, Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos were approaching their respective career swansongs, but the above-mentioned Blaydes, and in particular, May opposition, Jairzinho Rozenstruik entered their matchups with Ngannou, in extremely comfortable nick in regards to damage sustained over the course of their professional careers.
Akin to the previously noted, Lewis, at heavyweight, Ngannou’s got the ultimate equaliser. It’s as simple as that. If you’re on the receiving end of a clean strike from the 34-year-old, especially in the opening exchanges, consequential questions are posed to your consciousness.
What could prove a significant factor against Miocic ahead of this weekend’s rematch is, however, the damage he’s sustained since his initial tangle with Ngannou. In the time since, he’s only fought the stylistic battle presented by the aforenoted former two-weight champion, Cormier, on three straight occasions nevertheless.
Taking the trilogy in an August rubber match, Miocic suffered his first defeat in over four years in quite surprising fashion it has to be said; a short counter hook in the clinch from Cormier sent him to the canvas late in the first round, before ground strikes put him out. Credit where credit’s due for Cormier, but it certainly came as a surprise to me to witness Miocic out cold via that method. I question the factor that stoppage, the abundance of significant strikes absorbed in the subsequent nine rounds since, as well as the well-documented eye problems Miocic dealt with will play in this rematch.
Massive questions of Ngannou’s improvement will be asked if Miocic can successfully employ that wrestling-centric offence on Saturday night. And if those tests aren’t sat and passed by the challenger, Miocic has an already traversed route to victory. The ability of Ngannou to survive all five rounds if he lands on his back again in this one will be seriously tested as well.
With that said, however, the ability for Ngannou to stop his foe with a single shot is something that simply can’t be overlooked. It’s the ultimate fight changer. However, I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if Miocic leaves me with egg on my face in the early hours of Saturday morning — as he’s done time and time again, particularly the first time these two stood opposite each other.
Prediction: Francis Ngannou def, Stipe Miocic via second round knockout.
Senior writer for FightBook MMA. An aspiring mixed martial arts reporter based in Ireland. Producer of news articles, interviews, opinion features, and exclusive features such as, ‘The Fallout’, ‘The Breakdown, and, ‘This Week In MMA’.
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