Dare I speculate — we could be in store for a period of prolonged domination at the top of the UFC’s heavyweight division given the assumption to the throne of Francis ‘The Predator’ Ngannou.
Putting prior championship challenge woes behind him, Ngannou has arguably landed a victory over the sternest stylistic challenge which separated him from the heavyweight crown, in the form of the dominant incumbent, Stipe Miocic.
Many have tried, including Ngannou, and many have failed, including Ngannou. However, the challenger who emerged victorious on Saturday at UFC 260 looked as composed on an occasion such as that as we’ve ever seen him.
I noted how paramount Ngannou’s defensive wrestling improvements, if any, would be in his rematch with Miocic, and as proven by the challenger himself, he’s come on leaps and bounds since their first matchup back in January of 2018.
Landing what appeared to be a massive straight right on Miocic after cleverly moving into range with a trio of feinting jabs, two upstairs, and a singular a floor lower — Ngannou was forced to stuff and sprawl from an offensive shot from the champion, before incredibly, taking Miocic’s back in surprising fashion, and unloading with a series of ground strikes. Understandably, that convinced Miocic against shooting for any other takedowns.
What really struck me throughout the fight, as long as it was, is the incredible composure and comfortability displayed by Ngannou, particularly in the opening round.
His ultimate downfall in the first matchup, along with the wrestling expertise of Miocic, was a wild, winging output that had him severely fatigued early. This time around, however, despite taking the round with a 10-9, Ngannou stood in his corner awaiting the beginning of the second frame appearing rather fresh.
Within the opening minute of the second round, Ngannou had Miocic on his backside at the fence, this time via a stiff step-in lead jab, before attempting to swarm. Despite clipping Miocic with a short uppercut on the exit, the Ohio native circled away, and even landed with a right hand of his own.
Maybe overzealous to a certain extent, Miocic rushed forward, straight onto a short left-hook, which sent him firmly to the canvas this time, with Ngannou following up with a devastating hammer fist before referee, Herb Dean could separate the two.
Initially, it appeared Jon Jones was all but set to await the victor in one of the biggest heavyweight title fights of all time this summer, but a post-fight Twitter storm from the former two-time light heavyweight champion suggests he’s prepared to sit out and make way for Francis Ngannou vs. Derrick Lewis II if the UFC don’t come to the table with a sufficient payment scheme.
Below, join me as I play matchmaker for the newly-minted Ngannou, and the faltering Miocic.
Francis Ngannou vs. Jon Jones:
If the promotion can come to an adequate deal, which seems in the balance given this afternoon’s Twitter tirade with former light heavyweight titleholder, Jones which would see him challenge Ngannou for the undisputed heavyweight title — it’s arguably the biggest fight the promotion could field this year.
Ngannou and Jones briefly exchanged some barbs last year, with Jones teased a potential divisional debut against the Cameroonian before he even lifted heavyweight gold.
Sitting at #1 in the promotion’s official pound-for-pound rankings, Jones presents the biggest stylistic task for Ngannou to overcome at this moment in time, apart from former teammate, Ciryl Gane, although at this moment, the Frenchman is some distance off contention — maybe two fights, in fact.
It’s also a massive matchup both stature, occasion, and risk-wise for Jones — who’ll be facing the biggest puncher he’s ever stood opposite during his lengthy stint under the promotion’s banner.
As mentioned above, if the UFC and Jones can somehow negotiate a deal for some time this late summer, you’ve got to pull the trigger on Ngannou vs. Jones in my estimation. And while negotiations appear to prove difficult, the narrative painted that Jones may be fearful of Ngannou is a definite smokescreen, and absolutely bogus.
Francis Ngannou vs. Derrick Lewis II:
Granted, as much of a washout as their July 2018 matchup was, I think we’d be in for a completely different clash this time around between Ngannou and Lewis.
There are some notable factors that accompanied both Ngannou and Lewis into that summer title-eliminator. Ngannou had just dropped a disheartening unanimous decision to Miocic in his first title challenge, and was incredibly apprehensive when pitted with the heavy-hitting Lewis — who himself was dealing with a back injury, which severely limited his mobility.
In the time since, both have had their fair share of notable victories; for Ngannou, we’ve got Curtis Blaydes, Cain Velasquez, Junior dos Santos, Jairzinho Rozenstruik, and now Miocic. And for Lewis, he’s stopped the now surging, Alexander Volkov, Aleksei Olienik, and most recently — stamped his title contender credentials once more with a shocking second round knockout win over common-opposition, Blaydes just last month.
I might be alone here but, I’d be very interested to see how a matchup between a now patient, but still incredibly potent Ngannou, and a confident, streaking Lewis. And of course — it can’t go much worse than their July 2018 clash.
Stipe Miocic vs. ?
I’m really torn on what should be next for former two-time champion, Miocic. He’s done it all. He’ll likely go down as the greatest heavyweight mixed martial artist of all-time, deservedly.
If I’m totally honest, I don’t see what’s left for Miocic to achieve in this sport at the highest level. He’s quite literally done it all in terms of accolades that matter and seal his legacy, and the decision to attempt to siege back to the title for the second time in two years isn’t one that I think he should force.
There’s no way I’m questioning Miocic’s commitment to fighting after this setback, but it’s more so the question that’s going to prove burning beyond belief as the summer approaches for him; what’s left for me to do?
Whilst completely derserving of a trilogy, rubber-match with Ngannou, I’d be hugely-surprised if that’s a matchup the promotion would be eager to make, especially with Jones possibly waiting in the wings — and to boot, that’s probably a matchup that would turn Ngannou’s eye.
I don’t neccesarily see Miocic taking on the likes of the Lewis’, the Volkov’s, the Gane’s or the Blaydes’ of this division, and whilst I’m not entirely certain he’ll hang up his gloves either, I’m unsure as to who he should stand across from next — if anybody.
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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