Even if you do not believe Ultimate Fighting Championship President Dana White’s bluster that Francis Ngannou hits as hard as a Ford Escort doing 120 miles per hour, if you like fights, you are hyped for the UFC 220 bill on Saturday in Boston.
If Ngannou cashes in, perhaps MMA has a budding star. The fallback option: Defending champion Stipe Miocic sets the all-time UFC divisional record for consecutive title defenses with a whopping three and, all kidding aside, further vaults himself among the all-time heavyweight greats.
In all seriousness, who is to say the heavyweight champion is even the “baddest man the planet” like the advertising suggests? If Daniel Cormier vanquishes challenger Volkan Oezdemir, can we continue to overlook the two-time Olympian’s 13-0 record as a heavyweight?
No matter what direction UFC 220 takes us in divining the “baddest man on the planet,” with all due respect to Joe Warren, let us get into the odds and analysis:
UFC Heavyweight ChampionshipStipe Miocic (17-2) vs. Francis Ngannou (11-1)
ODDS: Ngannou (-170), Miocic (+160)
ANALYSIS: For many, myself included, there is a natural tendency to take the established and reigning lord of any division as the inherent, reflexive betting favorite in any situation. Though Miocic stands on the precipice of besting the single-reign UFC heavyweight title defense record, there is still a reason to perceive “The Predator” as taking the champion for prey in this particular case. Sure, you can equivocate out of the gate and say that betting money determines a line, but why would people whose entire life is bound up in a matter of units baselessly decide to favor Ngannou, who admittedly has nowhere near the historic heavyweight run Miocic has going? Well, there are several reasons.
First of all, we are dealing with a heavyweight bout. Miocic himself won the UFC heavyweight from Fabricio Werdum -- at worst, one of the three best heavyweights ever -- when he knocked him out with a counter hook while backpedaling. Werdum himself tapped Fedor Emelianenko in all of 69 seconds. All this to say: Heavyweight grandeur is real but fleeting. It can disappear in but a moment.
If we are questioning who is the better mixed martial artist, in this case, there is no question: the champion. Miocic, 35, has spent his career thriving on the fact that both casual folks and competitive fighters see him as a standard striker, despite the fact that the Ohioan has a legitimate collegiate wrestling pedigree and has consistently used it to his betterment throughout his MMA career. Would Miocic have authored the “Beatdown of the Year” against 2001 K-1 World Grand Prix winner Mark Hunt without his wrestling game?
With that said, what even suggests he can take down Ngannou? Yes, the UFC clearly has a love affair brewing with its new heavyweight contender, who happens to be training at its home base gym in Las Vegas; it is all very romantic. That silliness aside, it is clear Ngannou could withstand Miocic’s top-position pounding or takedown cleverness, largely because in the two years that have passed since he faced Curtis Blaydes, no one has come close to putting the Cameroonian on the mat.
Worse for the champion, his gift may be a curse. Miocic has excelled, on top of his toughness, because he is a rare heavyweight who can switch up his game when need be -- a skill most of his contemporaries lack. However, Miocic is not a difficult target for a diligent striker, especially one who has quick reflexes and can react to subtle movements like Ngannou. Even worse for the titlist, he has proven to be an equal opportunist when being defensively porous: Stefan Struve clobbered him with a half dozen rights, while Overeem rung him up with the left hand. In both cases, the exchanges came in close; Ngannou may have a three-inch reach advantage, but the bigger man is an exceptional in-fighter, and if he is to end this fight, this is likely the range from which he will engender it.
Miocic is a well-rounded boxer, but he does his best work in tight and close. Despite his challenger being the bigger man, Ngannou is a positively lethal threat in the phone booth, as he is largely ambidextrous, flows between stances and does massive damage with short hooks and uppercuts. This is not an insurmountable challenge for Miocic, but stylistically, Ngannou is a much more dangerous adversary than any in recent memory.
This is MMA and if Miocic can navigate range, get early takedowns and sit on his counterpart’s leg while pounding away, this may be a lopsided defense for the champion. However, Ngannou’s takedown defense and overall training continues to improve; plus, his eyebrow-raising short punching with both hands, never mind his jaw-dropping power, makes him a major threat any time Miocic tries to change phases of fighting. This may be made to look silly if Miocic gets said takedowns and pounds away, but the official pick is for the UFC’s first African-born champion in the first 10 minutes of warfare.
Next Fight » Cormier vs. Oezdemir