Imagine being the consensus greatest heavyweight fighter of all time in the UFC and the reigning heavyweight champion of the world, and still being overlooked when it comes to defending your crown.
That’s the situation that Stipe Miocic finds himself in as he heads into UFC 260 to take on Francis Ngannou in a rematch from over three years ago. He will be making the second defence of his current title reign, and the sixth in his career – more than any other heavyweight champion has ever managed.
So how on planet Earth is he the betting underdog going into this fight?
Now, credit where it’s due, Ngannou is an absolute animal. He has 12 UFC fights under his belt, with ten wins – all by stoppage, including nine knockouts and a kimura finish. He is now into his sixth year with the company and Miocic remains the only man to outclass him in the octagon. His only other defeat came immediately after that title fight, to Derrick Lewis, in a bout where both men just basically refused to throw any strikes.
Since that Lewis defeat, Ngannou has won four fights in a row by knockout in a combined time of 2:42 – just over half a round to beat four different ranked opponents. But this is remarkably similar to the run he went on before he fought Miocic the first time.
When that fight happened, Miocic took Ngannou’s shot right on the chin and then wrestled him to the ground and completely beat him up for 25 minutes. As every minute passed by in that fight, it became more and more clear that there were several levels between the two fighters and since Miocic could take the punch that nobody else could he’d win the fight.
Now they meet again and Miocic is in a similar position to what he was in back then. After a brilliant trilogy with Daniel Cormier, where he not only recovered his defeat but got his knockout back and then won the final bout handily, Stipe is moving on.
He’s beaten the greats of the division, knocking out Alistair Overeem, Junior Dos Santos, Mark Hunt and Fabricio Werdum. In fact the only person that’s ever beaten him that he hasn’t beaten is the ‘Skyscraper’ Stefan Struve way back in 2012 – but I think it’s safe to say he’s come a long way since then.
So when you look at the career of Miocic, his fighting style, the way he’s developed over the last few years in terms of his fight IQ as well as physically it’s crazy to think that people still go against him when it comes to betting or predicting.
Ngannou has reach, height, size and power on Stipe, and yet he had all those things the first time they fought too. We’ve not seen anything from Ngannou since that fight that suggests he will have improved on the ground – although rumours from his camp suggest he is now “obsessed” with grappling in training.
That’s all well and good, but it takes more than three years to beat a lifelong wrestler the calibre of Miocic. Ngannou without a doubt has a chance in this fight, simply because he hits so God damn hard, but that’s all it is. He’s not going to outwork Miocic, he’s not going to out-grapple Miocic, he won’t beat the volume of Miocic and he won’t outlast Miocic.
He’s got a puncher’s chance, and it’s one hell of a punch, but it’s absolutely time to put some respect on the name of the Cleveland fire fighter’s name.
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