After months of anticipation and what if’s, the heavyweight title of the world will finally be on the line at UFC 270 this weekend from Anaheim, California.
Francis Ngannou finally reached the top of the mountain back at UFC 260 when he knocked out Stipe Miocic and became champion, but his quick turnaround never happened.
Since then, former teammate and friend Ciryl Gane has beaten both Alexander Volkov and Derrick Lewis at UFC 265 to become the interim heavyweight champion to set this one up.
Now you could be of the opinion that there is nothing bigger than a UFC heavyweight title fight in the sport of MMA if you’re part of the roster, but this fight has got so much more than just the belt at stake.
For the challenger, this is legacy. The French fighter is currently undefeated as a professional, with a 10-0 record in his career and a 7-0 run in the UFC.
It’s also a chance to show that his coach backed the right horse, with an in-gym rift between coach and Ngannou meaning the latter left and would no longer be sparring partners with ‘Bon Gamin’.
That split allowed Fernand Lopez to give his undivided heavyweight attention to 31-year-old Gane and help him become the absolute best he could be.
That split also allowed Ngannou to go off and become champion elsewhere, something he failed to do against the same champion in his first attempt several years prior.
The details of the rift are different depending on who you ask, but there is a rift and it’s very real.
For Ngannou, this fight is more than just about defending the title. It’s about proving he is a complete fighter these days and not just a one-punch wonder, while also getting one over on his former friends and colleagues.
Further than that though, it’s about proving his worth to the UFC as a whole.
According to ESPN, this fight serves as the final fight on an eight-fight deal that he signed with the company several years ago. Should he lose his title, he would immediately enter a period of restricted free agency and after 90-days would be able to sign elsewhere if he couldn’t agree terms with the UFC.
Should he win though, he has vowed not to fight under the terms of his previous deal ever again regardless of the fact a ‘Champion clause’ would become active and add some fights to his deal on the previous terms.
Ngannou wants to have the ability to box entered into his contract, as well as a significant pay increase as the cemented best in the world. A win almost forces the UFC’s hand to at least somewhat compromise from their current position.
There’s also the shadow of Jon Jones in the background and a mega-money fight with him for whoever is the winner of this fight.
So many branches from one tree, but the ultimate prize for the winner is the UFC title belt and the ability to call themselves the baddest man on the planet.
This has all the makings to be one of the most memorable heavyweight fights in the organisation’s history, whether it lasts 25 seconds or 25 minutes. The aftermath will likely be just as exciting too.