Francis Ngannou is the baddest and scariest man on the planet. While many fighters have sought to claim this moniker, in Ngannou’s case it is completely justified.
Francis Ngannou is a hulking 6’4, 265 pound ball of muscle. When he hits an opponent with a clean shot, be it a stiff jab or looping overhand right, his UFC fight is normally over. Ngannou fights often last less than 1 minute, and are seemingly finished when he decides they are. There is not much that his opponent can do to counter the pure, clean power that Ngannou possesses.
Recently dethroned UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic performed as well as could have been expected against Ngannou. Miocic survived the first round, attempted a take-down, played a cautious game of wait and see, and looked for opportunities to disrupt the Ngannou onslaught.
The inevitable clean Ngannou blow landed early in the second round and the UFC heavyweight division had a new king. He is a humble, likable character with an enthralling back-story and looks set to become a fan favourite. His punching power is unmatched. It has taken some time to sharpen his toolbox of techniques and solve his endurance issues, but the pieces are now in place for a lengthy title reign.
Ngannou was born into dire poverty in Cameroon. Raised by an aunt he had little schooling and went to work in a sand mine at the age of 10. He resisted many temptations to join a life of crime, and began boxing in his early 20s. Showing early promise, he set off for France with improbable dreams of becoming a world boxing champion. The journey was interrupted by a stint in a Spanish jail for an alleged illegal border crossing, and he eventually arrived to wander the streets of Paris hungry and homeless. Ngannou ended up sleeping in a gym while receiving free boxing training until being introduced to MMA at the late age of 27.
Ngannou’s early MMA career was largely straight-forward. While he lacked many of the skills possessed by many of his opponents, Ngannou was just too big and strong for them. After a run of knockouts, he was rewarded with a title fight versus ascendent champion Stipe Miocic. Ngannou was handed his first real defeat when Miocic evaded the thunderous blows and took Ngannou to the mat repeatedly in a decisive victory. Ngannou gassed badly in the 5 round fight, which is to be expected from an athlete carrying such prodigious muscling. This loss proved a significant mental blow, and his next bout versus Derrick Lewis was the worst UFC fight ever staged. So desperate was Ngannou not to run out of gas that barely threw a punch. He was afraid of the inevitable downside of his power and this played havoc with his strategy.
But then went back to work, fell in love with his power again, and made short work of his next 4 opponents. Ngannou tidied up some technical shortcomings, improved his kicks and wrestling skills, expanded his arsenal, and has now climbed to the peak of the mountain.
So who is next? Post-fight discussions centred on the tweets of Jon Jones, who has bulked up to heavyweight in search of super-fights and paydays commensurate with his skills. Jones has long been under-valued by UFC top brass and has watched with horror while the likes of Conor McGregor and Jorge Masvidal have made bank with huge purses. Jones has never lost a fight, but a string of legal and doping indiscretions have tarnished his brand. A fight with Ngannou should be a massive money-spinner, but once again it seems Jones will not be indulged by management.
Dana White labelled Jones scared for demanding his worth, and it looks like a rematch with Derrick Lewis is the next bout most likely. Jones would be wise to play the long game. Heavyweight ranks are thin and there are just not that many possible Ngannou matchups out there. Jones should pretend to retire and then play extremely hardball in any contract negotiations. Perhaps he should read The 48 Laws of Power or The Art Of The Deal while he waits.
To step into the ring with Ngannou is a potentially career-ending proposition. Stipe Miocic should probably hang up the gloves following his loss and return to his life as a family man and firefighter. His reign was long and fruitful and he deserves to retire with his faculties intact. The UFC has seen some dominant champions, but the fear instilled by the powerful Ngannou might deliver a new phenomenon, a titleholder who cannot defend his gold for lack of willing and worthy opponents.
Jackson Byrne – Combat Sports Editor