Few things in fighting are more prestigious than the UFC heavyweight championship. If Stipe Miocic wants to keep possession of it, he’ll have to once again overcome Francis Ngannou.
Miocic (20-3 MMA, 14-3 UFC), regarded by many as the most prominent heavyweight in the sport’s history, will attempt to add to his legacy when he rematches the frightening force that is Ngannou (15-3 MMA, 10-2 UFC) in Saturday’s UFC 260 headliner.
The title bout takes place at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas and is available to stream live on ESPN+. Prelims start at 6:15 p.m. ET and are followed by the main card at 10:00 pm ET. UFC 260 is available exclusively to ESPN+ subscribers via pay-per-view.
Although much has changed since the first encounter between the duo, the narratives going into the rematch seem to be eerily reminiscent to the storylines before Miocic’s successful title defense against Ngannou at UFC 220 in January 2018.
Prior to the initial contest, Ngannou was viewed as an unstoppable force who brought the term “knockout power” to a whole new level. He ran through every opponent placed before him with ease until he got the chance to challenge for gold.
Miocic showed he’s why he’s a different kind of animal, though, as he managed to dodge the devastating power of Ngannou early. Once he weathered the storm, Miocic used his sizable grappling advantage to wrestle Ngannou to the mat, beat and bloody him up for the duration of the bout, and win a lopsided unanimous decision on the judges’ scorecards.
The fight exposed a major flaw in Ngannou’s game. If an opponent can avoid absorbing a clean shot from the Cameroonian striker early on, the chances of victory go up dramatically. The problem, however, is that no one else has been able to put that blueprint into practice.
Ngannou, 34, has climbed his way back to a rematch with Miocic courtesy of an unprecedented four-fight streak of first-round knockouts. He’s dispatched of his opponents in 20 seconds, 71 seconds, 26 seconds and 45 seconds, and with that has rebuilt the terrifying aura that surrounded him going into his first UFC title shot.
Ngannou might be humble and soft-spoken outside of the octagon, but when he gets locked in that cage, he possesses a freakish level of force that has led many to crumble in highlight-reel fashion. He claims the magnitude of the moment got to him last time and he wasn’t ready for it. But now? He’s prepared to inherit the throne.
“It was a different me fighting that fight,” Ngannou says. “I have changed a lot. The time between my first fight with Stipe and now, is almost (as long as) the time I’ve been doing the sport. I’m twice what I was skill-wise, experience-wise. I’m the better fighter and that’s what I’m about to prove.”
The problem for Ngannou, however, is that Miocic represents his hurdle to the belt. Miocic, 38, who works as a firefighter in Cleveland when he’s not throwing fists in a cage, has proven time and time again that he won’t part ways with his belt easily.
Miocic is constantly overlooked because he prefers to fly under the radar. He doesn’t do much media, and is not prone to dishing out headline-grabbing quotes. What he does do, though, is win. He’s come out on the right end of six UFC title fights since reaching the championship scene in May 2016, and one of those came against Ngannou.
In theory, Miocic’s approach at UFC 260 should be to mimic what happened in the first fight. He must avoid taking flush strikes in the early minutes, and it’s imperative he use clinch work, takedowns, top control and other tactics that will be physically taxing on Ngannou.
The longer the fight goes, the better Miocic’s chances are of victory. It sounds relatively simple, but there’s nothing simple about the power Ngannou carries in his fists.
“He’s been on a tear,” Miocic says. “(People say), ‘He’s unstoppable; Knocking everyone out and he’s going to knock [you] out. It’s going to be a different outcome.’ Nope. It’s going to be the same outcome,” Miocic declares: “Me winning.”
Can Miocic repeat the feat and show once again why he’s the most decorated heavyweight in UFC history? Or will Ngannou learn from the error of his ways and finally achieve the championship expectations that have been placed on him for so long? Order UFC 260 to find out.