Exciting news and storylines pop up in the combat sports world every day. In this weekly series, our UFC team will answer questions that fight fans are asking themselves, with bold takes and differing opinions on each topic.
Francis Ngannou was crowned heavyweight champion after knocking out Stipe Miocic in Saturday’s main event. With Ngannou showing vast improvement from the first time these two met, do you foresee a long title reign for Ngannou?
William: What a performance we saw from Francis Ngannou this past Saturday night. Totally different to what we had seen from him in just his last fight! He stayed calm, cool and patient, knowing it only took one good shot from him to end the fight. His wrestling defense was significantly improved as well, sprawling and actually landing some pretty heavy shots on Stipe in the process.
Now he likely has on his hands what I would argue is the hardest first title defense in the history of the UFC, against Jon “Bones” Jones. I really hope they can get the money figured out for Jon and this gets booked ASAP because I can’t wait to see it. Now does Ngannou have the recipe to beat Jones? Saturday night was a good start but he still needs to keep improving his takedown defense for a bout with Jones. I’m not sure if it’s because Jon hasn’t felt threatened or if he’s trying to prove himself on the feet but in his last two fights he hasn’t been able to ground his opponent in one, and didn’t even try in the other. One of those fights was a split decision win against Thiago Santos who spent the majority of the fight fighting on one leg. Now let me be clear, if Jones doesn’t get Ngannou to the ground, not only will he lose, but he will be knocked out. As great of a chin as he has, there’s no such thing as simply eating Ngannou’s shots. If Ngannou gets through Jones, I don’t know if he will be beaten again for quite some time.
Nick: Ngannou proved me totally wrong on Saturday night and I have to praise him for it. Coming into the fight, I didn’t think he had shown anything to suggest that he was a different threat from the first time he fought Stipe Miocic. I was wrong. Ngannou displayed expert takedown defense, improved wrestling and most importantly, patience. He didn’t gas himself out in the first two minutes and he picked his spots carefully. A man with that much power suddenly becoming a calculated striker is a devastatingly scary proposition for the rest of the division.
Obviously the question regarding a long title reign will have to do largely with the status of Jon Jones. Twitter tirades aside, if Jones and the UFC can agree to a deal for a heavyweight title fight it’ll make things very interesting. If there’s one man in the world who I could see cracking the code that is Francis Ngannou, it’s Jones. That said, if the promotion doesn’t strike a deal with Jones and Ngannou is subject to taking on contenders within the current heavyweight rankings, I don’t believe anyone stands a chance to beat him.
Zack: Absolutely. There’s a couple of items that I feel like are and were overlooked about Francis Ngannou. Let’s start with the “are” portion of the analysis. One thing that is close to unbelievable about Ngannou’s fight history is that he’s never been stopped. In a smaller division that might not be a massive deal, but at heavyweight with fights against Derrick Lewis, Curtis Blaydes, Alistair Overeem, Cain Velasquez, and just about everyone else, not being stopped is a big deal. Ngannou has the best chin in the UFC and probably the world. Maybe not pound for pound, but definitely straight up.
So pair that chin with the patience and improved fitness, the “were” portion of his fighting style, and you have a certified killer. With a pair of Ford Escorts for hands and a much more tactical, mental fighting style, I can’t really see anyone beating Ngannou. His takedown defense against Stipe was pristine, his striking was precise and devastating, and he ate up some really clean blows from Miocic like they were nothing.
Miocic’s game was to dole out punishment in clean and vicious segments and Ngannou completely thwarted that, mentally and physically. Unless Jones can knock him off, I don’t see anyone taking the strap from Ngannou until he begins to slip physically.
After Ngannou won the belt on Saturday, the attention immediately turned to Jon Jones as his next opponent. When would you like to see that fight and how do you think it plays out?
William: I touched on this a bit in the first question but I think there’s multiple factors that go into a fight between Ngannou and Jones. First, I think they should schedule it for the end of the summer, preferably the August card.
As for the fight, my main question is how Jones looks with all the weight added to his frame. As he has posted on his Instagram, he looks huge right now and appears to have added 25-30lbs of muscle. Will that have an affect on his speed or his cardio? Those are questions we don’t have answered just yet. I think if Jones wants to win the fight he needs to be in on a leg of Ngannou very quickly, or patiently wait on the outside trying to time an overhand of Ngannou to shoot. If he can get him to the ground and tire him out, he will take away some of that devastating power and have some success on the feet.
However, if Ngannou is able to keep improving his cardio and takedown defense, I’m not sure I can see Jon Jones winning that fight. Having a year and a half layoff from his last fight won’t help Jones either. If I had to make a pick right now I’d lean Ngannou, but not by the wide margin Vegas currently has the odds at.
Nick: Jones’ recent meltdown on social media has me thinking this fight is never going to happen, but we’ll see. I sure hope it does, because man oh man, it would be huge. Ngannou’s sheer power and physical stature is nothing like anything Jones has ever seen, while Jones’ skill and overall fighting style is nothing like Ngannou has ever seen. It’s going to be a massive fight, if it does happen.
Like I said for the previous question, if I had to choose one guy to defeat Ngannou, it’d be Jones. People are forgetting just how damn good Jon Jones was, and is. He’s never lost and never been stopped. He’s the greatest fighter in the history of mixed martial arts. That has to count for something, right?
Granted, he’s never stepped into the Octagon with someone even remotely resembling Ngannou, so obviously that’s what would make this matchup one of the most exciting in recent history.
Zack: I think there’s a card coming on July 10th that just had a nice little fight pop up that could probably use a belt fight to really spruce things up. It might be a bit soon considering how much this means for Ngannou and the people who support him, but getting The Predator back in the Octagon with Jon Jones will be a priority for Dana White and his team. Jones seems to be in great shape and considering Francis didn’t take much damage, he’s probably in good shape at the moment.
That being said, preparing for Jones will be a completely different beast and an extensive training camp will be in order for that fight. Do I think Francis can be ready in time? Yes. Will he want to fight again on that date? Tough to say.
As for how the fight goes? That’s a wonderful question that I have no idea how to answer. There’s so many factors that go into that fight that we can’t really analyze. How will Jon Jones stand up to the power? Can Francis keep up mentally? Will Francis have the tank to stay fresh on his feet late into a fight? Will Jones have ring rust or issues keeping his breath at his new weight? Neither fighter has ever faced someone as talented or powerful as each other and that makes it tough to predict. If I had to make a choice I think Ngannou would win by knockout, but no result would surprise me.
For Stipe Miocic, Saturday night was obviously a disappointment. When would you like to see the heavyweight GOAT fight again?
William: It’s really disappointing to see how quickly people are forgetting about Stipe Miocic. He is perhaps the most underrated fighter in the UFC’s history and still the greatest heavyweight of all time. This past Saturday did not go his way and he made some pretty big mistakes in the fight. He tried to get into a firefight with Ngannou after the first takedown failed, and that is simply never a good idea.
Taking a knockout like that I always like to see a fight take some serious time off before returning. His wife is having a baby this summer and he always likes to take extra time off between fights, so maybe an early 2021 return? That way he can let the Jones/Ngannou saga play out and hopefully be there to fight the winner when the time comes. I really don’t think he should be fighting for anything other than the title at this point in his career, so that takes any potential matchup with Lewis/Gane off the table as well.
Nick: Not going to lie, my heart shattered into pieces watching Stipe Miocic’s head bounce off the canvas like it did Saturday. Not because I have anything against Ngannou (how could anyone?), but because Miocic just seemed invincible. When someone is so good for so long, it’s something you never expect to see until it happens. Unfortunately, that’s the fight game.
I could write a 200-page book on the lost legend that is Miocic, but I’ll try to keep it brief. Miocic is every bit the “people’s champ” that Colby Covington thinks he is. A firefighter by day, who risks his life to save others, a family man with a daughter and a loving wife, just an overall genuinely good person, and, oh yeah… the greatest heavyweight fighter of all time. It will always puzzle me as to why the UFC failed to capitalize on the promotional value of Miocic while he was champion, and frankly it’s pretty disheartening. He may have never been the flashiest or most bombastic, but he was a champion in every aspect of his life during that reign and he deserves all the credit in the world.
In terms of Miocic’s next move, I’m not sure. He has headlined blockbuster PPV events for so long, it’s hard to imagine him being relegated to a Fight Night slot or even a co-main event. But that’s the reality of the situation, unless he gets a trilogy with Ngannou. I think someone like Ciryl Gane would be an exciting fight and a great matchup stylistically, so maybe that’s a possibility. I think Miocic will beat whoever they give him as long as it isn’t Francis Ngannou, so I’m not worried about his future.
Zack: Stipe took a beating Saturday night and even though he’s an iron man and may want to come back pretty soon, no one would fault him for taking advantage for the Jones/Ngannou matchup that seems inevitable and just hanging out for a while. It will feel really odd to see him fight someone not named Francis Ngannou or Daniel Cormier considering they’re the only men he’s fought since May of 2017, but it might not be a bad thing for him to see someone else before taking another title shot.
I know he deserves the trilogy and I have no problem if he wants to go straight back for the belt then he should, but it might be beneficial to take some time and get another fight before that. Taking on a Derrick Lewis or Jairzinho Rozenstruik to build up confidence and refine some skills that may have dulled over the past years could help him regain his top form and have a better chance of beating Ngannou a third time.
Obviously I would like to see Stipe back in the Octagon as soon as possible, but making sure he’s right and does what’s best for his life and career is the right thing. If that’s getting title money, he should go for it. If that’s pumping the brakes, go for it. Just come back the right way.
Tyron Woodley suffered a first-round submission defeat Vicente Luque, marking his fourth loss in a row. Was that the last time we’ll see Woodley in the UFC Octagon?
William: I think there is a very good chance that was the last time we see Tyron fighting in the UFC. He started strong on Saturday, moving forward and showing a willingness to throw. He even had Luque hurt early on and just got over anxious and got caught then submitted.
At this point for Tyron, who would he fight? There really aren’t any good matchups for him in the top ten, and looking below that nothing really makes much sense for him at this point. He has had a great run in the UFC with some phenomenal fights and a great run as the champ. With the UFC willing to let aging former champions go of late, I think Woodley will be the next one to bite the bullet.
Nick: I sure hope so because Woodley is just not good anymore. I know he’s a former champ and I know we should respect that, and I do, but he epitomizes the commonly-used sports phrase “washed up.” That performance on Saturday was proof. There were points in the round where he looked good and appeared to be the Tyron Woodley of old, and he still lost. I don’t want to sound like I’m being harsh, but the guy hasn’t won a single round in three years. It’s time for the UFC to let him go.
Zack: I know Dana White doesn’t like Tyron Woodley for pretty obvious reasons, but I think it might be in his best interests to give Woodley one more shot. I would understand if that’s the last time we see the former champ, but considering the first three of his four losses were against three guys who are far and away the best in the division, I think he can get a bit of a pass on that.
The result that would have seen me side with Woodley not being in the Octagon again was another emotionless, stagnant performance that resulted in nothing, but that wasn’t what we got. Tyron was aggressive and threw a lot of impressive punches before being stunned and submitted. He landed some very significant strikes to Luque and while it wasn’t a lucky punch that caught Woodley, Tyron was right to be aggressive and a touch reckless when he was because he had just landed flush and with effect.
This might not have been that championship material Tyron Woodley that we saw at his peak, but the mindset was there. I would give him one more chance to right the ship before pulling the plug, but the leash is already very short and I wouldn’t be surprised if his UFC career is finished.
The Suga Show was back in a big way Saturday night, with Sean O’Malley knocking out Thomas Almeida. Who would you like to see O’Malley face next?
William: Sean O’Malley provided exactly what he needed to get the hype train rolling again on Saturday. A flashy, dominant win that ultimately results in a finish. He most likely could have finished the fight when he dropped Almeida in the first, but he ended up not paying for it and getting the finish in the third. I liked the call out of Dominick Cruz because of how those two would stylistically match up. They both move so uniquely it would truly be a joy to watch. I’m just not sure O’Malley is ready for someone as experienced as Cruz just yet.
Instead I’ll provide you two names: Casey Kenney and Marlon Vera. Although he just fought Marlon and lost via TKO, I would be very intrigued at a rematch as Suga has been very vocal with his thoughts of that fight. For Casey Kenney, he looked good against Cruz, and would prove a step-up in competition for O’Malley. Sean recently said he is targeting that July 10th card which is the rumored McGregor-Poirier III spot, which I think is a great idea for him.
Nick: We saw a vintage Sean O’Malley performance Saturday night and I loved every second of it. He was pompous, showboating around and making Thomas Almeida look like he’d never fought before. It was exactly what O’Malley needed to get back on track after that loss to Chito Vera.
I sent in our group chat right after O’Malley finished the job that I’d love to see him fight Kyler Phillips next. Phillips is a wild, unconventional striker who throws all sorts of crazy attacks and is always entertaining. Right up O’Malley alley, if you ask me. Another name I’ll toss out there is Raphael Assuncao. The stylistic matchup isn’t as intriguing, but Assuncao is an established name in the division and has the tools to give O’Malley a real test. Either of those fights would be fun and regardless of who it is, O’Malley should get in the Octagon again soon because he didn’t take much damage and his momentum is sky high right now.
Zack: I liked the callout from Dominick Cruz that came on Saturday night, but I don’t think O’Malley is really ready for that type of step up in competition just yet. I think he could compete with Cruz, but not dominate like he has in his other victories.
Two names come to mind when I think of who O’Malley should fight next. The first is Raoni Barcelos. Barcelos, like O’Malley, is a rising star and very good fighter with only a single loss. At 33 Barcelos is a bit older, but he’s still 16-1 with a lot of talent and high aspirations. Outside of Vera, he could be O’Malley’s biggest test and the result could see the winner be ranked.
The other fight would certainly result in a ranked fighter, and that bout would be between O’Malley and Kyler Phillips. Phillips is a year younger than O’Malley and has a bit less experience, but his best win is over Song Yadong earlier this month, so he arguably has a better win on his resume than Sean does. Either way, O’Malley would be facing a step up in competition and a fighter who could get him back on the trajectory he was before the Vera fight. Whoever it is, O’Malley needs another real test.