Both Francis Ngannou and Junior Dos Santos would like to be champ-champ ... with a twist

Kevin IoleCombat columnist
Francis Ngannou and Junior Dos Santos face off during a news conference inside State Farm Arena on April 12, 2019 in Atlanta. (Getty Images)
Francis Ngannou and Junior Dos Santos face off during a news conference inside State Farm Arena on April 12, 2019 in Atlanta. (Getty Images)

Though it remains a remarkable accomplishment and one that is indicative of being among the handful of the most elite fighters in the world, the “champ-champ” era in the UFC is already sort of passé.

Conor McGregor became the first to do it in 2016 when he added the lightweight belt to the featherweight belt he’d won when he needed just 13 seconds to knock out the great Jose Aldo.

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Light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier knocked out Stipe Miocic to become the heavyweight champion last year at UFC 226.

Amanda Nunes knocked out Cris “Cyborg” Justino in 51 seconds at UFC 232 in December to become the first woman to pull the trick and earlier this month, flyweight champion Henry Cejudo stopped Marlon Moraes to win the bantamweight title.

Because it’s been done three times in less than a year and four times overall, while it remains a titanic achievement, it is no longer enough to shock the fighting world.

Unless, we put a real twist on things and suggest that someone becomes a “champ-champ” by winning a belt in both boxing and MMA.

MMA fighters practice numerous disciplines and the best have to be good at all of them in order to succeed. Boxers practice one discipline and because of that, are usually far more skilled at that discipline than any MMA fighter. Floyd Mayweather conclusively proved that to McGregor in 2017.

While it’s a long shot, if there are any UFC fighters who have the raw ability to win a boxing world title, chief among them would probably be Francis Ngannou and Junior Dos Santos, who meet Saturday in the main event of UFC Minneapolis (9 ET, ESPN).

Now, before we get too far ahead of ourselves here, there are a couple of things to consider:

Ngannou came up well short in his first bid to win the UFC heavyweight title, and he has a significant matchup against ex-champion Junior Dos Santos.

Dos Santos has won three in a row and four of his last five heading into the bout with Ngannou and is showing the form that enabled him to put together a 10-fight winning streak and led him to the top of the UFC mountain.

So before Ngannou can think of winning a belt in another sport, he has to get past a difficult fight on Saturday and then would have to beat whoever held the UFC belt at that stage. Cormier is going to defend it at UFC 241 in August against Miocic.

But both Ngannou and Dos Santos believe it could happen, and Dos Santos tried to make it happen.

Junior dos Santos, shown here in 2012, previously called out Wladimir Klitschko. Now he says he'd call out Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury if he becomes UFC heavyweight champ again. (Getty Images)
Junior dos Santos, shown here in 2012, previously called out Wladimir Klitschko. Now he says he'd call out Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury if he becomes UFC heavyweight champ again. (Getty Images)

Dos Santos called out then-boxing champion Wladimir Klitschko when he held the UFC belt, but said when he lost his UFC title, it didn’t make any sense to pursue a boxing versus MMA match.

But the Brazilian, who recently became a father for the second time, said it has never left his mind.

“One hundred percent I believe I can [beat a world champion boxer],” Dos Santos said. “I believe so much in my abilities as a boxer. I trained with a lot of the top guys already. It’s natural for me, and not having to worry about kicks or takedowns would be amazing for me. I challenged Wladimir Klitschko when I was the champion because I believed that then, and I still do.”

Like Dos Santos, Ngannou’s first love is boxing. He was inspired by ex-heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson, and dreamed of winning the heavyweight title in that sport.

He discovered MMA and got sidetracked from boxing, but said he’s still very much interested in the sport.

“I think it makes a lot of sense to try [to fight a boxing heavyweight champion], because there are a lot of guys in MMA who are like me who have a boxing background,” Ngannou said. “I didn’t know MMA six years ago. I grew up with a lot of boxing and I wanted to be the boxing champion of the world. I got into MMA and I got into the UFC very quickly and into the Top 10 very quickly and this is what I have done, but I never stopped loving boxing.

“That’s what I love to do, to box. That would be a great opportunity to try to do that.”

Dos Santos said if he wins the UFC title back, he’d look to WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder and lineal heavyweight champion Tyson Fury as the guys he’d call out.

“Those two guys, they don’t care, they’ll fight anybody,” Dos Santos said.

Fury is 6-foot-9 and roughly 250 pounds, while Wilder is 6-foot-7 and 225 pounds. Dos Santos is 6-foot-4, 245. He’s not a small guy, but said if he landed a fight with one or both of them, he’d crowd them.

He said he liked the strategy that Andy Ruiz Jr. used when he upset Anthony Joshua to win three of the four major boxing belts on June 1.

“I’m not saying it’s going to be exactly the same, but I think of how Andy Ruiz did with Joshua,” Dos Santos said. “Andy Ruiz had the type of strategy and the type of skill that bothered this guy. [Joshua] needs distance to punch. Ruiz didn’t give him the distance, so he was at a point where he could land but Joshua didn’t have room to punch. I would do kind of the same thing.

“I don’t have the same kind of promotional power like McGregor has, but if the UFC champion says he wants to fight the boxing champ, I think Wilder and Fury are like me. They’ll accept a fight against anybody, anytime anywhere. So why not? Let’s do it.”

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