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Francis Ngannou says he's evolved since loss to Stipe Miocic: 'Everything is different ... and better'

Kevin Iole
·Combat columnist
·5 min read
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LAS VEGAS — Not much has changed if you look at Francis Ngannou in his last four fights.

He fought wrestler Curtis Blaydes on Nov. 24, 2018, in Beijing. He won the fight in 45 seconds via strikes.

He fought wrestler Cain Velasquez on Feb. 17, 2019, in Phoenix. He won the fight in 26 seconds via strikes.

He fought striker Junior dos Santos on June 29, 2019, in Minneapolis. He won the fight in 71 seconds via strikes.

And he fought striker Jairzinho Rozenstruik on May 9, 2020, in Jacksonville, Florida. He won the fight in 20 seconds via strikes.

That’s four fights, four victories and a total of 2:42 in the Octagon, and maybe 15 punches connected.

Maybe.

We haven’t seen him defend a takedown. We haven’t seen him fight off his back. We haven’t seen him do anything other than whale away at his opponents and have them crumble under his crushing power.

Ngannou, though, scoffs at the notion he’s the same fighter who was dominated by Stipe Miocic on Jan. 20, 2018, in their heavyweight title fight. We may not have seen a difference, but Ngannou and his team sure have.

“My whole approach to the sport has changed,” Ngannou said. “Everything. The way I train, what I think about, how I think about what I’m going to do. Everything is different.”

After a brief pause, he continued.

“And better,” he added, firmly.

It had better be, because if it’s not, we’re likely to see a replay of the first fight in Boston on Saturday at Apex, when he meets Miocic, a +105 underdog at BetMGM, in a rematch for the heavyweight title in the main event of UFC 260.

[New ESPN+ members can bundle UFC 260 with one year of ESPN+ for $89.98]

JACKSONVILLE, FL - MAY 09: Francis Ngannou of Cameroon looks on after defeating Jair Rozenstruik (not pictured) of Suriname in their Heavyweight fight during UFC 249 at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena on May 9, 2020 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)
Francis Ngannou of Cameroon looks on after defeating Jair Rozenstruik in their heavyweight fight during UFC 249 at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena on May 9, 2020, in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)

The thing that makes Ngannou different is the Mike Tyson-like punching power he possesses. As he showed against Velasquez, a legendary former heavyweight champion, he doesn’t even need to connect cleanly to score a devastating KO.

But punching hard is only one part of mixed martial arts. And it’s hard to throw knockout blows when you’re prone on your back.

It’s why he’s spent hours drilling on his weaknesses over the last three years at Xtreme Couture MMA.

“I think he understands at this level, the title level, you’re not going to just cut through everybody like they’re soft butter,” his coach, Eric Nicksick, told MMA Fighting. “There are guys out there who are going to look to outsmart you. They’re going to have a better fight IQ. His approach to that fight, in a lot of ways, and he’ll tell you this by his own admission, he thought he was going to just walk in there, knock him out and take the belt.

“Unfortunately, you’re fighting Stipe Miocic, arguably the greatest to ever do it. He’s not going to make it that easy on you. It’s not like that at this level.”

Ngannou, a -125 favorite at BetMGM, says he gets it. And we get — or, we should get — that it’s not his fault that he doesn’t get the opportunity to display it. If he ends the fight via strikes in a handful of seconds, what reason does he have to try to make like Royce Gracie?

Ngannou, though, will make like Gracie in one way. Gracie helped popularize MMA at the first several UFC events when he showed how Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu could help a slim man defeat much more ominous, imposing looking athletes.

He became a great ambassador for the sport and helped bring it to the mainstream.

One area where MMA is not so mainstream yet is the continent of Africa, where Ngannou was born. He was born in Cameroon and worked in the country’s sand mines as a child.

The entire continent is rife with fighting talent, he said, and goes far beyond UFC champions Kamaru Usman and Israel Adesanya of Nigeria and himself.

He knows a win over Miocic could have far-reaching implications for the sport in Africa.

“There is a lot of pressure on my back, but it’s the kind of pressure I don’t complain about,” he told Yahoo Sports. “The talent is there, no doubt about it. They need the opportunity to develop it. If I can be a part of that, of course, it’s what I want to try to do.

“But there is a lot of great fighting talent there, greater than us [himself, Usman and Adesanya]. They just need a chance.”

Ngannou is in need of a chance to prove he’s not just a one-dimensional fighter, and Miocic is the exact fighter who will provide him that opportunity.

Ngannou may never be a black belt, but he vows this fight will be different in that he respects greatly the abilities Miocic brings and worked diligently on improving his weaknesses.

“I didn’t have the [mindset] I needed in that last fight,” he said. “I have more experience. I have learned. It’s a different me this time.”

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