LAS VEGAS — It’s easy to become giddy when watching Francis Ngannou fight.
For one, he comes to actually fight. It’s not a tactical, technical dance. With Ngannou, it’s kill or be killed, two gunslingers unloading their weapons in search of the most violent finish imaginable.
There are few better in the sport at those kinds of fights than Ngannou, whose soft-spoken, gentle-hearted nature belies the carnage he so often wreaks in the cage.
On July 7, Ngannou will enter the cage at T-Mobile Arena to fight Derrick Lewis in a bout that figures to be short, violent and epic. The chance of a submission is nil, except in the unlikely event one of them taps to a left hook or right cross.
Later at UFC 226, there will be what the promotion bills as a “super fight,” a match in the main event in which light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier will challenge Stipe Miocic for the heavyweight belt.
Six months earlier, it was Ngannou in the cage against Miocic. And while the outcome was easily predictable, given Miocic’s quality boxing skills and wide edge in wrestling, it was set up to be a coronation of sorts for the challenger.
UFC president Dana White loved Ngannou, and how could you blame him? The reason that heavyweights have historically been the fight game’s most popular division is because of the brutal knockouts a 200-plus-pound man can deliver with one well-placed punch.
If it were just about raw power, Ngannou would have decimated Miocic and would be preparing for his first title defense.
Instead, he finds himself looking to rebuild his game, answering the question that no fighter wants to hear: What happened?
What happened is that Ngannou ran into the man who is now widely acknowledged as the greatest heavyweight in UFC history. Miocic can punch. He can box. He can grapple. He’s as athletic as any 245-pounder the UFC has ever seen and he’s as competitive as they get.
Miocic smiled in the days leading up to UFC 220, as he politely answered questions about Ngannou, but he seethed inside. Ngannou was, in many ways, being treated as the champion, the future king, and it was obvious Miocic felt slighted.
Miocic proved his greatness with a dominant performance in a wide, unanimous-decision victory which left Ngannou in a strange place. Ngannou remains one of the best heavyweights in the world, perhaps the best not named Miocic, but he almost has to prove himself all over again.
He’s at a loss to explain what happened against Miocic.
“A lot of things were messed up for that fight,” Ngannou said at a media day at the UFC Performance Institute. “I’m trying to not allow that to happen again. It wasn’t distractions. I moved [to Las Vegas] from France last year and I made the mistake of just relying on my team in Paris.”
That meant just weeks before the fight, he had to fly to Paris to get with his teammates and coaches to prepare him for one of the biggest fights of his life.
Miocic used his wrestling to control Ngannou, but what the fight really showed was no fatal flaw in Ngannou but rather Miocic’s greatness and Ngannou’s inexperience.
He remains a guy who can knock anyone cold with a single shot, and who has the same star potential he always did. Mike Tyson’s career skyrocketed after his loss to Buster Douglas and the same can happen to Ngannou.
Using the boxing parallel, Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe all thrived during the Tyson Era, and Ngannou can thrive in a Miocic Era. He clearly has to improve his overall game, but he also has to keep knocking people cold the way he did Alistair Overeem.
Ngannou referenced the Overeem fight when he spoke of what he expects from Derrick Lewis, another massive, aggressive, hard-hitting heavyweight.
There aren’t many subtleties in Lewis’ game, and from Ngannou’s perspective, the fewer subtleties the better.
“If he comes forward, we will be smiling and will go back to the Francis before the last fight,” Ngannou said. That was the crushing knockout of Overeem, one of the most brutal KOs in the UFC in a long time. “I’ll watch my opponent if he comes to me, and as soon as he gives me the opportunity, I’ll take it.”
To translate that into the simplest terms, if Lewis attacks Ngannou, Ngannou plans to knock him out.
And that’s what made Ngannou this almost mythical figure in the first place. The size – 6-foot-4, 250 pounds – the quickness and punching power are what makes him a potential superstar.
Matching him with a guy like Lewis is playing to his strengths.
However it ends, expect one guy to be out cold and the crowd to go crazy.
That’s Francis Ngannou’s kind of fight.
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