By: S. Davis
Can you hear that? You should be able to if you’re on this planet. The world has been entranced with the power of Francis Ngannou and it’s no longer a secret that the soft-spoken, jovial, survivor from Cameroon is on a swift track to stardom. We’ve seen improvement in his footwork since his debut even though he hasn’t spent much time in the cage – other than having his hand raised.
The UFC hasn’t ignored his rise in popularity and are primed to push him with the entire promotional machine. The official trailer/teaser highlights both men in the main event but there’s a certain angle they’re portraying – or, at the very least, attempting to. The production value is stellar and it’s driving a point home: Ngannou stock is being purchased in droves and they’re in the market for him as a face of the company…deeply.
The flavor-of-the-month cliché has been in full bloom. That’s not a slight to the challenger at all. In events such as these, when all the attention is devoted to the shiny new toy on Christmas morning it’s easy to overlook the action figures that were there when you were bedridden with the measles, the weekend at grandma’s when her wi-fi was down because she switched providers hours before you arrived and the time your little brother threw a fit because his favorite toy broke so you handed him yours. Remember that? Reliability. Consistency.
Miocic is the man actually in possession of the championship, just in case anyone forgot. He’s the one over there garbling his words, hanging up the phone on his wife while piling up an impressive list of finishes as well. Let’s take a moment to acknowledge his skill and technical acumen in the cage.
The champion seeks a successful defense to set the heavyweight record at three while the challenger looks to stamp his rise by winning one of the few, shiny, gold titles that actually mean something within the company. The problem with predictions in the heavyweight division is the fact that the weakest heavyweight can end the night with an accurate strike. These two both launch missiles to end fights but Ngannou has the kind of sudden power that’s both impressive and chilling. When his uppercut found Alistair Overeem’s chin, I was concerned that he might not walk again.
As for the bout itself, I want to see if Miocic pulls the fight into the later rounds as Ngannou has yet to enter the third frame in his entire career. There could be an opportunity to frustrate the challenger and test those lungs should the fight last longer than ten minutes. As a boxer, I give the champion the edge in terms of foot placement and movement. I also add a plus in the champion’s column as it pertains to cardio.
Defense is going to be paramount here. Miocic has been hit – and has survived in most cases but it only takes one to land for that belt to be wrapped around the challenger. As of yet Ngannou hasn’t been frustrated in a fight nor has he been tasked with fighting from a deficit. How will he respond if the champion remains poised, active and outside of his reach while scoring points? What’s the strategy if he finds himself pinned against the cage when he gets in punching range and can’t turn out the lights quickly? Will he use raw strength to escape a bad position over a technically sound option that leaves him vulnerable to being added to Miocic’s highlight reel?
I appreciate the fact that Bellator 192 – I wish they would change the name – is holding their event on the same evening as I’m melding both cards together. I’m not going to pay much attention to UFC 220 outside of the two title fights. The best fight of the night could be Douglas Lima defending his welterweight crown against Rory MacDonald. I’ll change that: It will be the best fight between both cards.
By the time Chael Sonnen vs. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson begins, I’m hoping that Daniel Cormier is walking to the cage so I can shift focus from my laptop to my television. I don’t have high hopes for that tilt and I’m concerned about the viewing experience for the customers when Sonnen does what he does. I think Michael Chandler is going to put on a show and Aaron Pico returns to kick off their main card.
A brief aside to discuss the circus around the UFC Lightweight Championship, if I may…
I think stripping Conor McGregor is too…clean. It’s easy and it would be the lazy course of action. Simply remove the “Interim” tag from Tony Ferguson’s portion of the title and name him the “Co-Lightweight” champion while also affixing the same label to McGregor. (It seems like they’ve done this at 7:49 of this video for what it’s worth.) Transfer the lineage of the 155 pound title to both men. Eventually McGregor will have no choice but to defend his half of the title – that would be split in this scenario – because he chose to sit on the bench. He’s healthy and therefore there’s no reason why he can’t compete. UFC brass capitulated and allowed him to box instead of draining his bank account in court proceedings when that was their standard modus operandi when they wanted to flex their power; at least in the Fertitta-era.
Of course if he’s truly stripped, he’ll rally his followers to dismiss Tony, Khabib Nurmagomedov or whoever reigns over the weight class. He’ll accuse them of being fake. MMA drones will agree and if he were to come back to capture the title a second time, he’ll boast about becoming a two-time champion, casually ignoring his refusal to defend. If he’s stripped, he dances around the responsibility of defending – and losing the title. It’s a hurdle that every combat athlete must clear. He’s not exempt from the same standard that every title holder in the history of sport is mandated to meet by virtue of becoming a champion. He’s a legitimate champion because he won the belt – and that can’t be dismissed. However he hasn’t defined his reign with a single defense. If McGregor were chasing after a champion that conveniently refused to defend, denying him the opportunity to share the cage in a title bout, fans of mixed martial arts would riot. It’s time to make the walk; put down the phone or become an asterisk in the history books.
Picks: Miocic, Cormier, Sonnen, Lima, Chandler, Font, Karakhanyan and Pico.