In a year that has already had a number of compelling fights, this for me is the most compelling so far, Francis Ngannou comes in on a 4 fight win streak in which he spent a total of 2 minutes and 42 seconds in the Octagon, meanwhile the reigning champ, Stipe Miocic is fresh off his impressive decision victory over DC in which he left the victor in their massive trilogy of fights. This is a rematch 3 years in the making, both have suffered the lowest of lows and highest of highs since their January 2018 clash, with all roads leading to this inevitable rematch.
The First Fight
UFC 220 is when these two colossal heavyweights met for the first time, Stipe was looking to make history and become the first heavyweight to successfully defend the belt 3 times, meanwhile Francis was the heavy favourite after his destruction of the heavyweight division
The one thing almost everyone was sure of was that this fight was not going the distance and we were all wrong. I was shocked. I thought Ngannou would catch him sooner rather than later and if not then Stipe would get the KO. I recently went back to watch this fight and was surprised at the first round, I forgot how many times Francis actually landed and how well Stipe took the shots. However after the first round, what followed was 4 rounds of total control. Francis looked completely stunned when he was on his back after being taken down. He looked gassed and out of ideas. Stipe completely controlled him.
What we witnessed was greatness from Miocic, as DC famously said that night “there’s levels to this game”, and that’s exactly what Stipe showed, Francis didn’t look like he even belonged in there with him. After the fight there was stories emerging of Francis being over confident in his preparation, and that was evident to see in the fight, he looked like he thought he just had to turn up and swing for the fences and Stipe would go down, I mean it’s hard not to understand his thought process here, it’s worked almost every time for him so far. I liken this fight to Wilder vs Fury 2, the heavy hitter vs the skilled boxer, in both cases the skilled fighter made the opposition look like they didn’t belong. The big question on everyone’s mind is what has Francis done in the past 3 years to bridge the gap?
Francis Ngannou – Journey to Redemption
Following from his devastating defeat to Stipe, he met derrick Lewis 6 months later, unfortunately he wasn’t able to bounce back and instead took part in what people call the worst heavyweight fight ever. Him and Lewis fought a 3 round borefest in which the effects of the Stipe fight were clearly evident, Francis was hesitant to strike and tried to overcorrect his previous performance. Against Stipe he came out like a Ferrari, against Lewis he was as slow as me cycling up hill on my bike. He was nervous, hesistant and unwilling to trade. Perhaps he had the fear of exhaustion on his mind again. He has said since that his head wasn’t right in that fight and that the Stipe fight was still playing on his mind. Joe Rogan claimed we may never see the same Francis Ngannou again. Boy was he wrong.
Second clash with Razor Blaydes
Fast forward to Beijing November 24th 2018, Francis Ngannou vs Curtis Blaydes in a rematch from their 2016 bout in which Ngannou won by TKO(doctor stoppage). This was the perfect fight to see if Francis had lost his touch and was still trigger shy. The bell rings, 20 seconds later Blaydes is fighting for his life, 25 seconds later the referee is pulling Francis off of him. The Predator was back, you could tell he had a chip on his shoulder given how he shushed the crowd right afterwards. He was determined to show the doubters he’s not done yet.
Facing a legend
Next they threw him in with a returning legend, for some people, the most skilled heavyweight of all time, Cain Velasquez. This time it was over in 26 seconds. There was a bit of controversy in how it ended as Cain’s knee blew out but I personally believe the shots Francis landed are what caused the fight to end, regardless Francis picked up another impressive victory as he continued his journey back to the title scene.
Keep lining them up
Four months later he was up against another legend in Junior Dos Santos. This went long compared to his last two fights. It lasted a lengthy 1 minute 11 seconds. Francis won via destruction. Surely a title shot was next? Nope, as I will touch on shortly, the HW title was tied up for almost 3 years which meant Francis had to either sit out or keep active.
Up stepped the undefeated Jairzinho Rozenstruik, fresh off his thrilling last second KO of Overeem. Rozenstruik was a very impressive fighter and was supposed to pose a new test for Ngannou…
It was over in 20 seconds. Francis showed absolutely no respect to this guy, he windmill punched his way to a KO. It was scary. He was destined for a title shot, although there was talk of a Jon Jones fight, nothing came from it and eventually he got his wish and was granted a second crack at the belt. He’ll meet Stipe Miocic who has also had his ups and downs since the first bout.
Stipe Miocic – The heavyweight GOAT
Having beaten Francis comfortably after having being made the underdog he was beginning to develop his own chip on his shoulder with the UFC and particularly Dana White, he felt the company didn’t want him to win that fight, let’s be honest, they didn’t. He had his coach wrap the belt around him after victory, this is usually done by Dana, this further showed his distain.
Seven months later Stipe was back in the Octagon, this time facing off against DC who was looking to become the double champ at LHW & HW. To this day I don’t think this fight got the hype it deserved. Two giants at the highest level competing with history at stake. Miocic was looking to break his own record and defend the belt 4 times. Unfortunately this didn’t go the way he had planned as seemingly outta nowhere he got caught by a hook from DC just after the clinch, and his lights were out. Minutes later it seemed the UFC had already moved on from Stipe as DC & Brock Lesnar were already promoting a future fight. The most decorated champion in the history of the heavyweight division was an afterthought already, damn.
Stipe was campaigning hard for a rematch but had no luck, DC claimed injury but then stepped up to take on Derrick Lewis in the main event in MSG, Stipe got even angrier. DC was injured enough not to fight him but was okay to fight Lewis, after making quick work of Lewis, all roads pointed to DC vs Lesnar but the fight could never come to fruition, most likely due to the new PPV structure in which Brock would have been getting a smaller piece of the pie. After this there was no choice but to rematch the former champ.
DC vs Stipe 2
On August 17th 2019 a year after their first fight, Stipe got his wish. After a rough first 3 rounds in which DC was dominant and controlled the fight, Stipe made a famous mid fight adjustment and started to attack the body. This showed the level of fighter Stipe was, he was able to identify, mid fight, a new opening and capitalise on it. With less than a minute left in round 4, the belt was once again his. Brutal body shot after body shot was too much for DC and it was all over. While I commend Stipe for his adjustment I do feel DC got cocky in this fight and may have shot himself in the foot with his approach, his hands were down and he was purely boxing whilst ignoring advice from his corner. Nevertheless Stipe upset the odds once again.
Stipe vs DC 3
Due to some classic DC eyepokes there was a great delay in booking this trilogy. Eventually the 3rd fight did get booked. It took place in August 2020. That meant that these fighters had fought for the belt the previous 3 summers with no interim belts in between. The division had to move on after this fight and it would, as this was DC’s last fight, win or lose. A lot had been made about the smaller cage and DC wrestling this time around, he told Stipe to ‘bring his wrestling shoes’. It turned out Stipe did, as DC was unable to wrestle and Stipe controlled the fight with double underhooks. Stipe went on to win a one sided decision victory proving that he is the heavyweight GOAT. With the DC trilogy behind him, he was free to move on and fight his former foe, the predator Francis Ngannou.
The Verdict on the rematch
So here we are, the rematch, for me one of the biggest fights ever. Stipe again finds himself as the underdog. The consensus is that Francis is a completely changed fighter since the first fight. I completely disagree. I haven’t seen any wrestling or cardio improvements since the fight to suggest he’s changed, bar a brief moment against Blaydes. While I’m aware he’s in a new training camp and has undoubtedly been working on his issues, nothing from his previous 4 wins has showed me he’s any different to the fighter he was pre-Stipe. There was nothing pretty about his last performance against Rozenstruik and nobody has really tested his wrestling or dragged him into the late rounds since.
Factors I do think need mentioning is his the reduced media schedule and his time to prepare for this fight. Last time out he had a 6 week turnaround to face the heavyweight GOAT, not ideal. I’m sure the game plan was just ‘smash’. We seen how that went. In the UFC Countdown episode his new head coach mentioned how they’ve been preparing for Stipe in his previous fight camps against the likes of Cain & JDS, so that’s a positive, combine that with the 11 month layoff since his last fight, I expect a game plan to defeat Stipe has been drilled into his mind. Whether or not he can execute this game plan is a completely different question. I believe it’s fair to say he has improved as a fighter, but that’s just a guess based on what you hear from training camps(which is always bias). We’ve seen nothing in the octagon to claim he’s a new fighter but I do believe he’ll be more prepared this time.
The other factor is the reduction in media. Dana had this guy doing everything before the first fight, there’s a great scene in the countdown episode that shows Francis being swarmed by cameras and interviewers and almost looking bewildered.
This was a former refugee now being thrown into the spotlight. Fast forward 3 years and now he’s experienced it all before, he knows how to handle media, his English is better and more importantly due to Covid, there’s less media obligations, he can just focus on fighting.
Stipe meanwhile will have all the confidence in the world after his last two fights and also knowing what he has done to Francis before. It will be interesting to see if he comes in as light as he did against DC. He looked very lean and was able to move well but the question is whether that approach will work against Francis, I think he might want to come in strong so he can have more control in the clinch and when wrestling, Stipe’s not gonna go in there to outbox him, he’s gonna try wear him down just like last time. There’s so many different dynamics at play in this fight, that’s why I believe it’s one of the biggest ever.
Ngannou via 1st Round Decapitation.
Francis is gonna knock this man’s head all the way back to Cleveland.
While I don’t believe we’ve seen anything to suggest Francis has changed, I do believe that he’ll win. I just think he’ll be a bit more patient and he’ll land again but this time Stipe won’t be able to take them. I can even seeing it happen in a later round for Francis, but all I know is we’re getting a new champ this Saturday!
Thanks for reading!
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