Post-Fight Thoughts: Stipe Miocic -vs- Francis Ngannou
Capping off an evening of great fights, replete with a healthy dose of violent finishes, the heavyweights in the main event delivered an amazing bout. Defending champion, Stipe Miocic was able to do what none so far have been able to: withstand the crushing punches of Francis Ngannou, and dominated him for almost the entirety of the fight. By notching this win, Miocic sets a new record for UFC heavyweight title defences, with 3. Like the co-main event of Daniel Cormier versus Volkan Oezdemir, this fight went almost exactly as I expected it to — and a surging rookie's hype undergoes a much needed correction at the hands of a highly skilled veteran.
First, let it be said that both of these men displayed incredible durability; the first round of this bout was absurd, with Miocic absorbing some huge punches from a very fresh Ngannou. The final strike count was something like 200-33, in favour of the champ, but those 33 punches Ngannou did land were indeed very significant. Miocic landed some very hard shots of his own and, to his credit, Ngannou showed he has a chin too — he's more than just a glass cannon. The pace of the fight meant that, inevitably, both would tire and that happened by the end of the second round. The commentary team seemed to ignore how exhausted Miocic was, focusing solely on Ngannou being worn down by the former's takedowns and top-heavy grappling. Ngannou also expended a lot of energy, spamming power punches in the opening round, which was very out of character for him — and a terrible idea in a 5-round fight.
By the third round, a lot of the mystique had faded from Francis Ngannou; this image everyone had, of him simply walking into the centre of the cage and knocking the champ out cold, looked even more absurd in hindsight. The excitement and hype surrounding the challenger was overstated, to be sure, and Stipe Miocic spent 25 minutes making this point abundantly clear to everyone watching. Overlooked for the entirety of his career, Stipe Miocic has quietly put together an exceptional win / loss record and now, rightly, sees his name entered into the history books with the most consecutive title defences. Like Daniel Cormier, in the co-main event, Stipe Miocic's performance makes the case for him being the best fighter to ever compete in his division, and puts his name among the short list of arguable pound-for-pound greats.
Francis Ngannou suffered a setback in his loss, but considering his obvious athletic talents — and contrite, mature post-fight responses — I think this will definitely make him a better fighter. Ngannou was pushed into a title fight far too quickly, without sufficient experience; lest we forget that he has only been competing in MMA for a total of 4 years. Unlike the majority of heavyweights in MMA, Francis is under 30 and has a lot of time left to improve — and this is in a division where being a late bloomer is practically the rule rather than the exception. Ngannou isn't just some big guy who is resorting to MMA after burning out of a career in some other sport, he is a fresh, raw, prodigous talent and the sky is the limit going forward.
The next challenge for Miocic is probably a rematch with Fabricio Werdum, but that is just a guess on my part. There is talk of pairing a returning Cain Velasquez with Miocic, but that seems a bit weird given how long the former champion has been out of action. Werdum is the only other viable name, only losing a majority decision — in a tepid, horrible fight — to Alistair Overeem since dropping the heavyweight title to Miocic in mid-2016. This is heavyweight, though, so anyone is 1-2 wins away from a title shot at any given time, so it's best to now spend too much time thinking about it.
Published: January 21st, 2018.