Francis Ngannou had just dropped UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic a bump and had caught him against the cage. The big man gushed, an end seemed to be within his reach. But Miocic escaped urgently, moving towards the center of the octagon, where the champion made his point.
Miocic released a straight right hand that stopped Ngannou. However, at the main UFC 260 event on Saturday, the break lasted only a single tick. Ngannou hardly hesitated before stepping forward with a left hook attached to the button. Miocic fell, Ngannou fell with one last punch and there was a new champion.
It was a breathtaking moment when the heavyweight was considered the greatest ever to be on his back, the whole fight took off from him, and his heir to the throne quietly walked away with a finger in the air, which meant he was finally no 1.
The understated celebration had the right character for Ngannou, whose chiseled physique and sledgehammer fists could make him appear out of the central casting for an imposing heavyweight champion, but whose soft demeanor suggests gentleman rather than combatant.
Ngannou was out of character in another way that night. The big man with the heavy hands, who had knocked out his four youngest opponents with violent outbursts that lasted 71 seconds or less, ended it with a knockout of 52 seconds – but after 52 seconds second round. And while Ngannou took forever to knock out Miocic and become heavyweight champion, it was as satisfying as one night can get.
The satisfaction came most obviously because the elusive title belt that Ngannou had been looking for for years was at stake. There was also some satisfaction from that fight, a rematch of a meeting with Miocic in 2018 where Ngannou had been trained and humiliated and played out in a completely different way than the first. It wasn’t just that Ngannou won this time. He showed patience and remembered how much energy he had drained after just one lap of that five-lap race against Miocic.
And Ngannou also showed advanced skills. Ngannou hadn’t had time to show anything but battle-filled fists in bringing his four youngest opponents to bear so quickly. But on Saturday in Las Vegas when the first round was over, he had kicked both the legs and the head, punches that were aimed not only at the head but the body as well, and perhaps most importantly the defensive wrestling that stopped Miocic smothered him on screen like he did in 2018.
Ngannou’s knockout power alone was scary enough. Now do the opponents have to worry about a well-rounded game? Yikes
“I don’t have the vocabulary to express this because it feels so amazing,” said Ngannou, a Cameroon native who trains in Las Vegas. “Even though I had won fights, I had this thing inside of me that I never published – a promise I made to myself when I was young to one day prove to doubters and people who thought I was among them. ” … if one day I ever had the opportunity, I would do something great. “
He did so even though his big night was slow to arrive.
For a man who gets his business done as quickly as Ngannou, it must have taken a while to find his way to the throne of “the worst man on the planet”. That cherished status seemed a fait accompli years ago after Ngannou crushed his first six UFC opponents and scored his first shot at Miocic’s title in two minutes with four consecutive results. But the champion turned that night into his own glorious showcase. Miocic’s dominant decision win was a huge step in building his case as the greatest heavyweight in MMA history.
The blow was so demoralizing for Ngannou that he moved on to his next fight, a memorable loss to Derrick Lewis that cast doubt on Ngannou’s future as a competitor.
But the next year, Ngannou broke all doubts by quickly knocking out another top contender (Curtis Blaydes, 45 seconds) and a former champion (Cain Velasquez, 26 seconds) to come back to the top of the line for a title shot. The problem was that there was no title shot. At the time, Miocic was involved in a trilogy with Daniel Cormier that turned the heavyweight freeway into a parking lot for two years.
Francis Ngannou talks to Jon Jones about a possible fight and where that fight should take place.
When all obstacles were removed and Ngannou’s second shot to the belt finally showed, the 34-year-old didn’t waste it.
Unlike the 2018 meeting where Ngannou came out in anger and emptied his fuel tank before the first round was over, this time he fought with composure and skill. Ngannou fought like he was ready for a full 25 minutes. It wasn’t until Miocic came out with added aggression at the start of the second lap that Ngannou shifted into higher gear and found the knockout and fame.
Congratulations, champion. Enjoy the booty of victory … for a few minutes. Take a deep breath. Celebrate with friends. Maybe a good meal. Then head back to the gym to prepare for the biggest challenge of your life.
Not literally the greatest, at least not in the physical sense.
Jon Jones, who reigned at light Heavyweight, for most of the last decade, has been picking up lately to make its shot at the heavyweight title. This has been going on for a long time, and UFC President Dana White said before UFC 260 that Jones will be the next challenger to the winner on Saturday and that the clash of all fights could take place this summer. Of course, financial matters need to be resolved, as Jones (on social media) and White (at UFC press conference) comments made clear after the fight. But this fight is too big not to be finished.
After beating the greatest heavyweight of all time, Ngannou will next face what is perhaps the greatest of all time in each weight class. What a 1-2 hit to start 2021 on a bang. And undoubtedly two fights that will be hugely lucrative.
The limelight doesn’t seem brighter than it will be for Ngannou’s first title defense unless he finally fulfills his avowed desire to move on to boxing and join Tyson Fury or Anthony Joshua, both heavyweight champions and the best of the era in the sport. If this career sounds more like a delusion than sweet ambition, then you just haven’t paid attention to the spectacle of martial arts, from Floyd Mayweather versus Conor born every minute at McGregor Circus to the family business of Jake and Logan Paul, the champions of YouTube .
Within MMA, however, Jones is the ultimate testing ground. Defeating him would send shock waves because it was never done. This sets Jones apart from Georges St-Pierre, Anderson Silva, Amanda Nunes and Demetrious Johnson, the other fighters who are often mentioned in GOAT conversations. They are all greats, each of them, but they have all been defeated. Jones didn’t.
(Detailed readers may notice a “1” on the losing column of Jones’ record, but that was a dubious disqualification early in his UFC career in a fight he thoroughly dominated.)
Ngannou is ready to give Jones his first real defeat. He has no choice. This year-round sport never stops, especially when you own the shiny belt all other big guys want. Not just her, but a slightly smaller guy who has probably never been described like that in his life.
Smaller? Jon Jones? He’s 6-foot-4, just like Ngannou, but while the new champion weighed 263 pounds on Friday, Jones posted on social media that he’s up to 240 pounds. That would make him heavier than Miocic, who stepped on the scales for that fight at 234 pounds. But Miocic is used to being the smaller guy – he’s weighed lighter than his opponents in the last five fights. Jones, on the other hand, has always bet on being the bigger man. He was too physical for 205 pounders. That will no longer be the case now that Jones is swimming with the big fish. Ngannou can’t wait to drown him.
“I think Jon Jones is the greatest mixed martial artist of all time. His advancement is a challenge that I will take on and will put on my record,” said Ngannou. “It will be a very good challenge for me, a very good thing to make my resume. But he will be the challenger. I am the champion. He comes looking for me. I am ready.”
Fight fans too. The grand finale of Saturday’s heavyweight championship bout is still buzzing, and oh boy, we can’t wait for the next one.