This weekend’s highly-anticipated UFC Heavyweight title bout will headline UFC 260 from the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, NV. The Apex, usually reserved as a state-of-the-art training center for fighters in the organization, hosted several live cards during the pandemic when both crowd and travel restrictions made it difficult for the organization to run events outside of its own venue. The building has provided the stage for memorable fights and title bouts, and offered a unique viewing experience, as direction from the corners that is usually not heard because of the crowd was audible during most of the bouts. Recently, Dana White announced that next month’s UFC 261, which is set to feature a rematch between Kamaru Usman and Jorge Masvidal, will be held in Jacksonville, FL with a full capacity arena so it’s possible that UFC 260 will be the final pay-per-view at the Apex.
As far as the pay-per-view, Stipe Miocic will defend his title against Francis Ngannou in a rematch of their original bout from just over two years ago that saw Miocic win a one-sided decision after he dominated the contest of the score cards at UFC 220.
Since these two entered the octagon for those five rounds in early-2018, they’ve taken similar paths in that they have both remained dominate in the division, but if or how the challenger has evolved his game might be the key to this rematch.
Francis Ngannou has an incredible story, an aspect of his career that is almost as marketable as his dangerous punching power. Surviving poverty in his native Cameroon, Ngannou worked in a salt mine at a young age to help provide for his family before he eventually went to France to pursue combat sports. He arrived in the UFC in late-2015 and went on a six-fight win streak, with five of those victories via TKO or KO early in the contest. His highlight reel knockout of savvy veteran, Alistair Overeem put him in the championship conversation.
From a marketing prospective, UFC brass might’ve had its version of Mike Tyson, who was one of Ngannou’s inspirations to pursue fighting. Ngannou looked intense and had brutal KO power that saw the majority of his foes get sent crashing to the canvas in the first round. As much as MMA purist enjoy and appreciate the incredible skill displayed in MMA, the KO power is still a bigger draw to the general public. Ahead of the initial Stipe/ Ngannou bout, the champion expressed discontent for the lack of promotion he received ahead of the fight, as the UFC marketing machine put a spotlight on the challenger’s dangerous KO power.
As we know, there’s a reason that most of the general public are just casual fans, and the reality of the situation was that while Ngannou’s punching power is very dangerous, at that point, he hadn’t fought outside of the second round in his entire career. Furthermore, he had a one dimensional style, simply because he hadn’t been in a scenario in the octagon where he had to do more than land the powerful punches.
If the challenger has improved his cardio will probably be the key to the entire fight.
Ironically, the champion is a slight underdog ahead of this bout, which might be more of a way for the sports books to generate some betting action because of all the divisions in MMA, the heavyweight group is the most unpredictable, simply because most of it is built on punching power, and it only takes one punch to end a fight.
That said, Stipe probably shouldn’t be an underdog ahead of this contest because he already proved he can avoid the challenger’s KO punch and use his more technical skills to push the pace of the fight. Outside of when he lost the first bout in the trilogy with Daniel Cormier, Miocic hasn’t lost a fight in over six years, defeating the top competition of the division.
As much as Ngannou’s cardio will probably be a deciding factor, his chances, which are reflected with the odds makers, are based on his ability to land that KO punch, similar to the most effective strategy that he had in the original bout. The difference is, if Ngannou can have the cardio to land the signature punch beyond just the first or second round then he will increase he chances of winning the championship.
As far as the actual fight, Ngannou always has a puncher’s chance, an aspect that isn’t meant as a criticism of his skills, but rather, he made his name with the KO power so that will be his best option. Still, I have to pick Stipe Miocic to retain the championship because he already has the game plan to be successful. If Stipe can use his boxing skills, defensively as much or more as offensively, he can probably avoid the KO punches of the challenger. In fact, it would be wise for him to use the clinch to close the distance to not allow Ngannou the space to set up for the major punch. Finally, a potential take down might be a way for him to neutralize the challenger’s offense and reduce his cardio. That said, Ngannou will be very dangerous for at least the first two rounds, while the championship rounds would test any possible improvements to his cardio. Is Stipe a more well-rounded fighter? Yes, but for at least the first two rounds, Ngannou has a chance with one punch to finish the fight, which is why this is an intriguing championship fight.
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.
Until next week
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