Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) heavyweight prospects Francis Ngannou and Curtis Blaydes dueled last night (April 9, 2016) at UFC Fight Night 86 inside Arena Zagreb in Zagreb, Croatia.
Heavyweight is not known for its fighters under the age of 30, so it's a rare moment when a pair of them collide. In this case, Ngannou was the older man with more experience, as he already scored a vicious knockout in his UFC debut.
The other half of this bracket was occupied by Curtis Blaydes, an accomplished wrestler and natural athlete. The stakes were high for both men, as they had the potential to do big things in an aging division.
Frankly, both fighters impressed.
Blaydes scored quickly with a hard jab and low kick. However, Ngannou did a nice job of defending a fairly deep takedown attempt and circling back to the center of the Octagon, where he began threatening with uppercuts.
With about two minutes remaining, Ngannou landed a long left hand that momentarily sent Blaydes to the mat. Blaydes recovered well and used the clinch to stall before blasting through his opponent with a nice double leg takedown. It took him the better part of the last minute, but Ngannou worked back to his feet and delivered some nice strikes before the end of the round.
The round was certainly competitive, but Ngannou was the more effective man with his power punches.
The Frenchman opened the round with some hard combinations and defended a takedown. With both men slowing down, Blaydes managed to drive through a takedown, finishing with a trip.
However, Ngannou smartly used an underhook to quickly return to his feet.
Though his eye was swollen shut, Blaydes was landing rather well with his job. Ngannou was still winning the stand up, but his volume was down a bit and he grew less accurate as he swung for the knockout blow.
There's little doubt that Blaydes needed the finish in the third. Unfortunately, he did not get that opportunity, as the doctor stopped the fight due to his smashed eye socket.
This was an impressive performance by Ngannou. He should great poise by measuring his striking and fighting patiently, which prevented his opponent from scoring any easy takedowns and allowed him to pick his opportunities to strike.
Beyond that, Ngannou is incredible athlete. He's a huge heavyweight yet is built like a much lighter fighter, and he moves fluidly. He's undoubtedly a fighter to watch in the division, and he's on his way to some big fights. Considering that he's only been training for about three years now, there's little doubt that Ngannou has the potential to do great things.
Following this win, Ngannou should receive another opponent in the middle of the division. For example, Daniel Omelianchuk would be a solid challenge for him.
Blaydes did lose, and he is a rather raw fighter. Despite that, Blaydes also displayed some serious potential. Perhaps most importantly, Blaydes showed some true toughness. He ate hard shots and stayed in the fight to the best of his ability, rather than shell up and wait for the decision loss.
While Blaydes' striking obviously needs improvement, he did show some good individual tools. The wrestling veteran showed a very sharp jab, and he scored with some hard low kicks as well. Once he learns to integrate those weapons into his offense better, he'll be a serious threat to much of the division.
Last night, Francis Ngannou shut his opponent's eye en route to a doctor stoppage victory. Is the Frenchman a future title contender?
For complete UFC Fight Night 86 "Dos Santos vs Rothwell" results and play-by-play, click HERE!