Before Valentina Shevchenko, Julianna Pena, Donald Cerrone and Jorge Masvidal step inside of the Octagon later tonight (Sat., Jan. 28, 2017) at UFC on FOX 23 live on FOX from inside Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado, two powerful Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) heavyweights will tangle a mile above sea level. Former UFC champion Andrei Arlovski will look to end a three-fight losing streak when he meets rising prospect Francis Ngannou. Having won all four of his UFC appearances by knockout or submission, Ngannou arguably represents the future of the division. According to UFC president Dana White, that future will eventually lead to a heavyweight championship.
"‘The Pitbull' has been around a long time," said White during a backstage interview with reporter Megan Olivi at the UFC on FOX 23 weigh ins (h/t MMA Fighting). "Obviously, Arlovski is a legend in this sport, a legend in the heavyweight division. Francis Ngannou will be. I believe that this guy has the potential to become the heavyweight champion of the world. I also believe he has the potential to hold that title for a very long time."
That's some high praise. Remember, there has never been a champion in the history of the UFC heavyweight division who has defended the title more than twice. Some call it a curse, others strive to break that historic benchmark. Current heavyweight king Stipe Miocic has already defended the title once and will get his second chance sometime in 2017.
"I don't know if in the history of the UFC we've ever had a heavyweight champion like Ngannou who actually looks like [that]," added White. "If you put this guy Ngannou next to — put him side to side with NFL players. Put him side by side with the heavyweight boxing champions throughout history. This is a massive, massive guy."
If Ngannou can overpower Arlovski and cap off his fifth Octagon finish, the argument can be made that he's on a short list of contenders who deserve a shot at Miocic's belt. A win streak of his caliber is hard to come by in such a dangerous weight class so it will be interesting to see how the hulking Frenchman fares against his steepest competition to date.
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC on FOX 23 fight card, starting with the UFC Fight Pass "Prelims" matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. ET, and then the remaining undercard balance on FOX Sports 1 at 5 p.m. ET, before the FOX main card start time at 8 p.m. ET.