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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC Fight Night 141’s Francis Ngannou

Former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight title challenger, Francis Ngannou, will rematch surging contender, Curtis Blaydes, this Saturday (Nov. 24, 2018) at UFC Fight Night 141 inside Cadillac Arena in Beijing, China.

What happened to Francis Ngannou? Is it ego, an accusation that Dana White levied against the Frenchman? Possibly worse is the idea that Ngannou is now scared and without any confidence as a result of his clear-cut loss to Stipe Miocic. Finally, there’s always the chance that Ngannou’s technical deficiencies were exposed by Miocic and now a blueprint is available to beat him.

In truth, some combination of the three is likely true. It’s hard to say for sure, but we definitely can break down the skills Ngannou has proven in the Octagon.


Ngannou’s striking is sort of a mess, but it’s held together by tremendous power and great patience. True, there was far too much patience opposite Derrick Lewis and far too little opposite Miocic, but Ngannou’s best success has come as a result of patience on the outside until a counter opportunity arises.

Patience and power rarely go together. It’s so common, particularly at Heavyweight, for hard-hitting fighters to rush things in the hopes of heading home early. Ngannou is unique in that he’s quite possibly the hardest hitter on the entire roster, but he’s more than willing to wait for his moment.

Ngannou stalks opponents but rarely throws first. Against high-level opponents, this has proven to be a problem. While Ngannou had no problems occasionally letting loose and hammering opponents that could scarcely match his athleticism (GIF), his last two fights have shown that Ngannou is not able to throw a crisp jab or cross from the outside without falling forward.

Still, the result is Ngannou stalking from the edge of his range. He’ll switch stances a bit and shoot out the jab with both hands or the Southpaw cross, but Ngannou is mostly waiting for his opponent to advance. Once that happens, Ngannou’s main plan comes into play.

Depending on the distance, Ngannou will take a slight step back and lean back or just lean. Either way, Ngannou’s reach advantage means that often his opponent will come up short. Plus, his opponent is often lunging forward head-first, leaving him in poor position to absorb the ensuing counter shots.

After leaning away, Ngannou returns fire immediately. Much of the time, it’s a pair of deadly uppercuts. It doesn’t matter if Ngannou throws left uppercut-right uppercut (GIF) or vice versa (GIF). Again, a lot of fighters try to duck off after lunging, which is why Ngannou connects with his uppercut counter so often.

In this week’s technique highlight, we talk about Ngannou’s uppercut counters.

In another situation, Ngannou used the right uppercut at distance to deter Blaydes from level changing. Generally, that’s a terrible strategy that leaves the uppercut-thrower vulnerable to counters or a takedown after the punch, but Ngannou’s reach and technique allowed him to shoot an uppercut up the middle that didn’t look much shorter than a cross.

Another common opening for the uppercut arises when Ngannou’s foe ducks away from his cross, which may not be as famous but still lands with huge power. As they dip their head away — usually in desperation rather than a slip or roll — Ngannou can easily follow up with his favorite strike (GIF).

Ngannou should definitely kick more. When the Cameroon-native kicks, he generally does so after a combination, and is there any doubt that Ngannou kicks freakishly hard? Every time he punctuates a combination with a angled, chopping low kick, the question must be asked why he doesn’t do that more often.


Ngannou has never even attempted a takedown in the Octagon, but at least his defense is pretty solid.

“The Predator” has immense physical strength in the clinch, that much is obvious. A pair of beefy Heavyweights with excellent clinch grappling in Blaydes and Alistair Overeem tried to jam Ngannou into the fence, but he reversed them instead. He also showed good head position in those fights, an important factor in his upcoming bout with a wrestler.

Ngannou has fought two great wrestlers in Blaydes and Miocic, and though the end results were different, Ngannou showed similar traits. On the whole, Ngannou has excellent hips, uses the whizzer very well, and is quick to scramble up the instant he’s taken down. Against Blaydes, this was enough to keep the fight standing most of the time.

Had Ngannou not fought like an absolute wild man, it may have been enough against Miocic as well. Instead, Ngannou abandoned his patience and swung recklessly from the first bell, giving Miocic easy access to his hips repeatedly. Early on, Ngannou was still able to defend or stand quickly, but that type of takedown defense is exhausting.

Over time, Ngannou’s ability to defend the shot dropped off completely.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Ngannou actually entered the UFC with a trio of submission wins in his five professional victories. I found videos of two of them, and frankly, they’re fascinating.

In Ngannou’s debut, he made use of a rarely seen version of a straight arm bar. From the mount, Ngannou secured an overhook and stepped over his opponent’s face. Keeping his foe’s wrist pinned in his arm pit, Ngannou drove his wrist into his opponent’s elbow joint, causing it to hyper-extend and forcing the tap. Check out the video below; this is some rarely seen shit!

A couple fights later, Ngannou pulled off another rare submission, though not as weird as that armbar. He dropped his opponent, who attempted to transition into a double leg. Instead, Ngannou captured him in an uncommon version of a guillotine. Instead of securing the neck under his arm pit, Ngannou trapped his foe’s head under his chest, allowing him to attack the windpipe by pulling his hands up straight into the throat.

Inside the Octagon, Ngannou does have a kimura finish over Anthony Hamilton. The kimura is always an available counter to the single leg takedown, but it’s mostly used to reverse, as finishing the submission is difficult considering you do not start with any control over the body or legs. That was no problem for Ngannou, however, as the big man spun Hamilton to the mat with easy and wrenched on his arm (GIF).


The hype behind Ngannou ahead of his championship match was over the top. After two losses, though, it’s very possible that the MMA world has written off Ngannou far too quickly. “The Predator” is still just 32 years old and five years deep into his professional career — there is plenty of time for him to learn and grow, a scary concept.

Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport’s most elite fighters.

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