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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC on ESPN 3’s Francis Ngannou

Terrifying knockout artist, Francis Ngannou, will throw down with former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight kingpin, Junior dos Santos, this Saturday (June 29, 2019) at UFC on ESPN 3 from inside Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Sixteen fights into his professional mixed martial arts (MMA) career, Ngannou has already experienced his share of ups-and-downs, and the Frenchman has handled it like a veteran. The massively powerful athlete rose to title contention very quickly, and it proved too much for him. In his return after that loss, Ngannou attempted to reinvent himself, but the result was a bad performance and another loss.

Despite his relative inexperience, Ngannou was written off far too quickly after those losses. No one told the Frenchman, however, who returned to the cage to violently finish the division’s top wrestling prospect and a former champion in roughly one minute combined. Less than one year after Ngannou was counted out, he’ll return to the cage and attempt to secure a title shot.

Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:


For a man of monstrous power, patience has been a major weapon for Ngannou. He’s rarely forced to do all that much, as a single clean connection often means the end of the fight. There are clear examples of too much patience (Lewis) and too little (Miocic) in his pair of losses, and balancing that has been perhaps the biggest learning experience for Ngannou.

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 two losses have shown that Ngannou is not able to throw a crisp jab or cross from the outside without falling forward.

Again, there was hope Ngannou would show improvement in this area opposite Blaydes, but he didn’t need to. Instead, Ngannou feinted towards the wrestler, forced the jab everyone knew Blaydes would throw, and then smacked him upside the head with a gigantic right hand (GIF). The Velasquez win was also too short to really prove anything, but Ngannou did seem willing to step in behind his dangerous hook-cross, which is better than nothing.

Often, 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). A lot of fighters try to duck off after lunging, which is why Ngannou connects with his uppercut counter so often.

In another situation, Ngannou used the right uppercut at distance to deter Blaydes from level changing in their first fight. 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.

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.

For whatever it’s worth, Ngannou did open the Blaydes’ rematch with a hard low kick, and I hope to see more of it. Against the boxing of dos Santos in particular, slamming the Brazilian with the occasional kick would be a great way to offset his head movement.


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 three great wrestlers now in Blaydes, Miocic, and Velasquez. 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.

Opposite Velasquez, Ngannou was able to score the knockout because of how he defended the shot, meeting Velasquez with his hips rather than sprawling back. In this week’s technique highlight, we cover the difference between those two options for defending a double leg shot.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Ngannou actually entered UFC with a trio of submission wins in his five professional victories. Interestingly, Ngannou has a habit of securing relatively rare, low-percentage submissions — with the help of his giant muscles, of course.

In his debut, for example, Ngannou landed a bizarre straight armbar from mount, attacking the joint from something of a mounted gogoplata-type position. Since the video of that fight has apparently been scrubbed from the internet, I’ll include our technique highlight from last time that covers this weird submission.

Several fights later, Ngannou pulled off another rare submission, though not nearly 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. This 10-finger guillotine is quite painful and only made worse by what is surely extreme crushing power.

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. Once on the mat, Ngannou did a nice job of transitioning to knee-on-belly before punching the wrist through to finish the hold (GIF).


Let’s be honest here, Ngannou’s last three fights really haven’t shown us a ton new about the Frenchman from a technical stand point. However, his last two fights have shown Ngannou finding the balance between patient and aggression, which combined with his physical tools, is more than enough to make him among the most dangerous fighters in the world.

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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