Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight knockout artists Junior dos Santos and Francis Ngannou will brawl TONIGHT (June 29, 2019) at UFC on ESPN 3 from inside Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Dos Santos is not a man overwhelmed by a bit of adversity. Four brutal losses to the Heavyweight elite spread across five years seemed to signal an end in dos Santos’ time as a contender, but the Brazilian went right back to work, putting his head down to pick up a trio of big wins within the last 12 months. “Cigano” is back in the title mix, but he’s met by Francis Ngannou. Like dos Santos, Ngannou was forced to respond to adversity last year, but he did so with a pair of vicious knockout wins that lasted just about a minute total.
Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:
Junior dos Santos
Key Wins: Stipe Miocic (UFC on FOX 13), Cain Velasquez (UFC on FOX 1), Derrick Lewis (UFC Fight Night 146), Ben Rothwell (UFC Fight Night 86), Mark Hunt (UFC 160)
Key Losses: Cain Velasquez (UFC 155, UFC 166), Stipe Miocic (UFC 211), Alistair Overeem (UFC on FOX 17)
Keys to Victory: Speed, a sharp jab, and a crushing overhand carried dos Santos to the Heavyweight title, which he won all the way back in 2012. Seven years later, those same attributes have seen dos Santos build another win streak, though he’s grown a bit craftier with age.
As with anyone staring down Ngannou, there is very little room for error here. A single error from the former champion could result in his head bouncing off the canvas, so it’s very important he makes smart choices.
Feints will be absolutely pivotal here. Ngannou likes to counter strike, and feinting is the best way to ensure those counters don’t land. If dos Santos is primarily focused on feinting and throwing the jab, he’s off to a great start.
Generally, kicking a counter puncher is a great way to disrupt rhythm and deal with a longer opponent. Dos Santos, however, must be extremely careful — Derrick Lewis almost took his head off a couple times while countering low kicks, and he doesn’t have Ngannou’s range or accuracy. On the whole, dos Santos may be better off avoiding the low kicks, sticking to the occasional spin or high kick at distance.
Key Wins: Cain Velasquez (UFC on ESPN 1). Curtis Blaydes (UFC Fight Night 141, UFC Fight Night 86), Alistair Overeem (UFC 218), Andrei Arlovski (UFC on FOX 23)
Key Losses: Stipe Miocic (UFC 220), Derrick Lewis (UFC 226)
Keys to Victory: Ngannou is a physical beast with great instincts, and he seems to be the hardest hitting man on the roster. It only takes a single clean blow for Ngannou to end fights, which makes his patience in the Octagon quite valuable.
Ngannou is at his best when stalking his opponent, throwing long strikes, and waiting for the inevitable counter opportunity. Against a man in dos Santos who walks himself into the fence far too often, patient pressure seems a great strategy.
Note the word “patient”: Ngannou should not charge forward recklessly like he did opposite Miocic and hope that dos Santos runs into the fence. That could work, but it would also expend energy needlessly and leave Ngannou far more vulnerable to counter shots. It just isn’t necessary.
If Ngannou stalks and cuts off the cage, dos Santos will be forced to either swing at Ngannou or hit the fence. The former is an opportunity for Ngannou to lean back and counter, whereas the latter is an opportunity for the Frenchman to step into a massive right hand.
Bottom Line: This is a clear-cut title eliminator.
A win really puts dos Santos in a great spot and proves that he’s grown from past defeats. If Cormier retains his title, the two have never fought, but there’s a great history there with dos Santos and Cain Velasquez. Alternatively, a Stipe Miocic title shot would be an easy sell as a rubber match to settle the trilogy.
Were it not for timing, Ngannou’s last two victories may have been enough to earn him a title shot, so there’s no doubt that another big win here would solidify his claim. Once more, a rematch with Miocic would be interesting, but a fresh match up against Cormier would pull plenty of eyes, especially given Ngannou’s recent destruction of Velasquez.
Either way, tonight’s winner receives a shot at gold.
At UFC on ESPN 3, Junior dos Santos and Francis Ngannou will throw down in the main event. Which man will remain standing when the dust settles?