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UFC Minneapolis, The Morning After: Francis Ngannou and the Touch of Death

What you may have missed from last night!

UFC Minneapolis largely lived up to expectations. Eight finishes in 12 fights is a ratio well-above average, and three of the four decisions featured entertaining, back-and-forth action (the exception being Demian Maia playing it safe for 15 minutes). There’s plenty to talk about, from Joseph Benavidez’s technically vicious mauling of Jussier Formiga to the trio of Light Heavyweight knockouts that helped liven up the division.

How could I possibly discuss something other than the main event though? Once more, Francis Ngannou calmly walked into the Octagon and dispatched an elite talent in just about a minute. It was brutal, efficient work from the Cameroonian athlete, who took advantage of Junior dos Santos’ first mistake to send him falling to his hands and knees.

The whole fight only lasted 72 seconds, but there’s a lot to think about here.

Let’s talk low kicks. The first time I wrote about Francis Ngannou’s skill set, I noted that the Frenchman kicked absurdly hard. In every breakdown since, I’ve expressed a desire to see Ngannou kick more. For a fighter with such range and precision counter punches, a devastating low kick would be the perfect tool.

Ngannou hinted at his future by opening the Curtis Blaydes rematch with a low kick, but he knocked him out immediately after. This time, dos Santos survived long enough to prove that “The Predator” has indeed been working to make this a more prominent role in his offense.

The first two strikes landed were a pair of brutal low kicks that saw Ngannou’s shin chop into dos Santos’ thigh. 255 lbs. of Cameroonian muscle moved behind those kicks, and Ngannou returned to them more as the fight progressed. They sent a clear message to dos Santos: the Brazilian would not be allowed to dance around or try to hide behind the jab. Ngannou would kick the hell out of his lead leg if he dared to try, and it only takes a few kicks like that to leave dos Santos a sitting duck.

Place yourself in dos Santos’ shoes for a moment — what’s your best option? Your lead leg is quickly getting torn to shreds, meaning in just another minute or two, hope has died. You could try to shoot for a wild double leg from too far a distance, but that didn’t exactly work for Cain Velasquez, and you’re not a wrestler anyway.

So what’s left?

“Cigano” ran the odds and figured his best bet was to knock Ngannou out right now while his leg still worked. He was probably correct, but dos Santos had also been given no chance to find his range. As a result, some mix of hesitancy, urgency, raw desperation, and perhaps a sore leg saw dos Santos fling himself forward with an ugly overhand, one that had little chance of connecting.

Ngannou calmly leaned back, landed two glancing blows, and then shattered dos Santos with a left while he was out of position.

The most common word used to describe Ngannou’s aura is terrifying, and fighters themselves are not immune to such fear. No one fears losing or getting knocked out in the way that fans tend to imagine, but the fear that a single mistake will end the fight is very real — and against Ngannou, it’s not unfounded.

Ngannou’s absurd knockout power, his touch of death, forces opponents to take drastic chances and make bad mistakes. Junior dos Santos and Alistair Overeem are two of the most skilled and experienced strikers in the sport, yet both were brutally knocked out while in the midst of an awkward lunge forward. They would never regularly punch like that and will surely hate seeing the replay. In truth, Stipe Miocic is really the only man to successfully navigate that fear by hanging back and staying patient. Even then, Ngannou made it far easier by sloppily chasing the wrestler around and handing away his great advantage of range. Plus, with the addition of low kicks, hanging back really isn’t an option.

Can Miocic navigate that power and that fear again? Can Daniel Cormier? They’re both great fighters and potentially could. But to do so at this stage means absolutely perfect execution. Nary a single mental nor physical error is forgivable against the hardest hitter the sport has ever seen.

The margin for error was once thin; it’s now nonexistent.

For complete UFC Minneapolis results and coverage click here.

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