Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight knockout artists Francis Ngannou and Jairzinho Rozenstruik will duel this Saturday (May 9, 2020) at UFC 249 from inside VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida.
There’s a logjam at the very top of the Heavyweight division, and “The Predator” is suffering the consequences. Ngannou’s trio of effortless first-round knockout victories probably should have been enough to earn him a title shot, but Daniel Cormier and Stipe Miocic’s trilogy fight has been given priority despite there being no real timeline for that bout.
As a result, Ngannou must square off “Bigi Boy,” who took the UFC Heavyweight division by storm last year with four knockout victories of his own. Rozenstruik is still relatively inexperienced in mixed martial arts (MMA), but he has the knowledge from nearly 90 professional kickboxing bouts in his back pocket to rely on.
Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:
Key Wins: Cain Velasquez (UFC on ESPN 1). Curtis Blaydes (UFC Fight Night 141, UFC Fight Night 86) Junior dos Santos (UFC on ESPN 3), Alistair Overeem (UFC 218), Andrei Arlovski (UFC on FOX 23)
Key Losses: Stipe Miocic (UFC 220), Derrick Lewis (UFC 226)
Keys to Victory: It’s difficult to describe Ngannou’s physical gifts without falling into the realm of hyperbole. The former sand quarry worked hits unbelievably hard, the type of power that puts historically durable fighters to sleep with even a glancing blow. Plus, his physical strength has proven quite helpful in denying takedown attempts.
Rozenstruik is a pretty ferocious counter puncher himself, which makes this an interesting match up. Will Ngannou hang back and hesitate as he did against Derrick Lewis? After all, Ngannou generally likes to counter his opponents attacks, and it will be more difficult to kick at range against an actual kickboxing veteran.
The challenge here will be for Ngannou to measure his aggression when he’s used to 40-second fights. “The Predator” would be at his best while slowly stalking Rozenstruik and picking his shots — Overeem landed quite often against Rozenstruik while doing so. If and when Rozenstruik returns fire, that’s when Ngannou can lean back and fire his shovel uppercuts.
Also: shooting a takedown wouldn’t be a bad idea. Ngannou has four tapout wins on his record, and forcing Rozenstruik to remember that it’s an MMA fight would only benefit Ngannou even if the takedown fails.
Key Wins: Alistair Overeem (UFC on ESPN 7), Andrei Arlovski (UFC 244), Junior Albini (UFC Fight Night 144), Allen Crowder (UFC Fight Night 154)
Key Losses: None
Keys to Victory: Like his opponent, Rozenstruik has pretty world-altering power. As one would expect of a professional kickboxer with a 76-8-1, Rozenstruik can string together combinations of punches and kicks with deadly proficiency, but thus far his counter hook has proven his money punch in MMA.
While it’s more dangerous to trade leather in four-ounce gloves, Rozenstruik has so much more experience in exchanges that forcing the issues seems like it might benefit him. Ngannou and his lean back hook is a threat, but what happens if Ngannou is forced to continue trading after those punches miss?
Against Stipe Miocic, his boxing largely fell apart in longer exchanges.
Ngannou has never really been forced on the defensive; his opponents are almost always reacting to him. If Rozenstruik flips that script, he has a real chance to swarm Ngannou and do major damage before the Cameroonian athlete can adjust.
Bottom Line: It’s a seriously important Heavyweight fight.
Ngannou had a fair argument when he asked for an interim title, as his recent victories have been flawless and against some of the best competition the division can offer. There’s no timeline for Stipe Miocic to return to the cage, especially since he’s working as an EMT during a pandemic. At some point, the division has to move forward on way or another.
Whenever and however it does, a victory here keeps Ngannou as the first man in line.
It’s an even bigger opportunity for Rozenstruik, who did an excellently job of growing his name last year. A fifth consecutive victory opposite a feared man like Ngannou, however, would definitively prove that “Bigi Boy” is a real threat to Heavyweight gold. Amazingly, Rozenstruik is just 32 years old, so win or lose, it seems like he’ll remain a player in the Heavyweight title picture for some years to come.
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At UFC 249, Francis Ngannou and Jairzinho Rozenstruik will scrap. Which Heavyweight will remain standing when the dust settles?