Francis Ngannou mentioned on a few occasions that he didn’t recognize himself in his first bout with Stipe Miocic. He promised a completed different “Predator,” a far improved and far more composed version of himself.
Countless fighters promise such performances. It goes along with the standard, “This will be my best performance yet” talk that accompanies the generic pre-fight interview. This case is the exception, the deserved instance where a genuinely different fighter walked to the cage.
The debut of Ngannou 2.0.
Ngannou was unrecognizable at UFC 260 last night (Sat., March 27, 2021) compared to previous performances. There were definite carry-overs technically (we’ll get to those in a moment), but really, Ngannou’s patience and composure was perfect. He balanced necessary aggression with potent counter punches, leaving Miocic with no safe space inside the Octagon. There was no frantic lunge or uncomfortable energy. Ngannou fought like a veteran, rather than the inexperienced heavy hitter who sprinted to his first title shot.
In their first bout, Miocic won the jab battle easily, feinting his opponent silly and kicking his legs plenty. Conversely, Ngannou was doubling up the jab, and he timed his low kicks very well, turning Miocic out of stance on a couple occasions. Heck, his range work even set up a high kick!
Referring back to their 2018 battle, Miocic’s wrestling advantage was even more definitive than his range work. Ngannou powered out of some takedown attempts, but huge swaths of that first match saw Miocic jamming his opponents head into the mat. It wasn’t violent, but it was a dominant display.
Miocic found out the hard way about Ngannou’s wrestling improvement. Those pre-fight descriptions of spending every day on the mats, of falling in love with offensive wrestling don’t appear to have been a lie. Ngannou sprawled hard on a solid double-leg shot from Miocic, sending his face into the mat. Then, he chased the back with a vigor that surely made cornerman Kamaru Usman proud, landed a mat return, and smashed his opponent with punches on the way up.
The final left hook that toppled Miocic was an Ngannou classic, the type of looping counter punch that can end anyone.
A more efficient, skilled and measured Ngannou is likely to be an incredibly dominant champion — his original form was powerful enough to accomplish such greatness! Moving forward, the question becomes whether or not Ngannou can continue to put on mature performances. Doing something once can be a fluke, but a second such masterclass in a Miocic trilogy fight or Jon Jones showdown puts the division on notice.
Heavyweights had best hope Ngannou gets lazy or sloppy. Otherwise, it’s looking like the start of a long, violent reign.
For complete UFC 260: “Miocic vs. Ngannou 2” results and play-by-play click HERE.