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UFC 249 Ngannou v Rozenstruik Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC 260’s Francis Ngannou

Terrifying knockout artist, Francis Ngannou, will rematch Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight kingpin, Stipe Miocic, this Saturday (March 27, 2021) at UFC 260 inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Ngannou last fought Stipe Miocic in Jan. 2018 ... and his inexperience showed. “The Predator” tried to rush the entire fight, and he paid for it dearly. Since that defeat and a failed bounce back vs. Derrick Lewis, Ngannou has been nothing less than perfect. He’s stopped four highly-ranked foes with ease, destroying all those foes in less than one round combined.

Did any of Ngannou’s comeback trail prepare him for this rematch? It’s impossible to say. All we can really do is analyze the little live footage that exists and see what’s changed.

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

Striking

Ngannou is at his best as a counter striker. When Ngannou is able to convince foes to swing at him, he destroys them.

There is a unique element to fighting Ngannou. Opponents seem distinctly aware of his power and size, and it forces mistakes. Experienced fighters like Alistair Overeem and Junior dos Santos uncharacteristically lunged into the pocket, and Ngannou knocked them out because of it. “JDS,” in particular, was so out of position from his own offense that he was forced to turn his back (.GIF).

UFC Fight Night: Ngannou v Dos Santos Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

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 often 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) — such was the story of Jairzinho Rozenstruik, too — his two losses have shown that Ngannou is unable 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 toward 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.

UFC Fight Night: Blaydes v Ngannou 2 Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

In another situation, Ngannou used the right uppercut at distance to deter Blaydes from level changing in their first fight. Generally, that’s often 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 both his rematch with Blaydes and his bout with dos Santos with low kicks — I hope to see more of it.

Wrestling

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.

UFC 220: Miocic v Ngannou Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

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.

UFC Fight Night: Ngannou v Velasquez Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

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. By meeting his foe with his hips, he knocked Velasquez back and stopped his forward pressure, pausing the veteran wrestler for a moment.

Then, the punches landed.

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. The video has been scrubbed from the net, but it’s was a good bit of opportunistic yanking against the joint.

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 takedown. 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.

UFC Fight Night: Ngannou v Hamilton Photo by Patrick Smith/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

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).

Conclusion

Ngannou is the impossible fighter who’s faced several top-ranked athletes of all styles yet remains something of a mystery. Does Ngannou have more to show on his feet than bursts and lean-back counters? We’ll simply have to wait and see until someone else survives multiple exchanges with “The Predator.”


Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 260 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN/ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC 260: “Miocic vs. Ngannou 2” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

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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