Sunday morning’s stacked show will culminate in the salivating rematch between Ohio firefighter Stipe Miocic [20-3-0], and Francis ‘The Predator’, Ngannou [15-3-0]. In their first sitting, KO connoisseur Ngannou tried to put the heat on Stipe in the formative stages and, while he enjoyed sporadic successes, it became evident that he expended too much gas in pursuit of a highlight reel kayo blow.
After riding out the Cameroonian’s initial blitz, champ Miocic’s experience and patently superior wrestling provided the key to victory. Having emptied his fuel tank, Ngannou succumbed to Stipe’s more refined ground game, allowing the champ to systematically grind out a unanimous decision over the five rounds and retain his heavyweight title, with a landslide 50-44 showing across all three judges scorecards.
Since their first set-to back in January 2018, Ngannou is believed to have significantly developed his previously sub-par wrestling skills. The 6’4’’ power puncher has since transplanted to Vegas on a full-time basis, abandoning the MMA Factory in Paris for one of the US’ most renowned gyms, in Xtreme Couture, hell-bent on plugging the obvious gaps in his game.
Speaking to BJPenn.com, Ngannou’s head coach, Eric Nicksick, outlines the adjustments made from the towering heavyweight’s move Stateside:
“It’s not going to take much because we saw what happened when we fought Stipe [Miocic] and that glaring hole. To me, it’s more of a mindset and he can go back to the drawing board and continue to work on the things that he’s really good at already right now, or we can start delving into stuff that we need to get better at and have this championship mindset.
“If we didn’t work on one more thing that has to do with striking from here on out, I guarantee you that Francis Ngannou can still knock out a lot of people in this world. But if we can close the gap in the wrestling and the ground game, just by a little bit, think how exponential his game is going to jump the next time you see him in the cage.”
Due to the quick turnaround between his spectacular first-round KO of Hounslow’s Alistair Overeem in December 2017 and his first world title shot with Miocic in January 2018, Ngannou was unable to complete a full camp in the US, instead being forced to return to Paris to make do there. This will no doubt have had an adverse effect on the quality of his preparation for Miocic, first time round. The question is, will a full camp in the States be the deciding factor this time round? With a fresh plethora of quality sparring partners and access to world-class coaching (including current UFC Welterweight king and former NCAA Division I wrestler, Kamaru Usman, in his corner), there’s cause for optimism that the #1 contender now possesses the wherewithal to ‘bridge the gap’.
Suitably humbled, Ngannou has aired his dissatisfaction at his naivety in the first fight. Speaking on the Joe Rogan Experience, the former African sand miner voiced his thoughts on why he came up short first time around:
“[…] to be honest, I always look at that fight since the fight day. Just after the fight, I look at it and now I’m like, ‘This is good.’ I learned too much in that fight because even though I was on the level, fighting for the world title, I still have some missing parts in my game and in my experience.”
Entering their initial spat, the then 31-year-old had never seen a third round in his UFC career, let alone a fifth! Despite his age, ‘The Predator’ remains a relative novice inside the Octagon, having first embarked on formal training just four years prior. Moreover, given the swift nature of his brutal executions, he hadn’t amassed the requisite wealth of minutes on the mat, unlike counterpart Stipe.
“[I had] a very quick rise. I didn’t spend enough time in the octagon to have that experience. Even though it was almost four years since I’d been doing the sport but I didn’t spend enough time in the octagon to have that experience. I think in one night I covered more than what I’d been spending in the octagon for the rest of my career.
Some people get here when they’ve been having athlete lives for a long time. Maybe wrestling, maybe doing some different sport at school, at college, but I never got into that stuff. Growing up I was just finding my way to survive and then I ended up finding myself in somewhere that I’ve never been, so the experience was just crazy.”
For this rematch, we can expect to see a more reserved Ngannou. Now well acquainted with the pressures of a UFC title fight, he looks to jettison the jitters that harnessed him previously:
“For the Stipe fight, I think I rush for the first round. “Now I’m like, ‘Damn, I had five rounds. Why should I rush and run out of gas?’ Looking at that fight, I watch that fight, I see the guy look like me, but I don’t recognize myself because it’s not the way that I fight. I look back at other fights and it looks like two different persons. The way that I used to fight I was kind of calm, I’d push the fight and let myself get into (the) fight and if there’s an opportunity – most of the time my opponent will be the first to attack. But this one I just rushed in there. So I’m like, I should have calmed down.”
Having said this, the 265-pound colossus will now have to contend with the psychological challenges that come with facing off against someone who has formally asserted a conclusive victory over you; albeit arguably the best heavyweight to ever do it.
Yet, Ngannou will take some solace from Miocic’s recent outings in the Daniel Cormier trilogy. While the former NCAA Division I wrestler may have confirmed his supremacy by winning the concluding fight back last August with a unanimous decision win, Miocic was fractured, then ironed out inside one round in the pair’s initial dust-up at UFC 226, back in July 2018. We know now that Miocic can be cracked and cracked early. Given Ngannou’s recent track record of four first-round KOs in his last four fights (with a combined fight time of 2 minutes and 42 seconds), the challenger must believe he carries the ammunition to put the heavyweight king unconscious.
Despite the frightening recent form of the softly-spoken colossus, Miocic claims there is no cause to believe the re-run will deliver a different outcome from the first gig. Speaking to the Oral Sessions with Renée Paquette, the former Golden Gloves amateur boxing champion offered his views on the rematch:
“He’s been knocking everyone out again and he’s going on a tear, and unfortunately he’s going to have to fight me again. That’s the bad part. He’s definitely gotten better, but so have I.
“I know I’m getting old, but I’ve gotten wiser and I’ve got a few new tricks up my sleeve. (They say) you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, which is a lie. I’ve learned a lot the last couple years. It’s the same outcome.”
The champion’s mindset is generally amiable but he’d be unwise to think it’ll be any easier this time around. Now 38, the Cleveland native certainly isn’t getting any faster. Consequently, the battle-hardened warlord will have to lean even more heavily on his edge in experience if he’s to get his arm raised in the re-sit.
If Ngannou has indeed learned his lesson, expect to see him come out of the gate more cautiously the second time round. With his TNT striking power, he only needs to clip Stipe once to switch his lights off. Having profited from a full camp in the US and with the nous of competing hard for five educational rounds with the heavyweight king before, we can expect a far closer fight in the return; that is, provided ‘The Predator’ doesn’t take Stipe’s face off in the first minute, as he has each of his four victims prior!
However, expect wrestling to again be the deciding factor here. If seeing is believing, we have no evidence of Ngannou’s enhanced grappling prowess to go on, given the brevity of his four most recent outings. Do we really believe that Erik Nicksick can turn a wrestling novice into someone who can thwart the takedowns of an NCAA Division I wrestler, within the three years of their last fight? All will reveal itself come Sunday morning.
Moreover, Stipe is undefeated in every rematch he has faced off in (Junior Dos Santos and DC x2). Once the dust settles, expect to witness a repeat outcome to that which came before. And Still……!