You @UFC@ Fan, One can easily forgive the UFC for being so bullish on the crossover potential of knockout sensation Francis Ngannou that it was willing to fast-track him into Saturday’s heavyweight title shot at UFC 220 in Boston.At a chiseled 6-foot-4 and fashioned with his own unique hairstyle, Ngannou (11-1) very much looks the part of heavyweight destroyer. The six stoppage victories he has produced since making his UFC debut two years ago also seem to back up whatever violent claims any hype video might say about him.
A mere 46 days after his last fight, when he demolished veteran Alistair Overeem with a savage left uppercut, the 31-year-old Ngannou will get a chance chuda to prove whether oddsmakers were correct in installing him as the betting favorite against defending champion Stipe Miocic, just two years after Ngannou made his UFC debut.
Miocic (17-2), who enters on a five-fight KO streak, has heard the rumblings of hyperbole associated with Ngannou. In fact, Miocic has heard just about enough of it and went as far as claiming that the UFC is hoping he loses so it can push Ngannou.
If we’re being honest, the 35-year-old Miocic is probably right, for a variety of reasons. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at five reasons why the UFC might not simply want Ngannou to win — but why it also might need him to.
1. Ngannou possesses the kind of star potential you just can’t teach: While it has been talked about ad nauseam as the underlining theme behind the UFC’s vanilla 2017, the promotion’s current lack of star power remains a legitimate issue in terms of pay-per-view sales. Ronda Rousey, Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz never appeared in the Octagon last year, and Georges St-Pierre may not ever return. Jon Jones and Anderson Silva, meanwhile, remain embroiled in failed drug tests and pending suspensions. Even rising stars like Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Cody Garbrandt suffered defeats at seemingly inopportune times.
There have been plenty of champions who possess sublime technical ability that the UFC has struggled in helping translate into marketable success (think Demetrious Johnson). Ngannou presents an entirely different scenario thanks to the kind of power and finishing ability that creates raw energy around every fight. It’s no secret that any UFC fight, let alone a heavyweight bout, can end at any time with one strike. But fighters like Ngannou embody that to such a savage degree that it ultimately sells itself. Like in the days of prime Mike Tyson, Ngannou has the chance to become the kind of rare phenomenon and “baddest man on the planet” that fans can be equally entertained by and scared of at the same time.
2. The heavyweight division could badly use another serious player: We are all friends here, right? So let’s be honest about something. For as much as we look back fondly at the memorable title reigns of Randy Couture and Brock Lesnar, there hasn’t been a time since the UFC’s expansion to six weight divisions in 2001 that heavyweight has ever experienced consistent depth. In fact, more often than not it has been trash, with the same group of aging names recycling themselves into runs at the title. Take a quick glance at the current top 10 and it’s hard to disagree.
Heavyweight hasn’t just lacked depth, it has lacked a longterm dominant force, which is why Miocic is on the verge of setting a record for title defenses with just three. Even worse, outside of the chronically injured former champion Cain Velasquez, there really isn’t anyone left for Miocic to fight. Ngannou represents both new blood for the division and the potential of someone who can become its face as he evolves and improves with each fight.
3. “The Predator” could be crucial in getting MMA legalized in France: Considering the UFC has been around for 25 years, it’s hard to put into perspective that there are places where mixed martial arts is still legally banned. The state of New York was maddeningly one of them until the UFC finally broke through in 2016. The nation of France has become another holding firm, thanks to recent changes in the law outlawing ground strikes and fighting inside of a cage. While Ngannou hails from Cameroon, he moved to France at the age of 26 to pursue a career in professional boxing and soon found MMA. In fact, his first four pro bouts were in France between 2013 and 2014. Should he capture the heavyweight championship, it could go a long way in pushing open the doors to legalization and the first UFC card to emanate from France.
4. For as scary as Ngannou seems, he has one heck of a backstory: Underneath his muscular and punishing exterior, and his action hero potential as a draw, Ngannou is a well-spoken gentleman who doesn’t hesitate to show his heart during interviews. He also possesses an inspiring tale as to how he got to where he is today. After growing up in poverty-stricken Cameroon, Ngannou arrived in Paris with no money and a hunger to fulfill his dreams to be a champion fighter. He began training while literally homeless and living on the streets. Not only has he refrained from a materialistic lifestyle after finding meteoric success with UFC, he has often talked about using his winnings to build gyms in his native country in order to help the local youth.
5. Miocic has never really resonated with fans: The more you interview and get to know Miocic, it becomes increasingly difficult to say anything bad about him; Miocic is welcoming and polite. In his free time, he still works part time as a firefighter and paramedic in his native Ohio. If anything, he’s the perfect embodiment of the Midwestern everyman who just happens to pack frightening power in both hands. But it’s the former that has ultimately been the UFC’s problem. When Miocic speaks, he’s just not all that interesting. He doesn’t disparage opponents or make flashy claims. In fact, he often wears a bow tie during televised interviews. Outside of UFC 203, which was aided by the curiosity of former WWE star CM Punk’s long-awaited debut, Miocic has often failed to deliver big numbers as a PPV headliner.
With the heavyweight division long being the gateway drug to attract casual fans in all of combat sports, having your champion be recognizable is important.