Dethroning Francis Ngannou may be near impossible

LAS VEGAS — The new UFC heavyweight champion is so powerful and so scary that when Dana White was asked about putting Jon Jones in the cage against him, the UFC president had some stunning advice for his long-time light heavyweight champion.

“If I’m Jon Jones and I see that, I’m moving to 185,” White said in an obvious tweak to the man he’s had an uneven relationship with over the years, but also an acknowledgement of new champ Francis Ngannou’s scary punching power.

That was the amazing performance that Ngannou put on in lifting the title from Stipe Miocic. Ngannou erased the bitter memories of his 2018 loss to Miocic by fighting a poised, confident, smart and, yes, powerful bout in stopping Miocic at 52 seconds of the second round.

Ngannou was wildly overconfident in 2018 when he fought Miocic in Boston and wasn’t ready emotionally or physically for a fight at the championship level. Miocic took him apart methodically, defusing the power that made Ngannou the No. 1 contender and rolling to a wide unanimous decision victory.

But there was no turning off the power on this night. Ngannou came in better physical conditioning, but he was also prepared expertly by coach Eric Nicksick of Xtreme Couture. Ngannou was ready for every position he might find himself in and fought with the poise of a veteran.

He stuffed a Miocic takedown attempt in the first round and landed a series of right hands on the ground before Miocic worked his way back to his feet. But that was a sign that this would be a vastly different night.

Ngannou’s punching power is such that he could actually have gotten worse than he was in 2018 and still won. He crumbles even the most granite chinned of men.

But when you combine that power with a smart, patient, well-rounded approach, magical things occur.

Francis Ngannou of Cameroon reacts after his victory over Stipe Miocic in their UFC heavyweight championship fight at UFC 260 at The APEX on Saturday in Las Vegas. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

In becoming the UFC’s third active champion from Africa, joining his friend Kamaru Usman and Israel Adesanya, he sent a statement to the rest of a very solid heavyweight division.

Ngannou works closely with children and said he wants to bring the belt to his native Cameroon

“The [championship] is just a symbol of dedication and perseverance,” Ngannou said. “Somebody asked me what I wanted to do with the belt. Maybe I will find a public place to put it in Cameroon for kids to look at and realize that anything is possible.”

Beating him for the belt may prove near impossible if Ngannou fights with the precision he did on Saturday.

White mentioned Derrick Lewis as the logical next contender, but when Jones’ name was brought up again, he said he’d get the fight done quickly if Jones really wanted it. Ngannou said Jones is the opponent who makes the most sense to him.

“Call Hunter [Campbell, the UFC’s chief business officer] right now,” White said to Jones, who was watching the post-fight news conference. “We’ll make the fight tonight, right now. Call Hunter right now. Derrick Lewis is the fight to make, but if Jon Jones really wants that fight, well, it’s one thing to tweet. … But if Jon Jones wants the fight, he knows he can get the fight. It’s easy to say you want the fight, but if you really want it now that Francis Ngannou is the heavyweight champion of the world, pick up the phone and call Hunter.”

Ngannou grew up poverty-stricken in Cameroon and worked in the country’s salt mines. He emigrated to France and wound up in Paris, where he dreamed of becoming a world champion boxer. But he discovered MMA and set off on a path that would lead him to a remarkable victory.

It was remarkable in many ways, not the least of which was because of the man he’d beaten to win the title. Miocic entered the fight widely regarded as the greatest heavyweight in UFC and MMA history and had an unmatched record of success. He’d defeated one-time UFC champions Daniel Cormier (twice), Junior dos Santos, Andrei Arlovski and Fabricio Werdum and had that impressive victory over Ngannou on his résumé.

But Ngannou’s power was so overwhelming that he went off as the favorite in the bout, closing at -145 at BetMGM.

The power, of course, played a huge part. He landed a left hand that dropped Miocic, which, for all intents and purposes, ended the fight. Miocic is one of the toughest men in the sport and he gamely dragged himself to his feet to rejoin the battle.

Ngannou is a great finisher, though, and he smelled blood. He dropped Miocic again and then ended the bout with a crushing right hand from the top that looked like it might drill Miocic’s head through the floor.

“When you grab onto that belt and start to defend it a few times, you become a completely different person,” White said. “I think he’s only going to get scarier.”

The heavyweight champion of the world is usually referred to as “the baddest man on the planet.” But if Ngannou gets any better, he’ll quickly become known as “the scariest man on the planet.”

Ngannou spoke with wisdom beyond his years at his first news conference as a champion. He showed a self-awareness that was missing for much of his career and he noted that the first time he fought Miocic, “I didn’t do anything right.”

Just about everything went right this time, and it started long before the fight was ever signed. He humbled himself and submitted to his coaches, drilling and working to harness the talent he possessed.

And he kept his humility even as he talked about his finest hour.

“It’s just a belt,” he said of the shiny gold bauble that was seated on the table in front of him. “The most important thing is the reason behind it.”

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