After going from homelessness to world title contention in the span of five years, 31-year-old fighting sensation Francis Ngannou is coming off one of the most eventful periods of his young career.
Following a 6-0 record in the UFC that saw him knockout Alistair Overeem in one of the most brutal fight finishes of the year, he earned a title shot against two-time defending champion Stipe Miocic. Ngannou’s athleticism and punching power were touted constantly, making him a popular name leading up to the UFC 220 main event.
But after coming up short in his bid for the title, Ngannou has decided to take some time off. His hectic schedule saw him face two of the UFC’s top-three heavyweights in less than two months. In just over two years, he’s fought seven times in total. After his recent loss, which was his first in the promotion, he posted on social media about his future.
“I’m taking some time off which will benefit my personal life by going back home to see family and friends,” Ngannou said. “Then I’ll be back to set things up.”
Ngannou came in as a betting favorite, having earned a reputation as a man who could knock out anyone with a single punch. But the champion used good head movement and a solid chin to survive the onslaught on the feet, giving back some heavy punches of his own. To Ngannou’s credit, he took those punches and never seemed to be heavily dazed.
Where Ngannou did fall short was in the grappling aspect of the fight. Miocic’s NCAA wrestling credentials are not what he’s known for – he’s won most of his fights using his boxing skills as a former Golden Gloves champion. He proved to be an effective counter-striker in his title win against Werdum, and used his wrestling to ground challenger Alistair Overeem before finishing him with ground and pound.
In another testament to his toughness, Ngannou survived Miocic’s ground attacks and went the full five rounds. Miocic’s last four fights have all seen him finish opponents in the first round by KO or TKO. Ngannou absorbed the punishment, but Miocic put on a grappling clinic and tired the bigger man out on route to a unanimous decision win.
Ngannou will likely still be ranked in the top three of the division and could easily make for a more competitive fight if he added a full-time grappling coach to his training camp. Reports that he didn’t like training on the ground quickly circulated after the loss, but Ngannou stated he learned more from his loss than he had in the past several years of training.
As for fresh challengers for both men following the title match, Ngannou could be matched up with someone like Stefan Struve. Struve, though ranked lower, is the only fighter with an unavenged win over Miocic. As for the champion’s next bout, he could end up facing Werdum in a rematch. In contrast to Ngannou, Werdum has less knockout power but is one of the best grapplers in the division.