At UFC 218, Alistair Overeem was on the cusp of earning a second heavyweight title shot in two years. All he had to do was get past Francis Ngannou, a man who has trained in mixed martial arts for just four years but was knocking opponents out at an almost Mike Tyson like pace.
Overeem entered the fight with the nearly 60 professional fights on his resume, a former Strikeforce heavyweight champion who has fought and beaten the best on the planet.
Ngannou knocked out decorated striker Overeem with an “uppercut from hell” in under two minutes to put the heavyweight division on notice.
“That is the past we are talking about,” Ngannou said at the post-fight press conference. “Now I am the present.”
UFC president Dana White added: “He looked incredible tonight, wow. That’s as impressive a heavyweight knockout you will ever see.”
It was the biggest test of Ngannou’s career and he passed with flying colors
“No, the biggest win of my career is coming,” Ngannou said. “I keep my head straight toward my goal. I’m ready to start training camp Monday morning. I have a goal.”
The fight hasn’t even been booked yet, though White said it’s his next fight, and it is already being labeled as one of the biggest heavyweight showdowns in company history. The Cameroonian vs. Stipe Miocic is the magnitude of a fight that would anchor International Fight Week, the UFC’s tentpole event in July.
Yet neither Ngannou nor White want to wait.
“I am injury free, so I’m ready to go,” Ngannou said. “I’ve been out for like 10 months so I want to go.”
Light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier is slated to fight Volkan Oezdemir at UFC 220 in Boston and White “loved” the idea of adding a heavyweight title showdown to that card. But it might be too quick of a turnaround as the final
Ngannou is a relatively young fighter in the heavyweight division, and while he has been finishing people at a remarkable rate, so has Miocic. In his last four fights, Miocic has four first-round knockouts.
“The fight between Stipe and me, the same way as the other ones, knockout,” Ngannou said. “I have no other prediction than knockout, that’s my skill.”
Miocic weighed in with a subtle tweet as MMA fans began to scrutinize the matchup. While Overeem was a tough test, Miocic is in his prime at the height of his career as well. His run of four first-round knockouts has included Overeem and three former UFC champions.
“I am on my way to completing my dream. I always dreamed of being a world champion,” Ngannou said. “I thought it would be in boxing but my dream changed when I discovered MMA. MMA was my calling and now I am on my way to this dream.
“Tell Stipe that I am coming. I am on my way to collect my belt. I thank him for keeping it for me but that time is over. That is my belt.”
And then he is dreaming of a fight against Brock Lesnar.
Max Holloway cements place on featherweight throne
In the main event of UFC 218, featherweight champion Max Holloway tried to do something no fighter had ever done, beat Jose Aldo twice. In fact, before Max Holloway came into the picture, Aldo had only lost twice in his entire career.
And just like their first bout at UFC 212, Aldo succumbed to strikes in the third round, effectively removing himself from the featherweight title picture.
It was the end of an era, and the beginning of another.
“All due respect to Aldo. He is a hell of a technician but this is the Blessed Era. This is something new,” Holloway said after the fight.
Holloway’s 12-fight win-streak is the fifth longest in UFC history by a notable list of hall of famers, and he just turned 26. The record book is Holloway’s to rewrite as he sees fit.
Holloway’s next defense is likely against Frankie Edgar, his original opponent for Saturday night who couldn’t fight because of injury. And it’s business as usual, champion fighting challenger at the top of the division.
“The only thing that’s going to stop me is medically, if I medically can’t make the weight than I’m not going to force my body to do something it doesn’t want to,” Holloway said at the post-fight press conference.
But a cloud still hangs over the division ready to cast a shadow with a single tweet.
Conor McGregor was stripped of his featherweight title after two fights at welterweight against Nate Diaz and a successful lightweight title bout against Eddie Alvarez at UFC 205. Not to mention his subsequent absence from the sport to box Floyd Mayweather.
Holloway’s last fight before the 12-fight run of wins was at the hands of McGregor. It was a decision loss to the Irishman, but McGregor won despite a torn ACL and it become a milestone moment in the legend of McGregor. It’s often overlooked that Holloway also took the fight on short notice and was just 21 at the time.
“I’m the champion of my division and I got to keep everything rolling. I got a throne to defend; I’m not going to go on a hiatus. As long as I get contenders, I’m going to fight,” Holloway said. “But if the UFC calls me up for that reason, I’ll gladly fight him. If the Conor fight doesn’t happen, it’s not on my side, I’ll tell you right now…
“Right now, really think about this, Conor is talking about fighting Paulie Malignaggi in MMA. Let that sink in. Paulie Malignaggi in MMA. I don’t know what to say after that.”
• The UFC is exploring booking former middleweight champion Luke Rockhold against current interim champion Robert Whittaker at UFC 221 in Perth, Australia. It brings back some legitimacy to the division with two of the top fighters competing for gold, after former champion Michael Bisping defended his belt against Dan Henderson before fighting the unretired Georges St-Pierre, and dropping the belt. St-Pierre won’t be ready to fight by UFC 221 after being diagnosed colitis.
• Speaking of Georges St-Pierre, he is unsure he will ever compete at middleweight again, despite just winning the belt. St-Pierre said trying to put on weight to fight at 185-pounds was unhealthy, and a reason for his inclination to fight at a lighter weight in the future. It’s not a bad thing for the UFC, even though there might be grumblings. St-Pierre could fight welterweight champion Tyron Woodley in another super bout, or perhaps even Conor McGregor, the UFC’s dream match up. Either way, Luke Rockhold asked for St-Pierre to move on and it might just happen
• Cris ‘Cyborg’ Justino claims she has tips being fed to her from Holly Holm’s team in New Mexico. Specifically, other Brazilian fighters are putting country over team to feed Cyborg tips and notes about Holm’s training patterns for their featherweight title fight at UFC 219. It’d break the unwritten rules of the gym, but it’s not uncommon for this kind of cross over to happen. Volkan Oezdemir trained with Daniel Cormier’s training partner Luke Rockhold recently, for example. Cyborg said she isn’t giving the tips much credence, instead trying to focus on Holm’s boxing background, training with undefeated female boxer Cecilia Braekhus.
• Floyd Mayweather is claiming he “carried” Conor McGregor through the fights to give the fans an entertaining fight. It’s not the craziest notion, many people believe he implored a rope-a-dope method to let McGregor punch himself out. But is Mayweather trying to keep the door to a rematch and payday open?
• Ronda Rousey’s move to the WWE seems “imminent” and not at all surprising. She was tangentially involved in a storyline for her friend Shayna Baszler during The Mae Young Classic. Given her affinity for professional wrestling – her moniker Rowdy is a tribue to WWE legend Rowdy Piper—it seemed like a no-brainer for her post-UFC career. She could be the Brock Lesnar of the women’s division, a dominant figure dispatching opponents at a quick rate with an aura of invincibility. Now they should have her paired up with Paul Heyman to do the work on the microphone too.
• Michael Bisping conceded that fighting at UFC Shanghai against Kelvin Gastelum—three weeks after being choked unconscious by Georges St-Pierre—was “the wrong move.” Bisping said in hindsight he was emotionally and physically drained and his ego prevented him from recognizing it. He tried to exorcise his demons and perhaps only fueled them. He rolled the dice and fans will forever appreciate his heart.