A super-heavyweight bout, pitting the champion against the division’s top-ranked contender, will headline UFC 260 on Saturday, as Stipe Miocic defends the heavyweight championship against Francis Ngannou.
The card took a major hit when a scheduled title bout pitting UFC Featherweight Champion Alexander Volkanovski against Brian Ortega was canceled after Volkanovski tested positive for COVID-19. That was a massive draw for 260, especially coming off Volkanovski’s two wins against Max Holloway, and there is no legitimate way to replace it. Outside of the main event, the fights on the main card do not have direct title ramifications.
There is an important welterweight bout pitting Tyron Woodley against Vicente Luque, which connects directly to Woodley’s future. Woodley has suffered three straight losses, and though a win opens up fight options outside of the Octagon, a defeat here will not only end his UFC career, but could also cause him to announce his retirement.
Here are some of the most pressing questions surrounding UFC 260:
Has Francis Ngannou evolved as a fighter to the point where he can defeat Stipe Miocic?
This is a rematch from UFC 220 in January 2018, a five-round unanimous decision victory for Miocic (20–3) that saw him exhaust and outclass Ngannou (15–3) with a well-rounded performance.
A critical juncture in the fight occurred when Miocic was able to eat a Ngannou shot to the head and keep going, avoiding further damage by wrestling Ngannou to the mat. Had he not been so tired, perhaps Ngannou would have hit a follow-up strike to end the bout. Conditioning will continue to be a question until Ngannou proves otherwise. If this fight extends into the championship rounds, there is no question about Miocic’s ability to finish the fight. Ngannou has limited experience in that realm, with his loss to Miocic standing alone as the only five-round fight of his career.
Miocic pushed Ngannou around and grappled with him in their first fight, showing the depth of his versatility as a fighter. This rematch is a chance for Ngannou, one that is three years in the making, to show how much he has improved in the Octagon.
With a win, is Stipe Miocic the greatest heavyweight champion in UFC history?
Miocic looks to further stake his claim as the greatest heavyweight champion in UFC history by notching a second victory against Ngannou.
Incredibly, he is again the betting underdog entering this bout. And despite Ngannou’s power, it will be no surprise if he wins.
Miocic needs to come out and control the distance, and shoot whenever Ngannou throws a combo. Whether Miocic can still sustain consistent punishment from Ngannou is a significant question, especially with the caliber of Ngannou’s power. And though Miocic looked great in his last two fights against Daniel Cormier, this bout will show whether his trilogy against Cormier wore him down.
Miocic is already the greatest heavyweight champion in UFC history, but he needs another win to further cement that legacy. And if he can rattle off wins against Ngannou and Jon Jones, his status as the greatest will be undeniable.
Is Jon Jones next in line for a title shot?
Jon Jones is next in line for a title shot, though that is more complicated than it sounds.
If Ngannou wins, then Miocic has earned the right for a rematch. Yet there will be an instant appetite for the Ngannou-Jones title fight, leaving Miocic as the odd man out. One option would be to have Ngannou immediately defend the belt against Jones, then have Miocic meet the winner.
Jones is a force against any opponent, but he would fare even better against Ngannou. Once he starts throwing his world-class jiu-jitsu, it will be an entirely different world for Ngannou. Jones would also be the favorite against Miocic, but Miocic’s collegiate wrestling background and boxing would cause problems.
For the winner, an eventual showdown with Jones awaits.
Will this be Tyron Woodley’s final fight in the UFC—or is retirement looming?
Tyron Woodley will meet Vicente Luque on Saturday, and although Luque is a talented fighter, this bout is all about Woodley.
A former UFC welterweight champion, Woodley (19–6–1) has lost three fights in a row and needs to avoid a devastating fourth straight defeat. Whether he wins or loses against Luque (19–7–1), this is likely his final fight in UFC. But the outcome of this fight will be a major factor in the next move of his career.
With a win, he has leverage in his next contract, whether it is in Bellator, ONE or Rizin, immediately propelling himself into the top five of either company’s welterweight division. With a loss, it could be his last fight altogether. If Luque wins convincingly, that could lead Woodley to announce his retirement.
Luque is such a skilled striker, but this fight is all about Woodley and watching how he responds with so much up in the air regarding his immediate future in the sport.
How will Sean O’Malley respond to his first loss?
UFC 260 will also be a gut check for Sean O’Malley.
O’Malley is coming off his first loss, and it will be telling to see how O’Malley responds in his bout against Thomas Almeida.
O’Malley (12–1) suffered a first-round TKO loss to Marlon Vera in August, and he needs to defeat Almeida (22–4)—who has lost three in a row and four of his last five—to get back on track in the bantamweight division.
This is a dangerous fight for O’Malley. While O’Malley is quicker and has those heavy hands, Almeida is a fighter who cracks an opponent.
A loss will remove O’Malley from any significant upcoming fights in the division, so this is one he desperately needs to win.
Without Volkanovski-Ortega, what else is on this card?
In a bout that was originally scheduled for UFC 258, Gillian Robertson meets Miranda Maverick in a women’s flyweight fight. It needed to be rescheduled after Robertson could not fight due to a non-COVID-19 illness, and was then added to the main card after Volkanovski-Ortega was postponed. It represents a dynamic clash of styles between Robertson (9–5) and Maverick (8–2), who both have real potential to elevate themselves in the division with a win.
Maverick has won her last four fights, and she is on pace to enter the title picture by 2022. Standing in her way is Robertson, which means we will get to see Robertson’s jiu-jitsu against Maverick’s striking.
The opening fight of the main card is Khama Worthy against Jamie Mullarkey in lightweight action. Both are coming off losses, and there are no real title implications for Worthy (16–7) or Mullarkey (12–4). Their task is to stand out by putting forth an entertaining scrap to open the card, which is even more important now without Volkanovski and Ortega.
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.