UFC 260 turned out to be a changing of the guard in the heavyweight division. Francis Ngannou demonstrated improved combat skills beyond his already devastating knockout power when he was dethroned Stipe Miocic with a thoroughly impressive all-round performance.
But with that knockout behind you and the UFC heavyweight championship belt around your waist, the natural inclination is to look forward to what’s next. And as big as the fight for the title in the Miocic was, the potential of a super fight between Ngannou and the GOAT candidate Jon Jones has massive effects on itself.
This assumes that Jones and the UFC can get on financial terms, which is not a guarantee, especially given the fact that Jones and Dana White started the fight from the moment Ngannou took one final haymaker to a grounded Miocic quit having both publicly buried their heels. If the two sides can’t agree Derrick Lewis threatens as another option.
Then there’s the thing with Miocic, who flirted with the idea of retiring in the past but hasn’t spoken about his future since losing his title. Will Miocic get a trilogy fight with Ngannou to get the 1-1 result, and if so, where does it fit within the larger framework of the division?
With so many big questions that are still open after Saturday evening, our committee separates Ariel Helwani, Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi and Jeff Wagenheim as to what is real and what is not.
Despite the rhetoric, UFC and Jones will agree to book Ngannou vs. Jones next
Francis Ngannou talks to Jon Jones about a possible fight and where that fight should take place.
Okamoto: Reallybut there is no doubt about it: this is a legitimate hurdle. Remember, Jones also spoke publicly about money last year. And it’s pretty telling that the first thing he posted on Twitter, the moment Ngannou won the belt, was “Show me the money”. And then he went on into the evening and talked about money.
Dana White responded, as he has done to Jones and others in the past, by essentially saying that Jones is asking for such an enormous amount that it indicates he doesn’t really want the fight.
That’s not good folks. None of this is good.
I am far from feeling 100% sure that this matter will be resolved. However, I am optimistic. If I’m not 100%, let’s say I’m 75% confident that this fight will happen next – because it has to be. This just became the # 1 fight the UFC can make. I think it’s bigger than that Conor McGregor– –Dustin Poirier Trilogy (or at least at eye level). It’s the only fight for both of them. You can’t dangle Ngannou against Jones and then Ngannou against Derrick Lewis 2 and Jones against … who exactly? Give.
I will try to be faithful. The UFC still has time to do the right thing. I’m supposed to see a fight proposal next week. Cross your fingers, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity for everyone involved.
– BONY (@JonnyBones) March 28, 2021
No disrespect for Lewis or any other heavyweight, but there’s no other matchup for Ngannou that even comes close to Jones in terms of attractiveness. I think we’ll get there, but we might see a few more frustrated Jones tweets along the way.
If Ngannou doesn’t happen against Jones, look for Lewis as Ngannou’s first challenger
Francis Ngannou and Derrick Lewis had an extremely disappointing match at UFC 226, but with the success they’ve both had since then, a rematch makes a lot of sense. AP Photo / John Locher
Helwani: It would be either Lewis or Miocic. But Lewis has the edge because he’s fresher and doesn’t have to take a vicious knockout loss. What hurts him is the first Ngannou Lewis fight, which was eagerly anticipated and became one of the greatest guys in UFC history. Now I’m confident a rematch won’t turn out the same way, but unfortunately the stench of that fight still lingers.
That said, Miocic will now be taking time out. He and his wife are expecting their second child later this year, so I would imagine he would want a break. Would he instantly speed up his timeline for another belt tear? I suspect it, but if it doesn’t, I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes off for the rest of 2021, if not longer.
This makes Lewis the only viable contender available if the great Jones fight doesn’t go ahead. And you know what? You can do a lot worse than a man who has won four straight wins, including two in a row in the second round, and who is also very popular with the fans. Oh, and he also got a victory over Ngannou three years ago. Indeed, Ngannou’s last loss. I can see the graduation now …
Ngannou is ready to enjoy a long tenure as a champion
Francis Ngannou is in a great position to hold the UFC heavyweight championship for a long time. Chris Unger / Zuffa LLC
Wagenheim: “Poised” is correct. Even a one-dimensional Ngannou, the knockout artist from a few years ago, could have been able to hold onto the belt for a long time. But the fighter we saw on Saturday night – round and yes, ready – raises real concerns for any heavyweight ambitious to become a champion.
At 34, Ngannou is entering his prime for a heavyweight division. So I can’t see it fading anytime soon, which means the new champion will be able to rule as long as he is interested in the fight. Who will dethrone him?
Jones gets the first bang – you don’t think fans would stand for the UFC, which passes the title shot to an inexpensive alternative, or – and the former light heavyweight champion may be the greatest fighter of all time. For years it has been next to impossible to imagine Jones losing. But he’s flirted with defeat in his recent fights, and moving into the heavyweight division puts Jones in a shark tank of unfamiliar waters and debuts against a man aptly named “The Predator.”
If Jones can’t move Ngannou from his throne, then what about Lewis in a tantalizing rematch of fate of the worst fight in heavyweight history? Or Miocic in a fight for the 1: 1 trilogy? Or an aspiring contender like Ciryl Gane or Alexander Volkov? No, no, no and no.
Ngannou could be champion for years.
Francis Ngannou showed a masterful performance against Stipe Miocic at UFC 260. Chris Unger / Zuffa LLC
That is of course in the calendar. In cage time, Ngannou’s reign could consist of a series of short slices of time – half a minute of furious fighting before one challenger is eliminated, just a few seconds of thunder before the next is ended, and so on.
On the other hand, the patient Francis may be the ngannou we will see from now on. Instead of wowing fans and beating heavyweights with an uninterrupted blast of “Don’t Blink” slap festivals, as he did for almost his entire UFC tenure, the new champion may continue to show his martial arts development. The leg and head kicks, body punches and the defense against Miocic made their debut on Saturday, as did a serenity that furnished Ngannou for a long night of fighting when asked to do so.
The realization that the most dangerous knockout artist in MMA history is getting better is terrifying. More scary? When Ngannou fights last into round two or even beyond and he proves he has a gas tank to match these growing capabilities.
We’re going to see a trilogy fight between Miocic and Ngannou
Competitive as Stipe Miocic is, it’s unlikely he’d want the final picture of his UFC career to be his knockout loss to Francis Ngannou. Chris Unger / Zuffa LLC
Raimondi: Two years ago I had the opportunity to spend 24 hours with Miocic at his Valley View, Ohio fire station. While the firefighters waited for incoming calls that day, they played a game of cornhole right outside the station’s garage. Miocic became frustrated with his partner, spoke a little to the opposition, and ended up calling his shot to get the game-winning roll. It quickly went from a game just to pass the time to an activity that Miocic absolutely didn’t want to lose. He is extremely competitive, even in his spare time.
All of that is a lengthy way of saying “real“on this statement. For several years there has been talk of retirement near Miocic. And I still think that the end is probably near. He is 38 years old, has a daughter and a son on the way and the Family is absolutely his number one priority. Also, he will keep his job as a firefighter and paramedic after his retirement and likely work full time at Valley View, with the perks – healthcare, retirement, etc – that come with that job. However, if Miocic I wanted to hang up the gloves after UFC 260, more likely it was after a win, so as good as Ngannou looked on Saturday night, Miocic is most likely already thinking about how to win a third fight.
Of course, things could always change. Miocic took his fair share of damage between the two battles with Ngannou and the trilogy Daniel Cormier. Perhaps he, his team, and family will decide it is time to go away. Other factors also play a role here. If Miocic comes back, I doubt it will be anytime soon. Ngannou is likely to fight Lewis or Jones next, depending on whether the UFC can meet financial terms with Jones. It’s possible that Ngannou could even fight both of them before Miocic returns. Miocic has only fought once a year since 2018. There is no guarantee that Ngannou will remain the champion to start this Miocic trilogy fight in 2022, although I wouldn’t bet against him.
One last thing: Miocic deserved the trilogy fight. He unilaterally beat Ngannou at UFC 220 in 2018. Ngannou improved a lot and has really developed as a fighter ever since. Miocic granted him the rematch. It would only be fair for Ngannou to do the same. Miocic is the greatest UFC heavyweight champion of all time. Nothing about what happened on Saturday evening changes that. Like everyone else, Miocic should be given the opportunity to write the final chapter of his career on his terms, whatever they may be.