162 seconds. In just 162 seconds Francis Ngannou has gone from a trigger-shy, confidence-depleted failed title challenger to a resurgent knockout machine on the cusp of UFC – and sporting – stardom.
Curtis Blaydes, Cain Velasquez, Junior dos Santos and Jairzinho Rozenstruik have all been toppled by The Predator. All in the space of 2 minutes and 42 seconds combined.
That run of wins has seen Ngannou enter the fray for another tilt at Stipe Miocic’s heavyweight crown. As the pair prepare to do battle once more at this weekend’s UFC 260, it beggars belief that the Cameroonian had lost his way.
In just 162 seconds Francis Ngannou has primed himself for a shot at the UFC heavyweight title
UFC 260 will not be the first time the 34-year-old has been on the cusp of UFC glory though
You would be forgiven for being struck down with a case of deja vu heading into Saturday night’s title fight at the UFC Apex.
The 6ft 4ins powerhouse had been riding a wave of momentum prior to his first tilt at the title against Miocic in January 2018, having enjoyed a run of a run of six successive wins before meeting the Ohio fireman in Boston.
However, Miocic decided not to follow the script, outwrestling Ngannou to a unanimous points decision victory that ensured the belt remained strapped around his waist.
Ngannou challenged for the heavyweight title three years ago, when he took on Stipe Miocic
The American went against the script and secured a dominant points victory in Boston
From there, it went from bad to worse for Ngannou, with the scars of the Miocic loss on full display as he put in a tentative performance to record back-to-back defeats against Derrick Lewis at UFC 226.
Following his dismal defeat to Lewis, UFC supremo Dana White gave a scathing assessment of the 34-year-old’s character in the post-mortem.
‘I can tell you that his ego absolutely did run away with him,’ White told reporters after his points decision loss.
‘The minute that happens to you in the fight game, you start to fall apart. I had some personal encounters with him, as did other people in the organisation, and this guy’s ego was so out of control.
Later that year, UFC president Dana White lashed out at Ngannou, criticising his ‘ego’
‘Ego is what hurt Francis Ngannou,’ is what White concluded from the Cameroonian’s successive defeats.
Since that rebuke, Ngannou has got his mojo back, and White and the UFC top brass will be delighted that he has found his way again.
For the UFC, Ngannou presents the opportunity for the organisation to have their biggest heavyweight star since Brock Lesnar.
The Predator is a true rags-to-riches story, having grown up in poverty and being forced to work in a sand quarry at 10 years old.
Since then, Ngannou has got his mojo back, enjoying a run of four wins on the bounce
He has seen off Cain Velasquez, Curtis Blaydes, Junior dos Santos and Jairzinho Rozenstruik
He escaped his life in Cameroon at 26, moving to Europe to pursue a career as a professional boxer, but spent two months in prison in Spain for illegally crossing the border.
After his jail stint, he moved to Paris in search of a boxing gym and lived on the streets until he was finally taken in, and so began his eight-year journey to the precipice of UFC greatness.
On reflection, Ngannou believes that he was not ready to become a UFC champion the first time around against Miocic, with his astronomical rise, coupled with the gravity of what winning the heavyweight title would mean for a whole continent, not sinking in before the clash in Boston.
‘I hadn’t found my spot in life at that moment,’ he told ESPN. ‘I was in the air, but I didn’t know where to land.’
Ngannou has the potential to be the UFC’s biggest heavyweight star in almost a decade
The 34-year-old’s story is one of rags-to-riches, having escaped poverty in Cameroon to sit on the verge of UFC gold
Three years on and Ngannou has found where he needs to land, and he will be under no illusions as to the task at hand across from him at the UFC Apex.
Miocic is, without question, the most accomplished UFC heavyweight champion of all time.
The 38-year-old has wins over some of the biggest names to grace the division, including Fabricio Werdum, Alistair Overeem, Daniel Cormier (twice) and Ngannou.
But while Ngannou has picked up highlight-reel wins over four different rivals, Miocic has spent the last three years engrossed in a battle with just one opponent.
The American lost his heavyweight title to Cormier in the summer of 2018, reclaimed UFC gold from the former light heavyweight champion before rounding off the trilogy with a unanimous decision victory in 2020.
But Miocic will be looking to stop the explosive Ngannou in his tracks, as he did in 2018
The 38-year-old has fought three times since that fight, all against Daniel Cormier in a trilogy
Miocic is the most accomplished heavyweight in UFC history and will be tough to defeat
In that time it is fair to say the division has stagnated slightly, with the remaining heavyweight contenders jostling for position to land the title shot against Miocic.
And Ngannou will pose a very different puzzle to solve for Miocic than Cormier did over three fights. Cormier’s wrestling background is the complete opposite to Ngannou’s style, with the Cameroonian dangerous up top with power punches.
Miocic will be well aware of that, of course, having stifled The Predator in their last meeting. The 38-year-old rode through the Ngannou storm in the first round and managed to grab hold of his rival as he tired out, wrestling him to the mat and keeping him under control. That strategy may be the way to go this time around too.
Barring the obvious rewards, the spoils of war from this weekend’s matchup could see the UFC’s biggest fight since Khabib Nurmagomedov defeated Conor McGregor in 2018.
Both heavyweights know what lies ahead in victory, with a mega-money super-fight on the line
That’s because Jon Jones has been plotting his arrival among the UFC heavyweights. The light-heavyweight champion, having cleaned out two generations of fighters in his division, has turned his attention to the big boys and, if reports are to be believed, will make his heavyweight debut against the victor of Saturday’s title fight.
For UFC fans, the more exciting fight would be Ngannou v Jones, with the thought of the Cameroonian flooring the near-unbeatable American a tantalising prospect.
But Miocic, as he did three years ago, will be looking to spoil the heavyweight party and bag the money fight that his illustrious career has warranted.
Jon Jones is expected to take on the victor, having moved up from the light-heavyweight ranks
The hopes of an entire continent rest on Ngannou’s shoulders, he is one KO shot from glory
And what does White think of Ngannou’s resurgence? It appears the UFC supremo has come full circle following those disparaging comments after the Lewis defeat.
‘He had a shot at the title and he lost,’ White said. ‘You always have to work your way back to the title, because there is always someone next in line who is deserving of it.
‘If you think about the last time he lost to Stipe, that was 2018, and it took him all the way until now, 2021, to get it back — but he’s done it. He’s the guy. He’s the guy that should be getting this shot.’
Three years may be a long time, but 162 seconds is not. Francis Ngannou could become heavyweight champion in a flash on Saturday night.