During a night of outstanding action, there was one perplexingly bad fight on the UFC 226 card.
That, of course, was the co-main event showdown between Derrick Lewis and Francis Ngannou. Billed as a battle of two of the most dangerous knockout artists in the heavyweight division, the matchup quickly devolved into a timid standoff with little in the way of meaningful action.
Of the two, Lewis did more to try and force the action, and as a result, captured a unanimous verdict. Still, Lewis and Ngannou combined to land just 31 significant strikes, the second-fewest ever in a three-round bout in UFC competition. Much of that blame falls on Ngannou, who began his promotional tenure with six consecutive finishes, with Alistair Overeem, Curtis Blaydes and Andrei Arlovski among those on his list of victims.
However, “The Predator” didn’t seem to recover from the five-round beating he endured at the hands of Stipe Miocic in their five-round title bout at UFC 220 in January. As a result, Ngannou was reluctant to pull the trigger against Lewis. UFC President Dana White believes Ngannou may have become a star a little too quickly.
“I think that he had a pretty quick rise here and obviously the fight over Alistair Overeem catapulted him,” White said at Saturday’s post-fight press conference. “Everybody was talking about him. I thought he was going to be the next guy. I think his ego ran away with him. Big time. I can tell you that his ego absolutely did run away with him. And the minute that happens to you in the fight game, you see what happens. You start to fall apart.”
At one point in the fight, referee Herb Dean issued a simultaneous warning to both Ngannou and Lewis for timidity. The scolding didn’t have much effect, because the quality of the fight didn’t improve significantly from that moment.
While the UFC did help to build the Ngannou hype machine, White began to notice some changes in Ngannou based on their interactions prior to the fighter’s championship opportunity.
“I had some personal encounters with him, as did other people in the organization, and his ego just was so out of control,” White said. “Before the Stipe fight he took off and went to France, didn’t really train for that fight. And you see the results. Then he comes back and he did train…ego is what hurt Francis Ngannou.”
Meanwhile, Lewis didn’t take much pride in the victory and blamed a balky back for his own subpar performance. White, however, wasn’t as critical of “The Black Beast” as he was of Ngannou.
“I don’t agree that his stock dropped,” White said. “That’s a problem [back issues] that he’s gonna have. He’s a fun guy. He’s funny. He gets in there and throws. The fights are exciting, but he always has problems with his back. You don’t want to go in there with a bad back with [new heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier].
“But I like him and I don’t think his stock dropped at all. He won the fight. If you look at his fights, tell me the last time he was in a boring fight. Tonight was the last time.”