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The UFC 260 main card took a beating in recent weeks—it most notably lost the featherweight title fight between Alexander Volkanovski and Brian Ortega—but the headliner should still carry the day on Saturday in Las Vegas. The heavyweight championship rematch between Stipe Miocic and Francis Ngannou is just as intriguing a matchup as it was when the two first met in 2018, and it is the clear highlight of this lineup. The next two bouts are a bit of a double-edged sword. While it would be nice to see exciting young talents like Vicente Luque and Sean O'Malley earn victories, doing so on the backs of Tyron Woodley and Thomas Almeida could serve as reminders of how cruel the fight game can be. Beyond that, flyweight prospects Gillian Robertson and Miranda Maverick collide in an interesting fight, and the lightweight opener should be a fun scrap. This event suffers from the comparison to UFC 259 just three weeks prior, but it should still be a good time.
Now to the preview for the UFC 260 “Miocic vs. Ngannou” main card:
UFC Heavyweight ChampionshipC | Stipe Miocic (20-3, 14-3 UFC) vs. #1 | Francis Ngannou (15-3, 10-2 UFC)
ODDS: Ngannou (-120), Miocic (+100)
When Miocic defended his heavyweight title against Ngannou to kick off 2018, it was rightfully the most anticipated heavyweight title fight in years. At that point, Miocic was riding a five-fight winning streak that put him in the running for the best heavyweight in UFC history. A win over Ngannou would have marked a record third defense of the title, which spoke to the difficulty of having an extended reign at heavyweight; and beating Ngannou by itself figured to be an impressive accomplishment. “The Predator” laid waste to every opponent with which he crossed paths inside of the Octagon and looked to be improving at a prodigious rate. In practice, the fight itself wound up being a one-sided win for Miocic. Ngannou, as always, proved dangerous, but Miocic was able to lean on his wrestling early, stay defensively safe and eventually coast to a decision. Despite how the fight played out, Ngannou figured to be back as a title contender in relatively short order, as he answered a lot of questions in the positive. Yes, Miocic managed to outwrestle him, but Ngannou remained dangerous and never mentally broke, affirming that he had all the tools to be a champion and just needed the experience. Three years later, Ngannou has that additional experience—sort of.
In a way, it is kind of funny that it has taken three years to essentially wind up in the same spot that both men were in entering their first fight. In the years since, Miocic’s only opponent has been Daniel Cormier, as the two locked horns in a title trilogy that eventually saw the Euclid, Ohio, native walk away with the final two wins. At this point, Miocic has to be considered the best heavyweight in the UFC’s history when looking at his Octagon resume. As for Ngannou, he has been quite successful but not in a way that answers any questions going into this fight. Directly after the first Miocic encounter, Ngannou and Derrick Lewis combined for one of the most disappointing fights of all-time. Ngannou, normally a counterpuncher to begin with, was horrifically gun-shy in the Lewis fight. The end result? Fifteen minutes of absolutely nothing that saw Lewis walk away with the win on the scorecards. In the four fights since, Ngannou basically picked up where he left off before the two losses: four knockouts, none of which lasted past 71 seconds. With Ngannou winning fights so quickly, it is impossible to tell if there has been any sort of growth. At the very least, he learned not to replicate the mistakes of the Lewis fight against Jairzinho Rozenstruik, bulldozing the Surinamese kickboxer with a wild barrage in just 20 seconds.
As a result, we are left with basically the same dynamic as the first fight. Ngannou will be extremely dangerous early and could smoke Miocic with a counter if one thing goes wrong for the champion. However, Miocic figures to be able to lean on his wrestling, at which point he should manage to slow the challenger just enough to not get his head knocked into the third row. Beyond that, there are basically two questions that need to be asked about this fight when compared to the first one. First, there is the question of whether or not Miocic has degraded any in the past three years, which does not seem like it has happened to any sort of major degree. The second—the answer to which is essentially unknown—is whether Ngannou has shored up his defensive wrestling enough to deal with the takedown game that Miocic brought the first time around. Miocic is probably the smarter pick and definitely the better fighter in a vacuum, but the bet is that Ngannou is the type of natural fighter that, in the last three years, has picked up just enough to make good on one of his early openings. After all, it only takes one takedown attempt gone awry for Ngannou to put out Miocic’s lights, and he holds the advantage in the two traits—durability and power—that make an excellent heavyweight. The pick is Ngannou via first-round knockout.
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