The Film Room: Francis Ngannou

By Kevin Wilson Jun 25, 2019
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Former Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight title challenger Francis Ngannou will return to the Octagon for the second time in 2019, as he takes on Junior dos Santos in the UFC on ESPN 3 main event this Saturday at the Target Center in Minneapolis. The winner could conceivably emerge as the next No. 1 contender for reigning heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier.

Ngannou has rattled off back-to-back victories since his disastrous decision loss to Derrick Lewis a little less than a year ago. His exploits are under the microscope in this installment of The Film Room.

Ngannou in 2018 went from being a terrifying young contender to an overrated hype train, then looked like a shot fighter who could not pull the trigger before transforming back into a terrifying contender in the span of just four fights. His rise, fall and subsequent rebirth have been interesting to watch ahead of his showdown with dos Santos. Although he has fought 10 times under the UFC banner since 2015, we still have not seen enough of Ngannou to know what he is capable of becoming. All eight of his wins have been finishes -- seven by knockout one by submission -- and six of those wins came in the first round. The only time we have seen him go to a decision twice: against Stipe Miocic, who destroyed him on the ground for five rounds, and against Lewis in arguably the least action-packed fight in UFC history.

Ngannou is far from a technical striker, but his power, aggression and ridiculous physical ability have been enough for him to get by most opponents. Early on in his career, he stayed patient on the outside with brief moments of coming forward with sloppy combos, and once opponents felt his power, they generally did the same. Generally, sloppy technique like this does not get you far in this sport, but Ngannou’s terrifying power and lack of high-level competition in the heavyweight division has allowed him to become one of the top challengers for the title. He has improved by leaps and bounds, but his technique is still not on par with the division’s elite.

Since the threat of his power is always there, Ngannou is usually the one to strike first. However, when opponents are reckless enough to move first, he has shown some nice countering skills for someone with his amount of experience. Something interesting about Ngannou is his ability to fight out of both stances, which is usually something that comes with more seasoning. No matter what stance he favors, his left hand on the counter, whether it be a lead hook or rear hook, has proven to be a devastating weapon. So far, the threat of his power has been enough to dissuade opponents from coming forward, but if you watch closely, he often gets visibly flustered with someone who is willing to get in his face. Dos Santos is a clever striker, so it would not be surprising to see him pick up on this tendency and push the pace more than ever.

With the yin comes the yang, and to this stage of his career, Ngannou’s grappling has been his biggest undoing. Now that the rest of the division knows he has issues handling himself on the ground, opponents will undoubtedly attempt to capitalize on his deficiencies. In his last two fights, he was matched with grapplers in Curtis Blaydes and Cain Velasquez, and Ngannou managed to knock them out before they could even shoot for a takedown. As a result, we do not know how much he has improved since the fight with Miocic. With that said, what is the point of working on your grappling if you can starch your opponent in the first minute?

What was even more impressive about the wins over Blaydes and Velasquez were that the punches seemingly did not land cleanly, and they were still powerful enough to end the fights. Blaydes did the right thing by extending his lead hand to put a barrier between himself and the punch, but it caught him behind the ear and sent him to the canvas. The knockout of Velasquez was strange, as it appeared as though the former champion’s knee gave out and resulted in his collapsing to the mat. However, in slow motion, you can see the punches glancing off his head and clearly hurting him. Advertisement


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