Francis Ngannou is the most dangerous man on the planet. At least, that’s what you would have believed if you had only heard of him from UFC 220’s advertising.
The UFC has a looming problem of lacking stars, compared to other leagues such as the NFL and NBA. One of the ways they responded to that problem was by giving Ngannou a promotional push, hyping him up not just as a rising heavyweight but as the future of the division.
It’s safe to say the results didn’t match up to the hype.
Ngannou lost against Stipe Miocic and didn’t truly threaten his opponent beyond the early part of the fight. In his very next outing, he had a performance that is widely considered one of the most disappointing in UFC history.
If you showed the fight to someone who didn’t know who either fighter was, they likely would have assumed that both Ngannou and Derrick Lewis were amateurs. How did Ngannou manage to hit that low point? Is it still possible to bounce back and live up to the early hype?
How the hype began
To understand the future, you have to look at the past.
Francis Ngannou made his UFC debut on December 19, 2015, and picked up steam within the promotion quickly by winning his first three fights by KO or TKO.
Even in his debut, he showed the knockout power that would eventually make him famous. He strung together a combination of punches and then dropped Luis Henrique with a left-handed uppercut, flashing his potential from the beginning.
In his next fight, he defeated Curtis Blaydes by doctor stoppage. The win looks more impressive now, with Blaydes currently sitting in the #3 spot in the heavyweight rankings.
Ngannou’s tenth win came against a heavyweight legend, Andrei Arlovski. This, perhaps, is where the hype really began. It’s one thing to win against other rising fighters and unranked fighters. It’s another thing entirely to defeat a former champion that’s also a mainstream name in MMA.
The Arlovski win came in January and set up a December matchup with Alistair Overeem. If the hype began earlier in the year, this is the fight that confirmed it, as Ngannou won with one of the best knockouts of the year and in recent memory as a whole. Once again, Ngannou went up against an opponent that’s considered a legend. And once again, Ngannou knocked him out, this time using enough power to lift his heavyweight opponent off the ground.
Any hype that was generated by this has long since worn off, and that’s making us all forget just how ridiculous it was to witness as it happened. Ngannou captured the attention of the MMA world and even the world of sports in general. There are not too many MMA moves that end up on SportsCenter, but this was one of them. It happened in the co-main event, which helped ensure that everyone saw it.
This wasn’t an amazing knockout buried on an undercard or in a foreign event that was only watched by diehards. This was something that captured the attention of ESPN, MMA Twitter, and just about everyone else. So it’s understandable that everyone, including the UFC itself, thought Ngannou was ready to take on champion Stipe Miocic in a heavyweight title fight one month later.
Francis Ngannou as a post-hype prospect
The Overeem knockout made us all forget how raw Ngannou is. Not raw as in young, but inexperienced. While Ngannou came into the Miocic fight with a number of UFC wins already and an undefeated record in the promotion, he just doesn’t have the same kind of experience as most heavyweight contenders.
Part of the reason why the heavyweight division needed new blood so badly in the first place is that it’s a division that, for the past years, has been dominated by experienced veterans. Names such as Miocic, Derrick Lewis, Junior Dos Santos, Fabricio Werdum, and even Alexander Volkov all have much more experience than Ngannou. Volkov, for example, has twice as many wins as Ngannou has total fights.
So really, it’s not that surprising that Miocic dominated at UFC 220. Sometimes, great physical talent can make up for lack of experience. But not always, and it’s harder to pull this off at the elite levels of the game than it is at the mid to low levels.
In a way, you can also blame the flat performance against Derrick Lewis on this. Inexperience also extends to how fighters react to certain things happening. Someone with more experience might know how to adapt to a loss better. Ngannou, however, had never tasted losing and adapted with the worst performance possible in his next outing.
Fixing Francis Ngannou
How can it be fixed? Can it even be fixed?
Well, the solution might be going back to the basics and what made Ngannou such a hyped prospect in the first place. His two losses both came against elite fighters who are currently performing at a very high level. His wins, on the other hand, have come against middling fighters, rising prospects, and well-known older fighters who have fallen off in terms of skill level.
The key to getting Ngannou back to where he was before the Miocic loss might be more fights against competition that’s at his level. It seems simple, but it makes sense when you consider how out of his depth Ngannou was against Miocic and to an extent against Lewis.
Francis Ngannou can definitely bounce back, and might even fight for a title again, but for it to happen, the UFC has to treat him like a rising fighter with an 11-3 record and not like the most dangerous man on the planet. Because the former is what Ngannou is, right now.
Who knows? If the matchmakers give him some time to work up to the elite fights instead of trying to force them early on to add another star to the UFC lineup, Ngannou might just recapture some of the old hype. This time, it will be organic, rather than the result of a promotional push that includes a relatively early title shot.
Sports writer and photographer in Buffalo, originally from Jersey. Fan first.