The UFC’s heavyweight division is a land of monsters. Men stepping into the Octagon, potentially weighing more than 265 pounds, sporting four-ounce gloves as the only form of protection separating fist from face. It should come as no surprise that this division plays host to one of the most peculiar records in company history. A UFC heavyweight champion, no matter how talented or awe-inspiring, has never defended the title more than twice.
Not Randy Couture, not Brock Lesnar, not Cain Velasquez, not Junior dos Santos, not Fabricio Werdum.
Regarded as the baddest man on the planet after winning the UFC’s heavyweight crown, every single one of those baddest men has fallen at the heavy hands of a rising contender.
Stipe Miocic, having won the championship in May 2016, aims to make history the next time he steps into the Octagon. Having defended his championship twice since defeating Fabricio Werdum, Miocic is looking for historic title defense No. 3 at some point in 2018.
But despite showcasing a dominant display of offense with first-round TKO stoppages in both his title defenses against Alistair Overeem and dos Santos, there’s a growing sentiment that Miocic won’t make it to the next leg of this historic run. No, it has nothing to do with the contract negotiations between he and the UFC; it’s the terrifying contender that’s standing in the way.
Francis Ngannou, he of 10 straight victories, should be considered the next title contender in the heavyweight class. He earned the rights to that place in line with an absolute destruction of all-time heavyweight great Overeem at UFC 218 Saturday in Detroit, blistering the former title contender with a KO stoppage just 1:42 into the fight.
That’s just 10 seconds longer than Ngannou’s previous fight lasted against former champion Andrei Arlovski, also stopping the aging legend with a first-round TKO.
The 31-year-old heavyweight monster hasn’t seen the second round — much less the third minute — of a fight since April of last year, stopping four different opponents just minutes after Bruce Buffer finished his pre-fight announcements.
He’s been nothing short of terrifying since making his UFC debut in 2015, winning six fights with relative ease. Nobody has been able to make him look remotely human, or anywhere near stoppable.
With no official confirmation in the form of a fight announcement, whether Ngannou is actually the next man in line remains to be seen. But assuming he is (which he really, really should be), he doesn’t see a shot at the title ending any differently than all the fights he won to get there.
“The match against Stipe, the same way. Knockout,” Ngannou told UFC media after his win. “There are no (other) prognosis possible besides a knockout for me. I just get myself ready, go do an easy fight, go back home.”
“I don’t want to make it a three, four-round fight. Just a knockout, first round, go back home.”
But just as Ngannou is standing in the way of history for Miocic, Miocic is standing in the way of a championship pursuit for Ngannou. The would-be challenger is an early favorite to defeat the champion, but not by much.
Considering how remarkable Ngannou has looked, that should say a lot about the sort of fighter Miocic is.
The champion has also defeated his past four opponents in the opening round, a run that’s featured far better opposition than Ngannou’s. Arlovski, Werdum, Overeem and dos Santos — none lasted more than 4:27 against the Ohio native. The last man to go deep into the night with Miocic was Mark Hunt, though it’s yet to be determined whether Hunt is of the same species (kidding; maybe).
Not since Lesnar defended his title against Shane Carwin for the biggest (literally) heavyweight title fight of all time has the UFC hosted a heavyweight championship contest of this magnitude. Two tremendous knockout artists, there’s no telling who winds up walking away the victor.
One thing is fairly certain, though: we won’t need the judges.