2018 was not a kind year for Francis Ngannou. The Cameroon native opened up the year as the hottest heavyweight on the planet following his brutal KO of Alistair Overeem at UFC 218, but the hype fizzled when he lost a lopsided decision to then-UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic at UFC 220. Ngannou’s lack of wrestling was exposed in that fight, but the UFC gave him the opportunity to make amends by booking him against fellow striker Derrick Lewis at UFC 226. However, Ngannou laid an egg in a fight that was universally panned by critics, and saw himself on a two-fight losing steak for the first time in his young MMA career.
Instead of packing it up and becoming another failed MMA prospect, Ngannou turned things around when he finished Curtis Blaydes in the first round at UFC Beijing. That was a great win for Ngannou, and it set him up for another big fight against a top heavyweight title contender. The UFC decided to give him a headlining spot against former champ Cain Velasquez in the main event of UFC on ESPN 1. Most figured that if Ngannou would win it would have to come early on with his big punches, otherwise Velasquez would use his vaunted wrestling game to expose Ngannou’s lack of wrestling just like Miocic did.
The fight didn’t play out like anyone expected it to, though. Just 26 seconds into the fight, Velasquez ended up on the floor and Ngannou pounded him out. No one knew what happened because everything happened so fast but on replay it shows that Ngannou landed some short punches that hurt Velasquez, but it was mostly a knee injury that led to the stoppage. Either way, Ngannou picked up the biggest win of his career to date over a former champion in Velasquez, and it sets him up for a big fight this time out.
As far as I’m concerned, Ngannou’s next opponent should be Velasquez’ close friend and training partner, UFC heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier. Since defeating Lewis at UFC 230 last November, Cormier has been sitting on the sidelines injured but is expected to return to the Octagon within the next couple of months. Most figured he would return against Brock Lesnar in a superfight, but we’ve heard absolutely nothing about Lesnar’s return in the last few months. Some think a trilogy fight against arch rival Jon Jones could also make sense, but DC has been adamant he has no interest in fighting Jones again. That leaves Ngannou as the next logical opponent for him.
For Ngannou, beating Blaydes and Velasquez should be enough to launch him back into title contention in the shallow UFC heavyweight division, while for Cormier fighting him would be a tremendous opportunity to get revenge against the man who just beat his best friend. Stylistically, Ngannou vs. Cormier is a fight that is very intriguing as it features the classic striker vs. grappler matchup, but with a twist as Ngannou has at least 30 pounds of weight on Cormier. It would be one of the biggest fights of the year if it goes down.
Ngannou should be commended for putting his demons behind him and getting past an ugly 2018. He’s looked amazing in his last two fights, and the hype train is real once again. Maybe we were all too harsh on him after losing the Miocic and Lewis fights. Maybe he really is as good as we once all thought he was. Certainly, he’s shown that in his last two fights. Ngannou deserves to fight for the heavyweight title in his next bout, and now let’s see if Cormier and the UFC give him the opportunity to do so.