It was only a few months ago when Francis Ngannou was being referred to as the scariest man on the planet. The 31-year-old heavyweight was coming off of a punishing, one-punch KO win over Alistair Overeem in the co-main event of UFC 218 back in December and was looking like the sport’s next big superstar. The win over Overeem earned Ngannou a title shot against UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic just one month later at UFC 220, and he entered the bout as the consensus favorite to win the belt.
But Ngannou wasn’t ready for Miocic. Though most figured the Cameroonian-born Frenchman’s heavy fists would be enough to get him by the champion Miocic, it was clear his wrestling game wasn’t up to par. Miocic was able to avoid the big shots of Ngannou, and then he dumped him down on the mat over and over for 25 minutes, winning a unanimous decision and keeping his belt in the process. Those on the Ngannou bandwagon couldn’t wait to jump off, and for the last two months we have barely heard anything about the fighter who just a few months ago was being called the Mike Tyson of MMA.
Though Ngannou said he wanted to take time off to work on his wrestling, specifically his takedown defense, it appears he’s ready to make his return to the Octagon. In the past week or so Ngannou’s name has started to come up again in the news, with him calling out other heavyweights and other heavyweights calling him out, and it seems like it’s only a matter of time before Ngannou is booked for his next outing. If I had to guess, the UFC will book him on the main pay-per-view card of UFC 226 this July in Las Vegas, as he’s training at the UFC Performance Institute in Vegas and the main event is the heavyweight title superfight between Miocic and Daniel Cormier. It makes a lot of sense, then, that his return comes at this show.
So now the question is, who’s next for Ngannou?
One option is Derrick Lewis. Ngannou and Lewis have been going back-and-forth with each other on social media as of late, and a fight between two of the hardest punchers in the sport would be very exciting. Though Ngannou lost his last fight, prior to that he had won six of seven wins via knockout. Lewis, meanwhile, is coming off of a TKO win over Marcin Tybura and six of his last seven wins have come by knockout. There’s a lot of parallels between these two, and with both men needing a fight, it makes a lot of sense to book it. The fans would love it, that’s for sure.
Another option is Mark Hunt. Now 43, Hunt is in the last days of his amazing career and is coming off of a one-sided decision loss to Curtis Blaydes. Hunt recently called out Ngannou in the news, and like the Lewis fight, this bout makes a lot of sense. It arguably makes more sense than the Lewis fight because Hunt is coming off of a loss as well. He’s also an older fighter and is more susceptible to being knocked out at this point of his career, so the UFC may believe Hunt is a “safer” option that Lewis, even though Hunt knocked out Lewis just last year. While Hunt isn’t as good on social media as Lewis is, there’s still no doubt Hunt vs. Ngannou would be a much-hyped fight and fans would be happy if this is the fight that’s booked.
And finally, there’s one more option for Ngannou, and that’s a fight against Brock Lesnar. Ngannou says this is his “dream fight.” But while this is the fight Ngannou wants, it’s very hard to think he gets it. That’s because Lesnar is still under contract with WWE and also because he still has to serve part of the suspension he got when he tested positive after beating Hunt back at UFC 200 (later overturned to a No Contest). So logistically it just seems too tough of a fight to make, at least at this point of time. Then there’s the fact Lesnar is one of the most successful wrestlers in UFC history. Though he’s on the wrong side of 40 now, he could still take Ngannou down and lay on him, and if that happens, it would take a long time to rebuild Ngannou’s stock as a title contender.
If I had to guess, the UFC is going to match Ngannou up with a striker without the threat of a takedown, so either Lewis or Hunt makes a lot more sense than Lesnar just as far as styles go. Both Lewis and Hunt would have no problem standing and trading with Ngannou in the center of the Octagon, leading to a better shot of Ngannou landing another highlight-reel KO. While Lesnar may be Ngannou’s dream fight, he’ll likely have to wait a little while longer to get it. As bad as Ngannou looked against Miocic, he’s still a young fighter who has the room for tons of improvement, and a big KO win over Lewis or Hunt would put him back on the path to title contention once again. Let’s just hope he keeps working on his wrestling in the meantime.
Who do you want to see Francis Ngannou fight next?