UFC 260: Miocic v Ngannou 2 Predictions
As the sun rises over Africa on Sunday morning, its biggest and baddest prodigal son, Francis Ngannou, will seek to slay Stipe Miocic in a blockbuster rematch for the heavyweight championship at UFC 260 in Las Vegas, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
Brian Ortega was also set for his second shot at seizing gold at the UFC APEX, however, his title tilt against Alexander Volkanovski has been postponed with the featherweight champion having tested positive for Covid-19. Instead, the crucial welterweight clash between former title-holder Tyron Woodley and rising star Vicente Luque will now serve as the co-headliner.
Promoted to the main card as part of the shake-up, flyweights Gillian Robertson and Miranda Maverick will look to show out on the grander stage. The latest episode of the “Suga Show” will see Sean O’Malley go toe-to-toe with Thomas Almeida at bantamweight, while Jamie Mullarkey and Khama Worthy will trade leather in the lightning-quick lightweight division.
MAIN CARD (from 4.00 Sunday morning SA time):
Stipe Miocic v Francis Ngannou (Heavyweight Championship)
Ngannou (16-3) looks like the prototypical heavyweight champion of the world. Standing 1.93m tall, weighing 117kg and seemingly carved out of granite, the Cameroon-born colossus is a freak of nature. However, the title of baddest man of the planet belongs to Miocic (20-3), a laid-back behemoth whose body of work in championship bouts is unrivalled.
A potent mix of precision and power separates Miocic from the rest and saw him seize the crown when he knocked out Fabricio Werdum while moving backwards back at UFC 198 in 2016. He went on to become the first man in history to defend the heavyweight title three times, producing back-to-back knockout wins over Alistair Overeem and Junior dos Santos before shutting down Ngannou to complete the historic hat-trick.
After being stunned by Daniel Cormier in their champion versus champion superfight in 2018, he reclaimed the gold in the rematch the following year and cemented himself as the best heavyweight in UFC history when he defeated “DC” again last year to clinch the epic trilogy.
Ngannou is the most terrorising knockout artist in UFC history. He has the bloodthirsty intensity and kill or be killed mentality of a prime Mike Tyson and possesses otherworldly power that’s as awe-inspiring as it is straight-up scary.
In fact, “The Predator” holds the world record for the hardest punch ever thrown – a haymaker he unleashed at the UFC Performance Institute in 2017 that registered at 129,161 units.
Shedding more light on this, UFC president Dana White said of Ngannou’s superhuman striking power: “His punches are equivalent to 96 horsepower. That’s equal to getting hit by a Ford Escort going as fast as it can and it’s more powerful than a 12-pound sledgehammer from full force overhead.”
Fuelled by the stinging loss to Miocic, Ngannou has left a pile of bodies in his wake to earn another shot at greatness. His trail of terror saw him viciously knockout the last four men who were unfortunate enough to find themselves trapped in the Octagon with the beast incarnate.
Curtis Blaydes. The great Cain Velasquez. Dos Santos. Jairzinho Rozenstruik. All annihilated with animalistic fury, none lasting longer than 71 seconds. There simply is no better way to force yourself back into the title picture and, as a result, Ngannou’s the favourite, just as he was in the first meeting.
However, the 34-year-old’s dominance does come with drawbacks. It means he’s spent less than three minutes in the Octagon in the last three years, of which, he was never tested. Thus, it’s impossible to know if or how much improvement he’s made in his grappling game.
Miocic fought the perfect fight the first time around. It was a masterclass in mixing striking with wrestling. Ngannou had no answers for the champion’s well-timed takedowns and looked lost on the ground. Miocic’s going to stick to that gameplan and the big question is, can Ngannou keep it on the feet or work his way back up if he’s taken down?
The Octagon in the UFC APEX is smaller than the standard one, which works in Ngannou’s favour, not only because of his style but also because of the fact that he’ll have a three-inch reach advantage. He’s not technical, or fleet-footed, but he’s shown time and time again that he doesn’t have to be. All he needs to do is land one bomb – not even flush – to separate his opponent from consciousness.
He’s matured as a man and his disciplined and scientific preparation for this fight is worlds removed from his first “champ camp.” However, I don’t believe he’s developed the tactical and technical skills to overcome the self-same cerebral approach Miocic will employ.
He’s a future heavyweight champion, but his coronation won’t come this weekend. The reigning king is just a bad stylistic match-up for the man-mountain.
Tyron Woodley v Vicente Luque (Welterweight)
Luque is anything but light work. He’s double tough, well-rounded and has climbed up to 10th in the welterweight rankings. Having said that, a prime Woodley (19-5-1) would’ve smoked the rising star. That’s the type of special talent “The Chosen One” was.
However, the Woodley that starts his 2021 campaign is far removed from the one who entered 2019 as the welterweight champion with three title defences to his name. A phenomenal pure athlete, Woodley’s explosive speed and power saw him starch Robbie Lawler to win the title in a little over two minutes at UFC 201 and he went on to enjoy a near-three-year reign.
The wheels came off at UFC 235 where Kamaru Usman utterly dominated Woodley over five rounds to seize the throne. In hindsight, that sheer domination was soul snatching as the once confident champion has never been the same since that fateful night in Las Vegas.
He’s plummeted to seventh in the rankings in the worst way possible, being completely shutout by Gilbert Burns and arch-rival Colby Covington as well. He looked in a trance as he lost all 15 rounds of his last three fights against the aforementioned trio. It’s clear that he’s in his head, trapped in psychological quicksand, and a loss against Luque could well mean the end of Woodley’s UFC career.
Given his mental battles, how will the 38-year-old handle that pressure? That’s what this bout boils down to. He has the knockout power and world-class wrestling to get the job done, but can he pull the trigger? His decline has been so drastic and has coincided with Luque’s rise, with the 29-year-old winning eight of his last nine including his last two via stoppage, so I’m putting my money on “The Silent Assassin” to add to Woodley’s woes.
Sean O’Malley v Thomas Almeida (Bantamweight)
Almeida (22-4) serves as an acid test for O’Malley (12-1). The latter is coming off the first loss of his career, and the circumstances surrounding it is such that several questions remain over O’Malley’s skillset and fighting spirit. “Suga” became an overnight sensation when he knocked out of Alfred Khashakyan on Dana White’s Contender Series to earn a UFC contract back in 2017.
The stunning stoppage immediately launched him into the mainstream thanks to Snoop Dogg, who sang his praises as only the rap icon can as a guest commentator. Colourful and charismatic, many felt O’Malley was all hype, even after he won his first few fights in the UFC.
He silenced many of his doubters when he starched former WEC bantamweight champion Eddie Wineland with a walk-off knockout for the ages at UFC 250, but the way he folded physically and mentally in the first-round TKO loss to Marlon Vera last August re-opened the debate on whether or not he’s the real deal.
Based on his body language, it looked like he’d suffered a serious injury, which spelt the beginning of the end for him, but this turned out not to be the case. His insistence that he’s still undefeated is another red flag. Much will be revealed this weekend.
We know that Almeida’s legit. Boasting a black belt in Muay Thai and a brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, he’s been in the UFC since 2014 and always brings it, as proven by his five Performance of the Night bonuses. He hit the ground running in the Octagon, winning four out of five. The loss to then-future champion Cody Garbrandt in their main event match-up in May 2016 was the first of his career.
The Brazilian rebounded with a TKO win over Albert Morales but has lost all three of his fights since. He dropped a decision to Jimmie Rivera, was finished by Rob Font and outpointed by Jonathan Martinez in his most recent bout last October. Lose this one and like Woodley, “Thominas” – who looked like a top-five calibre talent just a few years ago – could get his pink slip.
Expect a wild west-esque shootout. All but one of Almeida’s 22 wins are by stoppage (17 KOs and four submissions), while O’Malley’s 12 wins include eight KOs and one submission, so I don’t see it going the distance. As the taller fighter by four inches with a two-inch reach advantage, I believe O’Malley will beat Almeida to the punch.
Gillian Robertson v Miranda Maverick (Fllyweights)
Maverick wants what Robertson has…a number next to her name (which signifies a ranking). Robertson is ranked 15th and is a UFC veteran. She’s 6-3 inside the Octagon and 9-5 overall. She’s a grappling machine who suffocates opponents with relentless wrestling and dominant top control. “The Savage” is seeking to get back on track after a decision loss to Taila Santos in December snapped a two-fight win streak.
Maverick (10-2), meanwhile, is in the infancy of her UFC career. A standout in Invicta, the world’s leading women’s MMA promotion, she’s coming off a successful maiden Octagon appearance against Liana Jojua, so she has momentum on her side…momentum that has her instilled as the favourite.
She’s a strong wrestler in her own right, so it’ll be interesting to see if this turns into a striking match. If it does, Robertson should have the edge, but don’t expect a knockout in this flyweight affair. At 23, Maverick has a world of potential, but she still has to prove herself on the sport’s biggest stage.
I’m looking at Robertson’s experience as the anchor of my bet. With 67% of her wins and 60% of Maverick’s wins coming by submission, odds are someone’s going to tap out and I see the wily veteran getting one over the UFC upstart.
Jamie Mullarkey v Khama Worthy (Lightweight)
Mullarkey (12-4) has been a step off the pace since joining the UFC in 2019. He’s 0-2 in the MMA leader, losing both bouts by decision, first to Brad Riddell and then to Fares Ziam last October. He’s hoping third time’s the charm and with eight knockouts to his name, he has the power to whack Worthy but will have to let his hands go.
He has good grappling as well, which has netted him three submission wins, and has a heck of a training partner in featherweight champion and fellow Australian Volkanovski, who he battled for the AFC belt back in 2016. At 26, he’s still getting better and he believes this will be his breakout performance.
Worthy (16-7) took to the Octagon like a duck to water, making a splash with successive finishes of Devonte Smith and Luis Pena to stretch his win streak to seven. However, he found himself on the opposite side of the equation last time out, falling to Ottman Azaitar in the co-main event of UFC Vegas 10 last September.
“The Deathstar” is looking to rise again and I see him getting it done. He’s not one to die wondering, which is why he’s won 12 of his 16 fights by stoppage (nine by knockout and three by tapout). He’ll take the fight to Mullarkey and that pressure should lead to success.