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Miocic vs Ngannou 2: A Long Time Coming

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Image: Getty Images

The backstory 

Yesterday marked the 3 year anniversary of the first clash between the two foes. January 20, 2018 in Boston at UFC 220, Stipe entered that fight absolutely brimming with confidence, on the back of a 5 fight win streak, all ending via knockout. The run included 3 former UFC Heavyweight champions, and the 2 remaining victories were over multiple time champions from other organisations. Still, going into that fight, many questions were asked of Stipe (which tends to be a theme throughout his UFC career). 

Francis was coming off of multiple highlight reel finishes, most notably the now viral brutal knockout of Alistair Overeem. The hype was with Francis, he had the backing of all the media, the PR and even Dana White was notably leaning towards him in the pre-fight press conference. It felt strange, that a fighter who's only real top level win was against an over the hill 'Reem' was deemed to be the favourite going into the biggest test of his career, against the multiple time dominant champion. 

The first bout 

The fight was so eagerly anticipated. The questions flooded social media; 'Can Stipe take Francis' shots?' 'Can Francis match Stipe's wrestling and cardio?' 'Is Francis ready for this just yet?' 

Stipe put on a masterful and frankly underrated performance that evening. He dominated Francis from bell to bell. He out boxed, out manoeuvred, out wrestled and simply outworked the huge power puncher. The champ landed 200 of 244 total strikes, with the challenger landing only 33 of 126 in 25 full minutes of action. Sure, Francis had a couple of good strikes that grazed Stipe up a little, but the overwhelming pressure of the champ paid off as he cruised to a unanimous decision win, cementing him as the winningest champion in the division's history.

Image: MMA Mania

The aftermath 

The aftermath of the fight was mixed, for both fighters. Francis obviously disappointed was held up quite highly by the media and the promotion, told to sharpen his tools, in particular his wrestling. He was still relatively young for a heavyweight and had plenty of time to learn and improve. Critics were as usual claiming to have known the outcome before the first bell rang, citing Ngannou's lack of top experience and wrestling as the reason for his downfall. 

Stipe on the other hand, obviously was held in a higher regard, but still, I feel he was still not getting the full credit he by this point certainly deserved. The dominant victory over Francis was his 6th in a row with 5 coming by stoppage. All 6 were against the best the division had to offer and when he claimed the UD win over Ngannou, he had effectively cleaned out all of the top contenders. But still, bizarrely in my mind, questions remained regarding Stipe. I can't describe to you how baffling to me it is that Stipe isn't: A). More appreciated by MMA fans, the media and the promotion and B.) How he isn't much more of a star. He became the winningest fighter in HW title history with 3 successive defences with the dominance of Francis, he's a full time firefighter serving his community, not to mention he's literally one of the nicest guys in the promotion. To be honest, I think the ship has sailed for Stipe to now become a mainstream star, but there should still be time for people to at least appreciate his true greatness a little more. 

Since the first fight, Francis has been much the busier fighter, competing 5 times since January 2018. His immediate return against Derrick Lewis was frankly one of the worst and most disappointing fights I've ever seen. Both men, usually with dynamite in their hands were so gun shy that the fight was nothing but a stalemate. Francis lost a UD and for the first time in his career, lost back to back fights. At this point, a few more eyebrows were raised. Francis and his team were relatively calm and blamed the lack of confidence on the previous fight he lost at the hands of Stipe, totally understandable as it was a dominating loss. 

Image: Getty Images

Francis relocated to Vegas and began utilising the UFC performance institute, vastly improving his craft. Since then, he has racked up 4 consecutive wins in a row, all via knockout, with a combined fight time of 162 seconds. That is impressive, but it becomes frankly extraordinary when you consider these wins came against Blaydes, Cain, JDS and Rozenstruik, in a row. His latest dominant win in May 2020 against Rozenstruik cemented him as the absolute number 1 contender in the division, and with wins over the 2nd, 3rd and 5th ranked opponents, this left him with no real pathway other than the title shot he so greatly deserves. Stipe on the other hand has been slightly less busy than Francis since their initial meet, with 3 fights compared to Ngannou's 5. 

Stipe's fights though have all been very high profile, for the title, against one of the greatest to ever do it, Daniel Cormier. Stipe and DC was a great match up, Stipe was the title holder, the dominant champ and the record holder. DC was the man stepping up to a weight he once ruled, where he was undefeated and dominant. Stipe and DC ended up battling 3 times, Daniel knocked the champ out in the first round of the initial bout. Some called it luck, others called it a perfectly timed strike. Stipe got his revenge though, with 2 great performances in the 2nd and particularly 3rd fight, winning the trilogy against a truly great opponent and once again cemented himself as the best in the world. 

Image: MMA Fighting

The rematch 

The stage is set for the second bout, apparently due to go down on March 27th to headline UFC 260. Many questions remain on Francis, even after his recent domination in the division. The main factor is his wrestling and cardio, the truth it, nobody other than his team and himself truly know how good his wrestling game now is. We literally haven't seen a second of it since the Stipe loss, with his last 5 wins coming in under 3 minutes as mentioned earlier, all via brutal knockout. 

Francis' team and fans will be hoping he has made leaps and bounds in his grappling since the first fight, because to stand any real chance in the rematch, he will have to have done. Stipe in his last fight looked as good as ever, he won a dominant one sided victory over one of the best to ever step into the octagon. He will be very confident having already cemented his legacy, not to mention the previous victory over the challenger. Stipe's game plan will be more of the same, avoid the big blows, use his crisp footwork and excellent boxing to tag Francis, and ultimately use his grappling to take the fight where he wants it. It is a truly great and intriguing fight. A heavyweight rematch for the ages, not to be missed. 

The 'Bones' factor 

With Jon Jones finally stepping away from his truly remarkable reign as LHW champion, he has decided to bulk up and join the heaviest hitters in the sport. This was on the cards for quite a while with Jon clearing out multiple eras of LHW contenders. The big question remained; who would Jon fight in his first trip to HW? Jon and Francis both campaigned publicly to throw down, but that ended prematurely with the UFC seemingly unwilling to match Jon's salary demands. 

Everything went relatively quiet for a while until recently when UFC President Dana White all but confirmed that Jon would be getting the winner of Stipe v Francis II. Whoever wins the rematch would be a great contestant for Jon, and a truly unbelievable test of how his skills translate to heavyweight. Only time will tell who will be in the main event of a summer or autumn card vs Jones and who will be the baddest man on the planet come the end of the year.

Follow on Twitter: @HvrrisonJack

Image: Bleacher Report

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SportingMatrix • We Live For Sport: Miocic vs Ngannou 2: A Long Time Coming
Miocic vs Ngannou 2: A Long Time Coming
Yesterday marked the 3 year anniversary of the first clash between the two foes. January 20, 2018 in Boston at UFC 220, Stipe entered that fight absol
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SportingMatrix • We Live For Sport
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