Francis Ngannou knocked out one other opponent within the first spherical, this time Junior Dos Santos in the principle occasion of UFC Struggle Night time in Minneapolis. His energy is clearly unmatched within the UFC. Ngannou is Three-1 since his unanimous resolution loss to former champion Stipe Miocic in January 2018. Have we realized something about his general ability set since that powerful defeat?
Our ESPN MMA contributors — Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi and Jeff Wagenheim — give their takes.
Has Francis Ngannou modified since his loss to Stipe Miocic?
Okamoto: It is exhausting to say definitively, to be sincere. On one hand, he has completely crushed the previous three males he has fought — three first-round knockouts in a row, towards the likes of Curtis Blaydes, Cain Velasquez and now Junior dos Santos. Alternatively, how a lot can we actually study a man in one-minute contests? I might argue not a lot.
The UFC has loaded up one other pay-per-view card, that includes two title fights: Jon Jones vs. Thiago Santos and Amanda Nunes vs. Holly Holm. Additionally, the favored Ben Askren takes on Jorge Masvidal, with potential title implications on the road at 170 kilos.
UFC 239: Jones vs. Santos
• Saturday, July 6, Las Vegas
• Early prelims: ESPN+ 6:15 p.m. ET
• Prelims: ESPN Eight p.m. ET
• Fundamental card: ESPN+ PPV 10 p.m. ET
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Here is why I believe we are able to safely say, nevertheless, that Ngannou has modified. First off, he is lighter. We noticed that change instantly. Ngannou weighed in at 263 kilos forward of that title struggle towards Miocic. Since then, he hasn’t weighed in any increased than 258. This final one, he weighed 255.5. You may see it in his body. He is lean. And there isn’t any query in my thoughts that is factor, for his pace and cardio.
He has additionally instructed me that he has had a more healthy mindset because the Miocic loss (he has eradicated a variety of the stress he placed on himself), and simply by studying his physique language in and round struggle week, I consider him. Whether or not he can cope with the wrestling of a Miocic or Daniel Cormier, I do not know. However I do assume there’s purpose to consider loads has modified for Ngannou up to now two years.
Raimondi: It is exhausting to argue that Ngannou has not gotten higher since that loss to Miocic. That Ngannou had solely 12 profession fights and had by no means seen the second spherical within the UFC. There is no doubt that this Ngannou is improved and some of the harmful heavyweight punchers we have seen in a while. The query is how a lot better. Whereas the short knockouts of Curtis Blaydes and Cain Velasquez have been spectacular, Ngannou has but to face a tactician the caliber of Miocic for any important size of time. He cannot knock everybody out within the first spherical, proper? Effectively, possibly he can. However he’ll seemingly struggle somebody of that ilk subsequent. Then we’ll know for certain how far he has come.
Wagenheim: Ngannou does what Ngannou does. He’ll proceed to take action till somebody makes him depend on one thing aside from these massive fists of his. Stipe Miocic fought a strategic struggle towards “The Predator” final yr, and if he will get within the Octagon with Ngannou once more, he’ll seemingly pursue a lot the identical sport plan: Hold your distance, transfer, threaten a takedown and get the takedown. If it is Daniel Cormier contained in the cage when Ngannou will get his title shot, DC will in all probability look to do a lot the identical as Stipe did. Can Francis cease it?
Since his loss to Micoc and his 15 minutes of sleepwalking towards Derrick Lewis, Ngannou has fought two guys who’ve the wrestling chops to take him to the canvas — Curtis Blaydes and Cain Velasquez — and neither lasted a minute earlier than going night-night. That does not essentially show that he has honed his defensive wrestling sport. However it does inform us that the thunder in Ngannou’s fingers is a trusty antidote for no matter comes his manner.
Will Henry Cejudo’s subsequent struggle be towards Benavidez at flyweight or a special opponent at bantamweight?
Okamoto: You understand what? I believe it really will likely be Benavidez. Are you able to consider it? I didn’t see this coming. I assumed the flyweight division was a wrap, guys. I actually did. I am nonetheless not totally satisfied of its long-term future. However as of Saturday, June 29, 2019, I believe Cejudo vs. Benavidez II will occur. Because it ought to.
I can not stress sufficient how impressed I have been with Benavidez the previous six years. Benavidez has just about at all times been the No. 1 contender at 125 kilos. Nobody suffered extra from Demetrious Johnson’s dominance than Benavidez. Benavidez fought the hardest competitors flyweight needed to provide, beat practically each single certainly one of them and knew the whole time that he would not get a title shot due to losses to Johnson in 2012 and 2013. How one stays motivated by way of that could be a thriller to me.
Benavidez deserves the shot. He holds a win over Cejudo from 2016. The rematch ought to occur, and I am glad to say I believe it is going to.
Raimondi: Benavidez ought to be subsequent after his TKO of Formiga. There is no doubt about it. “Deserved” is a tenuous phrase in MMA, however nobody deserves this greater than Benavidez, who has paid his dues and already owns a win over Cejudo. It ought to completely be at flyweight, the division Benavidez has held down from its inception within the UFC. “Joe B” ought to get yet another crack on the title in a division by which he has been glorious for thus lengthy.
That mentioned, I’ve a tough time imagining him slicing again right down to flyweight after his return from shoulder surgical procedure, maybe as late as subsequent yr. Cejudo was by no means an enormous fan of the burden reduce, and now he is the bantamweight champion. If Benavidez is to struggle him once more, he may need to chase Cejudo as much as 135.
Wagenheim: The world is Cejudo’s oyster proper now. He owns two UFC belts, and rumor has it he as soon as received an Olympic gold medal. Everyone lighter than Butterbean needs to struggle him. So, yeah, he has choices, however Possibility 1 ought to be a flyweight title protection towards Benavidez, if for no different purpose than that will give “The Messenger” a possibility to close up Joe and his stinging message that he’s the final man to beat Henry. It might be a title shot nicely deserved for Benavidez — and poetic justice in addition. The flyweight division at all times appeared to have been invented for him. It was he, not Demetrious Johnson, who was favored to win the four-man match that, again in 2012, topped the UFC’s first 125-pound champion. However Benavidez misplaced a cut up resolution to “Mighty Mouse” within the remaining, then was KO’d by the champ a little bit over a yr later, and that put him in no-man’s land. Now Johnson is gone, and the belt is in possession of a person he as soon as defeated. It is the proper setup for Joe’s delayed response bid to assert the throne that was fitted for him within the first place.
Alonzo Menifield impressed with one other KO. Is he — or another person — your favourite rising gentle heavyweight?
Okamoto: Frankly, I like all of them. As a result of if we’re being sincere, this 205-pound division has felt outdated and skinny for years. This new crop of expertise is a drink of cool water, buddies. You may say I am exaggerating if you’d like, nevertheless it’s the reality. This division is arguably in the perfect form it has been since about 2011, when Jon Jones received his first championship.
My favourite of the group is 27-year-old Johnny Walker. At this level in his profession, he is in all probability greatest identified for injuring himself whereas performing “the worm” dance transfer after his newest win, however I consider that can quickly change. Walker has youth, athleticism, creativity and a larger-than-life character to go along with it. He has a ton of expertise for his age and an equal quantity of confidence. If I needed to put cash on which budding gentle heavyweight contender goes furthest, it might be on Walker.
Raimondi: I am extraordinarily excessive on Menifield and have been since I first noticed him struggle for LFA. His uncooked punching energy is a number of the greatest within the division. He is virtually like 205’s Francis Ngannou. Plus, his Fortis MMA camp is on one heckuva run proper now, guided by coach Sayif Saud. However it’s exhausting for me to get Johnny Walker and his highlight-reel finishes (and celebrations) out of my thoughts. Menifield may get there earlier than lengthy, however proper now, Walker is the man I need to see towards the top-5 and top-10 contenders.
Wagenheim: Gentle heavyweight has gone from being Jon Jones and a bunch of no-hope challengers to being a scary assemblage from which a future champion seemingly will emerge (in all probability not till “Bones” strikes on to heavyweight, although). Will Menifield be the one to assert the highest of the mountain? That is a troublesome name, stacking him towards Dominick Reyes, Johnny Walker, Aleksandar Rakic and different rising forces, together with Thiago Santos, who subsequent week takes his shot towards Jones. It may be enjoyable watching them type themselves out. One factor the 9-Zero Menifield has in his favor: his teaching. In his struggle towards Paul Craig, he was lulled early right into a clinching tussle towards the cage, which was not the place for him to reap the benefits of his distinct placing edge. His nook instantly let him realize it, with good, clear instruction to interrupt away and unleash his standup arsenal. Which Menifield did, leading to a first-round TKO. The efficiency spoke volumes about how harmful — and coachable — he’s.
Demian Maia defeated Anthony Rocco Martin by majority resolution on Saturday. Tim Gruber for ESPN
Demian Maia indicated that his subsequent struggle might be his final. Whom would you match him up towards?
Okamoto: First off, enable me to say I do not assume Maia must retire anytime quickly (if he decides he needs to proceed). He is 41 years outdated, however I consider he nonetheless beats at the least 80% of UFC welterweights. He does not take a lot harm. Sure, he misplaced three in a row just lately, however these have been to Tyron Woodley, Colby Covington and Kamaru Usman.
If Maia is able to name it a day, although, clearly he has nothing extra to show. He has the second-most wins in UFC historical past. He can stroll off together with his head excessive. He talked about Diego Sanchez, I am good with that. I would even be good with a rematch towards Carlos Condit, if Condit have been . Condit did not actually put his greatest foot ahead once they met in 2016.
Raimondi: It is a powerful one as a result of if it really will likely be Maia’s final, you do not need to danger killing a future contender. And nobody is more durable on budding contenders than Maia, together with his smothering Brazilian jiu-jitsu. I am unsure how it could work matchmaking-wise, however the opponent I would most wish to see Maia face is Ben Askren. That stylistic conflict — Maia’s grappling versus Askren’s wrestling — can be world-class.
The one drawback is that Askren fights Jorge Masvidal at UFC 239 subsequent week and has greater issues afoot if he wins. If he loses, let’s do Askren vs. Maia. If he wins, possibly somebody similar to Randy Brown. It might be a great way to seek out out simply how far Brown has come as a fighter. A win over Maia would vault Brown, however a loss would not do him a lot harm.
Wagenheim: If Demian Maia needs Diego Sanchez, as he mentioned he does after his struggle, he ought to get Diego Sanchez. Or if, after he has had time to mirror, he comes up with one other identify, that is positive, too, so long as the identify shouldn’t be hooked up to a championship belt. After having spent 6 hours, 18 minutes, 12 seconds contained in the Octagon — second-most in UFC historical past, behind Frankie Edgar’s 6:47:33 — Demian has earned the appropriate to exit on his personal phrases. He is not nearly longevity, both. His 21 UFC victories are the second-most within the promotion, behind Donald Cerrone’s 23. Give the person the struggle he needs.
As for what I need, I am not eager about seeing Maia towards a standup killer or a neutralizing wrestler. I need to watch him grapple yet another time as a result of that could be a elegant expertise. Can Sanchez give him that jiu-jitsu problem? Unlikely. Who, then? Any manner we are able to get Charles Oliveira or Gilbert Burns on a high-calorie weight-reduction plan that bulks certainly one of them up a tad from light-weight? Or can we ship Maia again to middleweight and go cross-promotional with Bellator for a bout with Rafael Lovato Jr.? OK, positive, Diego Sanchez it’s.
Greatest shock of the night time?
Okamoto: I am going with Amanda Ribas’ submission win towards Emily Whitmire at strawweight. Ribas hadn’t fought since 2016, resulting from a failed drug check she mentioned was brought on by a contaminated complement. That is a protracted layoff to fight — and though I do not think about Whitmire a title challenger by any stretch (she’s younger, and her sport remains to be growing), she was within the technique of placing collectively a pleasant, little run since final summer season.
Raimondi: Simply how good Amanda Ribas seemed in beating Emily Whitmire by second-round, rear-naked choke submission. Ribas had not fought in additional than three years and had by no means competed within the UFC, so she was an enormous query coming in. The Brazilian prospect, simply 25 years outdated, was touted by these round her, nevertheless it’s exhausting to know for certain, particularly after a protracted layoff. Ribas’ judo and grappling seemed like the actual deal. It is good to see her again after a two-year battle with USADA, which terminated her suspension final month after making some adjustments to its scientific strategy on the prohibited substance ostarine.
Wagenheim: Nothing that went down in Minneapolis left me as slack-jawed as watching referee Vance Swerdan rise up Demian Maia and Anthony Rocco Martin whereas they have been on the canvas grappling … with Maia in full mount bout and touchdown punches. Certain, the punches have been removed from haymakers, extra nuisance than damage-inflicting, however the level is that Maia was actively combating. He frequently tried to get Martin off the cage and on his again to arrange a submission. And did I point out that Demian was in full mount?
I am stunned that Swerdan did not stand Maia up whereas the Brazilian was resting on his stool between rounds.
Honorable point out goes to Nick Palmer, a decide in that struggle, who scored it a draw after giving Martin a 10-Eight third spherical. Admittedly, Maia did nothing in these 5 minutes — he threw simply 4 punches, touchdown one — nevertheless it’s not like he was outright operating. He was circling at distance, and Martin was unable to chop him off and unwilling to go at him. Give the spherical to Rocco, certain, however that struggle was all Maia’s.