Francis Ngannou and Volkan Oezdemir believe they are the future of their respective divisions – the next evolution at heavyweight and light heavyweight, respectively – and that they will prove this to the world on Saturday, Jan. 20 at TD Garden in Boston.
Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier have heard it before – boisterous claims of talented challengers eager to step into the Octagon and try to wrestle away the championship belts they worked so hard to earn.
Thursday afternoon on the UFC 220 media conference call, all four men had the opportunity to share their thoughts on their opponents and how their upcoming encounters are going to play out, and while some were more verbose and talkative than others, the biggest takeaway is that these are two massive fights that you do not want to miss.
“I said he was interim champion because I wasn’t there, because I’m the real champion for this division,” replied Ngannou when asked about his post-fight comments about Miocic following his win over Alistair Overeem at UFC 218 in early December. “I’m the guy that’s going to change the heavyweight division, who is going to beat Stipe on January 20 and bring more excitement to the heavyweight division which for a long time was almost forgotten.”
Ngannou’s initial statement was bold at the time and the fact that he doubled-down on his belief that he’ll ascend to the top of the division next weekend in Boston only further ratchets up the intrigue on this already compelling championship clash.
While the challenger had plenty to say when asked about his rapid climb through the ranks, his preparation and what makes him the man to dethrone Miocic, the reigning champion was content to offer flashes of sarcasm, give credit where it’s due and subtly remind everyone that he’s a different type of fighter than anyone the surging Ngannou has faced to date.
Volkan honestly tho, enjoy your weekend in Vegas. Love the fights, take it all in. I’m already back in San Jose on way to gym to train with a kickboxer who is two times more skilled than you. #thisaintagame #differentlevel https://t.co/YjjgWnzqP0
— Daniel Cormier (@dc_mma) December 30, 2017
“I think a lot of those guys just ran into my fists,” deadpanned the Cleveland native when asked about fans and media overlooking his string of first-round knockout wins. “I don’t really hit that hard; I think it was just those guys running into my fists and then falling and a lot of that.
“I’m gonna win and that’s going to prove the point, so I really don’t care,” he added in regards to the fact that he enters his third title defense as the underdog, with many feeling like Ngannou’s ascent to the heavyweight throne has been preordained. “He’s a great fighter – he’s super-tough – and he’s fought some really good guys, but he hasn’t faced anyone like me yet.
“The only thing I think about is January 20th and walking out ‘And Still’ – remaining champ, breaking this record and keep winning.”
The roles were reversed on the light heavyweight side of next weekend’s tandem title fights.
Oezdemir was the one happy to keep things short and sweet when asked about his own rapid climb through the rankings and what it would mean to claim championship this quickly into his UFC career, while the always talkative Cormier was happy to offer his trademark detailed answers and insights into their matchup and his place atop the division.
“It’s good because I can see that he cares about this fight and the only thing I want for him is to bring his best game,” said Oezdemir after Cormier had previously said he respects the challenger’s skills and has been obsessed with him heading into this fight. “This is the fight to determine who is going to be the champion of the world, so what I want is to face the best Daniel and the best fighter in the world right now; that’s the one I want to beat.
Honored for this award, I want to thanks all of you guys for the support
I am looking to launch a better move on January 20 for the 2018 MMA awards #UFC220 #TeamNgannou #KOofTheYear pic.twitter.com/SDZ3iWl9M1
— Francis NGannou (@francis_ngannou) January 9, 2018
“That was my goal when I signed with the UFC – to be the fastest rising to the belt – and now it’s about accomplishing that goal and there is only one step left and it’s to knock out Daniel Cormier.”
While Oezdemir has indeed burst onto the scene and made a tremendous impact in his first year on the UFC roster, Cormier has been in this position before – stationed opposite a surging contender riding a string of impressive victories into their championship showdown.
He’s emerged with the belt still draped over his shoulder in the past and he sees no reason why that is going to change next weekend against Oezdemir.
“For some reason, people see these guys as true threats to me; that they can beat me,” began Cormier, talking not only about his current opponent, but previous adversary Anthony Johnson as well. “It’s always fun to go out and prove these guys wrong.
“In the fights with Anthony Johnson, both times I went in there as the underdog because he knocked some guys out. That shouldn’t warrant a person being favored to win a fight because they can knock somebody out. You’ve got to see, you’ve got to look at a guy’s entire body of work.
“When I went in to that last fight as the underdog even though I was the champion, that’s fine, I get it because when you look at Jones’ body of work, you see a guy that can compete and win at the highest levels,” added Cormier, referencing his UFC 214 clash with his chief rival Jon Jones. “But when I look at guys like Anthony Johnson or Volkan Oezdemir, the people that think they’re going to beat me – it’s just crazy.
“I feel pressure because I want pressure, but I really do like making people go, ‘Well I guess he really wasn’t the guy that was going to knock DC out.’ That’s always fun to me to kind of stick it to people.”
At UFC 220, we’ll find out if Oezdemir really is the “new level” at light heavyweight and if Ngannou is the man to lead the heavyweight division in 2018 and beyond or if the reigning champions are truly dominant forces destined to remain atop their divisions for the foreseeable future.
Jan. 20 can’t get here fast enough.