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UFC 220 main-event breakdown: Can Stipe Miocic upset Francis Ngannou to set title record?


MMAjunkie Radio co-host and MMAjunkie contributor Dan Tom provides an in-depth breakdown of all of UFC 220’s main-card bouts. Today, we look at the main event.

UFC 220 takes place Saturday at TD Garden in Boston. The main card, which includes two title fights, airs on pay-per-view following prelims on FS1 and UFC Fight Pass.

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Stipe Miocic (17-2 MMA, 11-2 UFC)

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’4″ Age: 35 Weight: 246 lbs. Reach: 80″
  • Last fight: Knockout win over Junior dos Santos (May 13, 2017)
  • Camp: Strong Style Fight Team (Cleavland, OH)
  • Stance/striking style: Orthodox/kickboxing
  • Risk management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+ UFC Heavyweight champion
+ Golden Gloves winner
+ NCAA Div. 1 wrestler
+ Regional MMA title
+ 14 KO victories
+ 9 first-round finishes
+ KO power
+ Aggressive pace and pressure
+ Excellent footwork
+ Good sense inside the pocket
^ Pulls and returns well
+ Dangerous right hand
^ Counters well off of inside parry
+ Solid takedown transitions
^ Favors head-outside singles
+ Good positional rides
^ Active ground striker

Francis Ngannou (11-1 MMA, 6-0 UFC)

Staple info:

  • Height: 6’4″ Age: 31 Weight: 262 lbs. Reach: 83″
  • Last fight: Knockout win over Alistair Overeem (Dec. 2, 2017)
  • Camp: UFC Performance Institute (Las Vegas, NV)
  • Stance/striking style: Orthodox/kickboxing
  • Risk management: Fair

Supplemental info:
+ Regional MMA accolades
+ 6 KO victories
+ 4 submission wins
+ 7 first-round finishes
+ KO power
+ Athletic and agile
^ Maintains composure and endurance
+ Solid feints and footwork
^ Manages distance well
+ Accurate left hand
^ Jabs, crosses, shovel/check-hooks
+ Hard knees inside the clinch
+ Improved takedown defense
^ Strong hips and fundamentals
+ Good getup ability
^ Cage and underhook awareness
+ 100 percent finishing rate

Summary:

The main event in Boston features a must-see battle for the heavyweight championship when Stipe Miocic looks to defend his belt against Francis Ngannou.

With the heavyweight division being volatile by nature, the organization has yet to see a champion successfully defend his title more than twice. Miocic will be the next man who is up to bat in that regard, but breaking this record won’t be easy given who is in the champion’s way.

An amalgamation of muscles and skill, Ngannou has forcefully injected new life into a weight class that needs it. Now, after going from homeless immigrant to top prospect in under five-years time, Ngannou will attempt to capstone his incredible journey with a championship belt.

As many now know, Ngannou came from Cameroon with basically nothing and was only introduced to MMA shortly after he arrived in Paris in 2013.

So, with that in mind, it is Ngannou’s fight IQ and rate of technical progressions, not his physique, that impresses me most.

Whether he is throwing straight shots or variating his patent up-jabs and shovel-hooks, Ngannou seems to prefer conducting traffic from his left hand. Even on the occasion of fighting from a southpaw stance, Ngannou displays comfort and competency in throwing his left cross both coming forward and off of the counter.

Utilizing feints and pivoting well within close quarters, the 31-year-old keeps a good sense of space, managing distance well when he chooses to.

However, as impressive as Ngannou’s movement is, he is not beyond being hit while coming forward, which makes the striking dynamic of this matchup a compelling one.

Enter the champion.

A Golden Gloves boxing winner before he even began his MMA career, we have seen Miocic continue to make improvements to his striking. Although his athletic ability and background in wrestling add an undeniable dimension to his game, it is the work that Miocic does in small spaces that is so impressive.

Akin to a heavyweight version of Frankie Edgar, Miocic will steadily work behind a series of jabs and feints, stepping slightly off angle in search of his counter or follow-up shots.

Moving just as well laterally as he does in and out, Miocic shows a good sense of things inside the pocket, almost preternaturally pulling and returning his punches.

Whether he is using his patent inside-parries or slick step-offs to the side, it is his battering ram of a right-hand that Ngannou will be attempting to avoid. That said, Miocic will need to remain on his best behavior as well, especially considering that his style also allows for oncoming traffic.

Assuming that neither man ices the other in the opening stanzas, then I suspect that the outcome of this fight could hinge within the wrestling and clinch exchanges.

Given the dynamic of this matchup, Miocic will be the man with more of a motive to take this fight to the floor.

Despite somewhat reluctantly leaning on his wrestling abilities in recent years, I have to imagine those skills are still intact for the champion. Whether he is entering off of a double-leg shot or chaining off to a snatch-single, Miocic has shown a good takedown game when he calls upon it.

Nevertheless, grounding Ngannou appears to be a task that has become increasingly difficult. Accustomed to his opposition trying to take him down for some time now, Ngannou has already spent the early portions of his career having to defend takedowns from a fence or barrier.

Spreading out his 6-foot-4 frame into a wide-reaching base, the contender from Cameroon keeps calm and collected, all while utilizing defensive fundamentals in a step-by-step fashion. Ngannou also shows a surprising amount of muscular endurance in these positions despite his build, quietly maintaining crucial underhooks with no signs of giving, nor grief.

When put on his back, Ngannou displays a solid awareness of grips, using wrist-controls and collar ties to fuel his submission attempts or getup transitions.

Even in his first and lone defeat (roughly four months after being introduced to MMA), Ngannou was already showing a subtle understanding of the intricacies regarding groundwork, cleverly defending from armbars and other precarious positions. Since then, the 31-year-old has only improved, as I have to imagine this last year spent training stateside has helped his already astounding trends.

The oddsmakers and public have both seemingly backed the challenger since the line opened, listing Ngannou -190 and Miocic +160 as of this writing.

Though making a champion of Miocic’s caliber an underdog can feel disrespectful on paper, I can see why both public and professional opinions are swaying toward Ngannou. He is a captivating talent who seems to shatter his potential ceiling each time out, and his speed and power edge feel extra palpable given where Miocic likes to make his hay.

Still, the reminder of Miocic’s wrestling base will be the looming question that many will be waiting to see if Ngannou can answer.

Optimistically, I’d like to think that Miocic can and will dust off his takedown chops after utilizing the first couple of minutes to set things up. The problem, however, is will Miocic be able to keep Ngannou down?

Miocic has never been known as a controlling positional specialist on the mats, as he is more of an opportunistic ground-and-pounder who floats and rides in a conservative but intelligent fashion. And considering that the champion has yet to demonstrate the submission skills to threaten escape routes or set traps in transit, then Ngannous’ getup game of underhooks and athleticism will likely have a lot of play.

For that reason, I believe that establishing half-guard will make the difference between winning and losing for Miocic.

Not only is half-guard a notorious offensive position for wrestlers in MMA (ala Randy Couture), but it is also one the best places to be if you are trying to stop a scramble/slow the fight. Against palpable striking threats like Mark Hunt and the late Shane del Rosario, we would see Miocic go to his half-guard game repeatedly.

Securing a far-side underhook with immediacy, Miocic was able to halt his opponent’s momentum and underhook attempts. From there, Miocic was free to punish his opposition with short elbows that allowed him to do damage without creating big enough spaces for scrambles and escapes to ensue. That said, I am not sure things will progress that far.

Pressure is what makes Miocic’s game work, but it is also what exposes him to harsh weather. Furthermore, Miocic’s common culprit standing has traditionally been left-handed strikes – a specialty of Ngannou. Should the champion fail to punctuate exchanges or ground the challenger in the first, then I ultimately see Ngannou scoring the knockout come the second.

Official pick: Ngannou inside the distance


For more on UFC 220, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.



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