Tag: UFC 220

UFC 220 Aftermath: Experience Matters

UFC 220 Aftermath: Experience Matters

Saturday night at UFC 220, reigning heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic exploited the holes in “one in a million” challenger Francis Ngannou’s skill set to grind out a demoralizing unanimous decision victory, setting the record for the most consecutive successful title defenses in the division in the process.

From the outset, Miocic used his wrestling, putting Ngannou on his back, nullifying his power and sapping his energy. With each passing round and every successful takedown, the challenger got slower and more exhausted. When you’ve got the kind of power Ngannou possesses, you’re always dangerous, which is why Miocic remained cautious whenever they were standing and went back to his wrestling every chance he got.

By the third round, Ngannou looked like he was fighting in quicksand. By the end of the fourth, he struggled to get to his feet and make it back to his corner. Those questions about his takedown defense, skill off his back and conditioning were all answered.

Ngannou was tested and he failed.

It’s not the end of the world, but it was a terrible showing given that the challenger was positioned as a man of destiny and an unstoppable juggernaut heading into the contest.

While the unknowns about Ngannou were made clear in the cage and sharply contradicted the role he was cast in during the build to the fight, it was the things everyone already knew about Miocic that shone through on Saturday night in Boston and should stand out in the aftermath of UFC 220.

He’d been the distance with elite competition and shown he could keep maintain a solid pace for 25 minutes. He’d nullified the power of a knockout artist by utilizing his wrestling. He’d proven that he could absorb punishment and keep coming forward, making adjustments to minimize damage and land big blows of his own.

He’d beaten the only two established talents Ngannou had beaten on his march to Saturday’s championship fight, finishing them inside the opening five minutes, just like the challenger.

He’d proven he was the best heavyweight in the UFC and yet he entered Saturday night’s contest as the underdog; an all-time great expected to get mauled by a guy who made his professional debut two years after Miocic started fighting on the biggest stage in the sport.

As intoxicating as potential can be, there is something to be said about known commodities – fighters with proven skills and abilities and established track records who may not have the look and feel of a titleholder, but have the knockout victories and shiny gold belt that make them the champion nonetheless.

Credentials matter. Experience matters. As Frankie Edgar said after dismantling hyped prospect Yair Rodriguez last year, “There are levels to this.”

Miocic reminded everyone that doubted him on Saturday night of that with his lopsided win over Ngannou. Light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier did the same in stopping challenger Volkan Oezdemir one fight earlier. Demetrious Johnson does it every time he steps into the cage.

It’s okay to get excited about an emerging talent and thinking about what they could do in the future, but there is no way to skip any steps in this sport.

Literally every current champion in the UFC right now has faced some kind of setback along the way and been forced to regroup, make adjustments and get better.

Every single one of them knows what it is like to lose. Some have losses on their resumes that seem unbelievable today, but if you ask them, they’d probably tell you that those are the performances that had the greatest impact on their careers.

Ngannou will be a better fighter because of this loss. He’ll be forced to get in the gym and work on his takedown defense and drill ways to get back to his feet. He will have to assess whether looking like an action hero in the cage is more important than having the conditioning to go more than five minutes at a good clip without becoming exhausted.

He’ll have to develop a Plan B for those times when his opponents don’t simply fall over and stay on the ground when he lands a good shot. And he’ll need to develop a Plan C to have in his back pocket, just in case.

Ngannou remains a ferocious hitter and potentially terrifying force in the heavyweight division and he’ll hopefully learn more from this one setback than he did all 10 of the victories that came before it. He might even still one day be champion, but a “one in a million” addition to the heavyweight ranks he is not and he never should have been positioned as such.

Conversely, it’s time to stop paying so much attention to all the pomp and circumstance and commit a little more time, energy and attention to the established talents who have no interest in singing their own praises, but have proven themselves inside the cage time and again.

There was a way to promote Saturday’s heavyweight championship matchup for what it was – a pairing between a surging prospect with tremendous potential, but a few lingering questions that needed to be answered and a no-flash Midwesterner who likes dumb jokes and shoveling his driveway and just so happens to be the baddest man on the planet, too.

Instead, the reigning champion was positioned as an obstacle standing in the way of destiny; another victim who was likely to fall at the hands of the challenger.

That’s not what happened – not even close – and now a lot of people are scrambling to figure out how to move forward from here.

Here’s an idea: stop over-hyping inexperienced and unproven talent and selling established competitors short, especially champions.

Tell their stories as they are – they’re compelling enough without the over-the-top hyperbole – and focus on outcomes, not expected results.

UFC 220: Miocic vs. Ngannou Punch Drunk Predictions

UFC 220: Miocic vs. Ngannou Punch Drunk Predictions

Before getting to the predictions for this card, I want to jump up on my soapbox for a quick minute.

There has been the usual chatter about how weak this card is beyond the two championship fights and a lot of criticism about the other three bouts that make up the main card and while none of it surprises me because it happens before pretty much every pay-per-view now, they ring particularly hollow to me this time around.

The whole “aside from the championship fights” bit never makes sense to me because those you can’t just pretend like those fights aren’t happening or act like the UFC is somehow asking you to pay for the rest of the card independently. You’re paying for the whole thing and in my opinion, those two title fights are worth the asking price on their own, making everything else that will transpire on PPV a bonus.

Secondly, I’m not buying people thinking the bantamweight fight between Thomas Almeida and Rob Font is a yawn. This time two years ago, most people had Almeida as the next big thing in the 135-pound ranks and now he’s suddenly an also-ran? And Font may not be a contender, but he’s proven himself to be an action fighter who delivers entertaining performances every time he’s in the cage. If a scrap like that doesn’t tickle your fancy, I don’t know if you should be referring to yourself as a fight fan.

Lastly, I get that Calvin Kattar and Shane Burgos aren’t big names, but they’re prospects that people who follow the UFC and cover the sport should know given that (a) Kattar rolled in and beat Andre Fili in his short notice debut (on FS1) and (b) Burgos is 3-0 in the UFC and 10-0 overall with a couple memorable moments in the Octagon to his credit.

Again, if you’re a fan of this sport or someone who gets paid to watch these events, you should know that they’re two quality emerging talents in a stacked division that is going to be front-and-center all year and that their placement on the main card is a way to introduce them to the portion of the audience that only wants to tune in to see the guys that are fighting for the shiny gold belts.

Not all cards can be monsters and if you can’t get behind an event with two terrific title fights, a Top 15 pairing and a bout between a couple solid emerging talents in a deep division, I think you’re in for a long year of hate-watching UFC events.

Thanks for listening.

Here are my picks.

These are the UFC 220: Miocic vs. Ngannou Punch Drunk Predictions.

Stipe Miocic vs. Francis Ngannou

Man, I have been wrestling with this one for a while because like everyone else, I recognize the hellacious power Ngannou possesses and that we’ve seen Miocic get clipped a couple times in the past. If that happens here, he won’t have a chance to recover; that’s the kind of power and finishing instincts the challenger brings to the table.

That being said, I think Miocic is the craftier of the two and the more complete of the two and something tells me we’ll see him take a similar approach to the strategy he used against Mark Hunt.

Ngannou is far less powerful when his back is on the fence or the floor and my guess is Miocic will look to keep him in one of those two spots for as long as possible. If he gets him down and can keep him there – which is a big if, I know – I think the champion has the top control and effective offense to do a lot of damage. Think back to that fight with Hunt – it had me wondering if Miocic was the guy that would end up being Cain Velasquez’s greatest rival. Now I think he’s supplanted Velasquez as the best, most complete fighter in the division and I think we see him prove that once again here.

Prediction: Stipe Miocic

Daniel Cormier vs. Volkan Oezdemir

Oezdemir is still underrated and could be someone who is at the start of a long stay in the upper echelon of the light heavyweight division, but I’ve only seen one man defeat Daniel Cormier and since that dude isn’t the one stepping into the Octagon on Saturday night, I’m sticking with “DC” to retain his title.

Look – you can question his title reigns all you want and remind me that he’s 0-2 against Jones, but Cormier has also beaten literally everyone else that has been put in front of him and done so with relative ease. The only other person to test him was Alexander Gustafsson and while Oezdemir might be able to replicate that performance here, Cormier still rightfully came away with the win and will do the same in Boston.

Prediction: Daniel Cormier

Calvin Kattar vs. Shane Burgos

Like I said up top, this is a terrific little fight between a pair of featherweight upstarts looking to take the next step forward in a loaded weight class. Kattar has won nine straight, including his unanimous decision win over Fili at UFC 214, while Burgos is perfect through  his first 10 fights, meaning someone’s lengthy winning streak is coming to an end.

While I was really impressed with Kattar’s ability to roll in and get the better of Fili in Anaheim back in July, I’m siding with Burgos in this one because the New Yorker reminds me a little bit of featherweight champ Max Holloway in that he works behind a quality jab, throws in combinations, recognizes when he gets his opponents hurt and turns up the output accordingly.

As long as he comes out with the kind of steady offense he’s exhibited thus far in his UFC career, “Hurricane Shane” should rain on Kattar’s homecoming.

Prediction: Shane Burgos

Gian Villante vs. Francimar Barroso

Okay, if you want to be critical of any fight on the main card, I’m not going to stop you from questioning why this one made the cut. Both guys are coming off losses, they’re not Top 15 talents and it’s not like they’re faded veterans who can still trade on their names either, so yeah, if we’re doing the whole “one of these things is not like the other,” this is the one that doesn’t belong.

This is another one of those fights that Villante should win because he has more power and – in theory – a little bit of a wrestling game to fall back on if things get rough, but the Serra-Longo product and BFF of the heavyweight champion tends to take more of a “you punch me and I’ll punch you and we’ll see who falls down first” approach to things that can always make it scary to pick him.

That said, he should be able to get through Barroso.

Prediction: Gian Villante

Thomas Almeida vs. Rob Font

The fact that people are suddenly not enthused about seeing Almedia compete this weekend is Exhibit 437 in the case for MMA fans being the most fickle and fair-weather fans in all of sports.

Two years ago, when he was 20-0 with 19 finishes and coming off four straight UFC victories – all of which produced a bonus – the Brazilian standout was considered one of the most can’t miss prospects in the sport. Then he loses to a guy that ends up winning the damn title seven months later (Cody Garbrandt) and a top contender on a 20-fight winning streak (Jimmie Rivera) and he becomes this dude no one cares about any more.

Watch how quickly that will change if he lights up Font and collects another savage finish, which I think he will on Saturday.

Font is a perfect lower third of the rankings resident – too good for scrubs, but not quite good enough to beat guys in the Top 10. He’s good everywhere and might be able to catch Almeida with something because he likes to hang out in the pocket and doesn’t have great defense, but given Almeida’s power, the more likely outcome in my eyes is the former up-and-coming star collecting the kind of blistering knockout that reminds everyone of his upside.

Prediction: Thomas Almeida

Preliminary Card Picks

Brandon Davis def. Kyle Bochniak
Abdul Razak Alhassan def. Sabah Homasi
Alexandre Pantoja def. Dustin Ortiz
Dan Ige def. Julio Arce
Matt Bessette def. Enrique Barzola
Islam Makhachev def. Gleison Tibau

2018 Prediction Record: 9-2-0 (.818)