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.

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