On Saturday night in Detroit, Francis ‘The Predator’ Ngannou will take on Alistair Overeem in the UFC 218 co-main event. The outcome of this fight will have huge repercussions on the health of the heavyweight division and there is no doubt that UFC president, Dana White, will be quietly hoping that Ngannou will have his hand raised when it’s all said and done.
The heavyweight division is arguably one of the least competitive in the UFC. The current champion, Stipe Miocic, has defeated three out of the five top-ranked contenders on his current five-fight win streak. In addition to this, the top five contenders, Ngannou aside, have an average age of almost 38.
The division has been badly hurt by injuries, performance-enhancing drug suspensions and a lack of any real emerging talent.
Just over a week ago in Sydney, rising prospect Marcin Tybura was comprehensively outclassed over five rounds against the 40-year old and number two ranked Fabricio Werdum.
This once again highlighted the gulf in class which exists between the old guard and any emerging contenders.
Yet, the one prospect that could change all this is the number four ranked Francis Ngannou. He is a tremendous athlete with the perfect style and personality to be a box office hit.
Hailing from Cameroon, he only started fighting five years ago after he emigrated to Paris to pursue his dream of becoming a boxer. Speaking to MMA Junkie back in July 2016, Ngannou opened up on his difficult upbringing and aspirations for the future.
“I left Cameroon just to try and have a life, to survive. When I was in Cameroon, I just didn’t see a way.
“I want to give some opportunity for children like me who dream of this sport and don’t have an opportunity like me. The last time I was in Cameroon, I brought a lot of materials for boxing and MMA to open a gym. Now I just bought a big space to start the gym, as well.
“A lot of children now in Cameroon, because of me, they have a dream. They say, ‘I will be a champion in MMA. I will do boxing like Francis,’ because they saw me when I was young. I didn’t have anything. I didn’t have any opportunity. And today, they see me, and they are dreaming. They are thinking that something is possible. Even when they are so poor, something is possible in life. … It’s not easy. It’s so hard, but it’s possible.”
In addition to this inspiring backstory, the fighting style of the African heavyweight further increases the growing excitement surrounding him. He has only been defeated once, a decision loss in his second professional fight, and has ten wins to his name, all of which came inside the distance.
He possesses incredible power and aggression.
The UFC are aware of the need for more competition in the heavyweight ranks and have been giving Ngannou the promotional push accordingly.
He appeared alongside Kobe Bryant last month as he was announced as one of the UFC brand ambassadors for BodyArmor. While as recently as last week, the UFC claimed that the Cameroonian has broken a world record for most powerful punch ever recorded.
A victory for The Predator on Saturday night and there is no doubt he will be scheduled to take on the champ in his next outing. This would be an amazing match of two powerhouses and would be one of the most eagerly anticipated showdowns in recent UFC heavyweight history.
A win for Overeem however, and the UFC brass will be left with little alternative than to schedule a Miocic/ Overeem rematch, a repeat of a contest which finished in the first round just under 15 months ago.
This would be a tough sell and would add to the sense of stagnation in the heavyweight ranks.
As Francis Ngannou takes to the Octagon on Saturday night, it is unlikely he will be too fazed by the immense pressure of regenerating an entire weight class.
He will be purely focused on overcoming an experienced opponent in his pursuit to fulfil what he believes to be his destiny, to become the next, and first ever African, heavyweight champion of the world.
Cathal Geeney, Pundit Arena