Heavyweight championship battle between Stipe Miocic and Francis Ngannou offers world of potential if UFC does it right

MMA


DETROIT — The UFC may have just arrived at its best heavyweight title matchup in years. Hopefully, it does everything in its power to get the word out.

Coming off a devastating knockout over Alistair Overeem, Cameroonian-French heavyweight Francis Ngannou is expected to receive the next shot at defending champion Stipe Miocic — possibly as soon as UFC 220 on Jan. 20 in Boston.

On paper, that might be the best heavyweight pairing since a friendly rivalry between Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos, which began in 2010.

With respect to every heavyweight who’s fought for the title since, this fight-to-be — featuring two guys in their respective primes — feels like it could be special.

Passionate mixed martial arts fans will likely recognize that. Whether the UFC can convince its more casual viewers to buy in will be interesting.

The selling points should be there.

Miocic, 35, will attempt to become the longest-reigning heavyweight champion in UFC history his next time out, having already tied the all-time record of two consecutive defenses. He’s finished his last four fights via first-round knockout.

Ngannou has also finished his last four fights inside the opening round. He comes from a life of poverty, having moved from Cameroon to France, and finally to Las Vegas. After UFC 218, he spoke about the slave trade in Libya and wore traditional African garb to the press conference.

Miocic is a former two-sport collegiate athlete. Ngannou, 31, is built like an NFL linebacker. As White said, “He looks like the heavyweight champion of something.

These should be marketable traits, although maybe not ones the UFC has heavily relied on recently. Neither Miocic nor Ngannou talk trash. Neither lives a flashy lifestyle. There are no WWE stints in their respective histories, like the since-retired cash cow Brock Lesnar.

This was supposed to be one of the benefits of Los Angeles-based entertainment agency WME-IMG acquiring the UFC in 2016, though.

With its connections and experience in building stars across multiple platforms, the new UFC ownership was thought to be well-equipped to build a fight like this.

So far, that aspect of the sale has only been felt in isolated spots. The UFC has clearly taken an interest in Ngannou, and Miocic is in a historic spot. This is a big-time heavyweight (!) title fight. It should feel like one when the time comes.



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