4/07/2018 By Rich Plunkett
UFC 226 takes place this weekend, in what will be one of the most highly anticipated programmes the MMA world has seen in recent times. The pay-per-view event, held in Las Vegas, features half a dozen fight of the year candidates, including two title fights. Ending the evening in the main event is a superfight between heavyweight champ Stipe Miocic and light heavyweight champ Daniel Cormier. The co-main sees defending champion Max Holloway put his featherweight title on the line against frequent finisher, Brian Ortega. But before these mouth watering matchups take place, two heavyweights of the highest calibre will throwdown, in what is expected to be a fast and furious affair.
The UFC’s heavyweight division has stalled somewhat in recent times. The fights that have been promoted haven’t quite lived up to expectation. The older generation of heavyweight superstars are on the way out and the new crop of fighters seem to be a lot more focused on getting their hand raised rather than putting on a show for the fans, understandably. There have been multiple fighters flagged by USADA, including Brock Lesnar, and the circus that follows him around still intrigues us enough to fuel the fire. Cain Velasquez still can’t get his body fit enough to fight and questions have been raised about him ever returning. Some of the most entertaining fights in the history of the sport have come at 265 pounds. We just haven’t really seen any lately. Fortunately for us, this weekend’s matchup between top contender Francis Ngannou and number five ranked Derrick Lewis is everything we have been waiting for.
Both parties are coming to bang and each fighter has an equal shot at sleeping their opponent. Ngannou has been backed heavily by the bookies but I don’t think these odds are a direct representation of the likely outcome of this fight. Sure, Ngannou is quick out of the box and he hits like a truck, but Lewis has got a lot of heart and a chin to back it up. We have seen, on several occasions, that Lewis fights best with his back against the wall. Of his last eight wins, only two have come in the first round and only one went to decision. Compare that to Ngannou, who has four first round finishes from his last four wins. This is what makes this heavyweight bout such a spectacle for us fight fans. When two fighters nicknamed “The Predator” and “The Black Beast” go at it, you wouldn’t expect anything less than a war.
The bookies believe Ngannou will get the knockout early, but if Lewis makes it out of the first round, this fight is going to be a real barn burner. Ngannou’s last fight, a decision loss to Miocic, is the only fight he has been in that has lasted more than two rounds. Of the 25 fights that Lewis has been involved in, only three have been decided on points. Only once in the UFC has Lewis required the judges assistance, when he beat Roy Nelson, whose chin is made of steel. I am not expecting this fight to go to a decision, I will be surprised if it makes it past the second round.
Before his last fight, Ngannou was tearing through everybody Dana White and the UFC had put in front of him. You can’t help but feel that the matchup with Miocic came a little too soon for him, given the way that he was so badly beaten. Miocic fought smart, keeping Ngannou at range early and out wrestling him, burning him out to the point where Ngannou could barely walk back to his stool at the end of the championship rounds. Ngannou looked unfit and out of his depth in that fight. I hope to see an improvement in his cardio in this bout and a little more calculated offensive pressure. He is a prodigious talent, a freak of an athlete with frightening knockout power, but if he doesn’t address the issues he had against Miocic he will always be left wanting by the top fighters in his division. Especially the wrestlers. Fortunately for him in this fight, his opponent is not well known for his wrestling. I expect Ngannou to be sharper on his feet but for how long will determine whether he walks away with the win. I, for one, have been skeptical of his skill set. Taking nothing away from his victories and the manner in which he went about it, his record in the UFC on paper isn’t as flattering as many have made it out to be. This could be because of the level that the division is at these days, or maybe I am just being a sceptic. He has three wins over unranked fighters and two wins against a couple of the heavyweight superstars I spoke about earlier, whose speed and chins are nowhere near what they used to be. A win over Lewis would certainly silence his doubters and prove that what he was doing before he faced Miocic was no fluke.
Lewis had been campaigning for this fight for quite some time. He knows that a win over Ngannou, with an eye catching performance, will see his chances of fighting for a title increase dramatically. Much has been made of the hype around Ngannou. Rather than running from it or shying away, Lewis embraced it, to the point where he went looking for this matchup. He doesn’t want boring fights. He is always up for a war and with Ngannou, he has found an opponent who will stand toe to toe with him and give the fans something to remember. But is that where his motivation ends? Or has he taken this fight because he truly believes he can win it? The bookies don’t believe so, but I give Lewis just as much a chance as his opponent. In fact, I believe that if Lewis keeps himself out of range early and waits for Ngannou to tire, he will find the upper hand and finish the fight.
Lewis by KO.