LAS VEGAS — Francis Ngannou is the man nobody in the UFC really wants to fight. They’ll fight him if they have to, if it leads to a title shot or if he is champion and the belt is on the line, but there is no heavyweight in the mixed martial arts world who wants to fight Ngannou just for fun.
If there is such a thing as fear among the people who are willing get punched and kicked in the head for a living, then Ngannou is the most feared guy in the sport.
That, however, seems a bit backward.
Shouldn’t the most feared guy be the one who handled Ngannou easily when they last met, who is widely regarded as the greatest heavyweight in the history of the sport? Shouldn’t the feared guy be the one you’re most likely to lose to and not the one most likely to give you a concussion?
If the guy who has long been considered the greatest heavyweight in UFC history could be underrated, then Stipe Miocic is underrated. Heck, even after drubbing Ngannou at UFC 220, winning all five rounds and making him look amateurish at times, Miocic goes into the rematch on Saturday in the main event of UFC 260 at Apex as the betting underdog. At BetMGM, Miocic is +110 to win and Ngannou is -135.
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It’s perplexing given all that Miocic has accomplished, including five wins over four men who once held the UFC heavyweight title, but it’s the last thing that Miocic cares about.
He’s the guy who would rather be Clark Kent than Superman, and fade into the background and remain unnoticed while others are recognized on the street and become media darlings.
Miocic is 20-3 overall in MMA and 14-3 in the UFC. He’s 6-1 in title fights, has won three Fight of the Night bonuses among nine overall fight night bonuses and has become a reliable pay-per-view draw.
Yet he’s an underdog against a guy he dominated and he doesn’t have the high-profile among the fan base that numerous other, less accomplished fighters have gained.
To Miocic, though, it’s all about winning and paying the bills. He’s not trying to scare any fans away, but if you’re not enamored with him for any reason, he’s not about to try to win you over. He’ll accept it and save his worries for his daughter, Meelah, and wife, Ryan.
Miocic: Winning keeps me young
He accepts he’ll face a better, more polished Ngannou than he saw last time, when he thrashed the big man in Boston. But if Ngannou expects to see the same old Miocic, well, the champ says he has another thing coming.
“He’s definitely gotten a lot better,” Miocic said in an interview with Yahoo Sports. “We evolve in this sport. It’s part of the game. If you don’t evolve, you’re not going to keep up. He’s definitely evolved. He’s worked on his striking, he’s getting better on the ground and he’s gotten better at everything. But so have I. I know I’m getting older, but I’ve gotten better. I feel way better and I feel great.”
He referenced his age, and while in the past 38 would be considered old for a fighter, there are more and more fighters who succeed well into their 40s.
So Miocic has no interest in walking away soon. It provides a great living for his family on top of the income his work as a fireman brings in, but it’s telling the way he answered when asked why he continues to fight at this age.
There is nothing left to prove and no more mountains to climb. To Miocic, though, the answer is simple.
“I like winning,” he said. “Winning’s fun. I like competition. It keeps me going and it keeps me young.”
Fighting Ngannou would cause enough stress to take years off the average man’s life, but Miocic is far from average. Ngannou is a threat because of his incredible punching power, and he’s proven repeatedly that he has the ability to end a fight with one punch.
Two of Miocic’s three losses came via knockout, so he is vulnerable in that sense, but that’s also the heavyweight game. Any of the top heavyweights in the UFC have the ability to score a knockout with one shot if they connect correctly.
But Miocic takes it better than most. When you’ve been in the cage with strikers like Ngannou, Junior dos Santos, Alistair Overeem and Mark Hunt, among others, you have to be able to take it or you won’t be collecting a paycheck very long.
Taking a shot is just one of the many things that Miocic can do, and do very well.
Just don’t expect to hear him boast about any of it.
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