On June 29th, 2019, the UFC makes its way to the American Midwest, more specifically, Minnesota. Along with it, it brings two interesting fights in its main and co-main event. Both fights will determine the next contender for the title in their respective weight classes. Number two ranked Francis Ngannou will fight third-ranked Junior dos Santos in hope of fighting for the title. I will discuss the co-main event in another article but for now, let’s discuss heavyweights.
The fight between Ngannou and dos Santos will play out on a hair trigger, testing dos Santos’ biggest weakness and Ngannou’s as well. If either man is to be successful, they need to implement their game to their best abilities without overextending their weaknesses.
In this article, I’m going to break down both these fights and layout what each fighter needs to do, in order to succeed.
The Heavyweight formula
Ngannou is the most heavyweight, heavyweight. He hits incredibly hard but struggles to do anything beyond the first round. In his run-up to the title fight against then champion Stipe Miocic, Ngannou looked like a man possessed, easily running over Alistar Overeem and Andrei Arlovski.
However, against Miocic, Ngannou would lose in a disappointing fashion after gassing himself out in the first round, he would be held down for the rest of the four rounds. After the Miocic fight, Ngannou has had some soul searching and after a horrendous loss to Derrick Lewis, where Ngannou could not pull the trigger, he has since rattled off two knockouts.
What Ngannou excels at is, throwing counters while power punching. Since his cardio is exceptionally bad for heavyweight standards, in return he is gifted with extreme power. In every fight Ngannou tends to move on the ball of his feet, allowing him great in-out movement.
Against Curtis Blaydes, Ngannou hopped around and found the counter over the top of Blaydes’ jab, knocking him down and subsequently out.
Dos Santos will likely have the same answer to Ngannou as Miocic did in his fight against Ngannou. Miocic was able to survive the early onslaught from Ngannou by creating confusion. By applying feints and takedowns in various different timings, Miocic was able to get Ngannou thinking enough to deny him the kill shot.
By denying Ngannou of early reads and never committing to hard shots, Miocic was able to circle away and return fire on Ngannou.
Fencing with the Predator
If feints and partially committed strikes are what you’re looking for, then Junior dos Santos is your man. Dos Santos has been credited as the best boxer in heavyweight MMA, however, I prefer to call him a fencer. A lot of what dos Santos does incredibly well is in a single line, with either the jab or the right hand. It’s incredibly simple however, dos Santos does it so well that it has been able to confuse the majority of the heavyweight division.
If Ngannou was all power, then JDS drops some of that power for cardio and technique. JDS loves feinting and using a probing jab, he mainly uses it to set up his right hand after a sufficient number of body jabs.
This is dos Santos’ bread and butter, which is a pretty nifty tool in a division where the majority of fights plod forwards hardly setting up their strikes. In the fight against Ngannou, look for JDS to continually feint and set up his jabs. However, dos Santos also has problems of his own. In many, if not all of his fights, he has shown the inability to gauge where the fence is. What this means, is that he tends to talk himself into the fence. Against, fighters like Rothwell it was no big deal.
However, against Miocic, JDS was knocked out as a result of this bad habit.
The answer to dos Santos has primarily been backing him up to the fence, forcing him to abandon his long stance, and punish him on the along the fence.
However, I don’t believe Ngannou has shown himself to be able to produce a gameplan like this. If Ngannou were to win this fight against Dos Santos, it would likely be running straight at dos Santos and blasting him along the fence. Ngannou tried this against Miocic and if Miocic did not have the cognizance to run immediately away, he would have been decked.
But, if dos Santos is able to maintain his distance over the first round, we should see him pick away at Ngannou while he plods forwards looking to counter. Dos Santos was able to show that he can pick apart a counter puncher in Derrick Lewis, and replicating the same game plan should have some success against Ngannou.
The heavyweight division will continually amaze me at how powerful and strong some of these men are. However, more often than not, they disappoint with glaring holes that have yet to be filled years later.
I’d like to think that a win for dos Santos would line him up for his last title fight and give him the opportunity to once again hold gold. But, if Ngannou is the same fighter as he was against Blaydes and Velasquez, he most likely will run forwards and bring down the Brazilian bomber.
On the off chance that dos Santos survives the first round, we will likely see a long fight with dos Santos picking Ngannou apart with his long-range boxing. However, if both fighters made improvements on their weaknesses, we will likely see a brawl in the Midwest.