UFC 220 returns to Boston and is headlined by two massive title fights in the Heavyweight and Light Heavyweight divisions. Stipe Miocic will look to defend his belt for a record third time against the terrifying Francis Ngannou and Daniel Cormier takes on another KO artist in Swiss kickboxer Volkan Oezdemir. See a full preview and tips for the two big fights below.
The UFC heavyweight title again goes on the line; and with it the title of baddest man on the planet. If successful, this will be Stipe Miocic’s third title defense and will remarkably make him the most successful heavyweight champion in UFC history. That is testament to just how difficult it is to hold onto a UFC heavyweight belt, no one has done it for longer than two fights. Stretching back to Cain Velasquez’s reign, title fights have been contested mainly by the same few names; Junior Dos Santos, Alistair Overeem, Fabricico Werdum, Velasquez and Miocic. But finally in Francis Ngannou we have some exciting new blood in the heavyweight contender pool.
Stipe Miocic’s continued evolution and the complete demolition of title challengers since taking the belt is impossible to ignore. He is now clearly one of the greatest heavyweights of all time. Ohio firefighter, Miocic won the title with a first round KO of Fabricio Werdum and has backed it up with equally impressive first round KOs of Junior Dos Santos and Alistair Overeem. Miocic comes from both a high level wrestling and boxing background and he has been able to merge those two skill sets into a formidable all round MMA game. Miocic does his best work in close quarters. He fights at a high pressure and likes to be the one coming forward and pushing the pace. He is excellent at using angles, feints and planting his back foot to explode. Despite fighting mainly in the pocket, Miocic’s most dangerous punches come from counters. A former NCAA div 1 wrestler, Miocic will have a massive grappling advantage in this fight. He is excellent in the clinch and at chain wrestling. He showed against Mark Hunt that he’s not afraid to grind out a superior strikers for 5 rounds on the mat. He doesn’t offer a significant submission threat, but has powerful ground and pound and stifling top control. While many question marks remain over his opponent Ngannou, Miocic has proved that he has exceptional cardio, a solid chin and the will to fight back from adversity.
Cameroon born, Francis Ngannou is in my opinion the most devastating puncher in combat sports since Mike Tyson. He only started boxing at age 22 and didn’t begin training full time till 2013 when a French MMA coach offered to take him on for free. He burst onto the UFC scene in December 2015 with a brutal one punch uppercut KO of Luis Henrique and has reeled off 5 straight finishes since; culminating in the downright scary KO of kickboxing and MMA legend Alistair Overeem. Ngannou is predominately a counter striker, but it’s earth shattering power and lightning fast hand speed that separate him. He isn’t a technical standout, but patiently awaits openings to unleash his incredible artillery. Ngannou fights to be this point have been short affairs and we haven’t seen much of his grappling prowess. He was able to get up off his back against Curtis Blaydes, but Miocic is a much more technically proficient wrestler than Blaydes. We’ve also not seen his chin tested and his cardio is a huge question mark as we’ve barely seen him outside the first round.
Prediction: There’s little doubt that Stipe Miocic is the better all-round MMA fighter here, but the question is can he avoid Frances Ngannou’s devastating power punches. In my opinion, if Miocic is going to win this fight he needs to do it with a grappling heavy game plan. Ngannou is strong in clinch, but if Miocic can consistently get takedowns and drag the fight into deep waters he will win. On the feet, I think Miocic striking game plays dangerously into Ngannou’s hands. Miocic’s defence has never been his strongest attribute and in his fights with Stefan Struve, Dos Santos and Overeem he ate a lot of solid punches. If he eats any of those kinds of punches from Ngannou, the fight could well be over. He also likes to come forward and initiate exchanges, which is exactly what a counter puncher like Ngannou wants. While Miocic has plenty of paths to victory, I think Ngannou will get the KO here and very may well go onto to break the UFC heavyweight title defences record himself. Francis Ngannou 2nd KO.
Despite losing his last fight in emphatic style to Jon Jones, Daniel Cormier comes into this fight as the champion. That’s because Jon Jones is Jon Jones and nothing is ever simple when it comes to Jon Jones. Following his July victory over, Jones again tested positive for a banned substance (and again blamed it on a tainted supplement). So while we still wait for a conclusion to the seemingly never ending Jones vs Cormier saga, at least we get a fresh face competing for the light heavyweight title.
Cormier is undoubtedly one of the greatest MMA fighters of all time, and if he wasn’t perpetually in the shadow of the flawed genius that is Jon Jones, he would be even higher on that list. Cormier is a former Olympic wrestler who has used his formidable grappling to dominate opponents. He uses trips, throws, slams, blast doubles and chain wrestling to get opponents to the mat and when on top he is nearly impossible to shake. He favours position and control over heavy ground and pound, but is excellent at wearing down opponents and locking in a choke. His striking has steadily improved and he was winning the first three rounds of a kickboxing fight against Jones, before suffering the headkick KO. Age is an issue for Cormier and at 38 you always have to be wary of physical decline, even if he has showed none up until this point. Also motivation has to be a factor here, Oezdemir is not a big name opponent and you get the feeling Cormier is putting as much effort into his broadcasting career as he is fight preparation these days.
Swiss kickboxer Volkan Oezdemir was only signed to UFC as a short notice injury replacement to fight Ovince St. Preux in February 2017. He was victorious in that fight and then went onto to beat two title contenders in Jimmie Manuwa and Misha Cirkunov, both within the first minute of the first round. Those impressive performances have earned him a title shot within his first year in the UFC, capping off a meteoric rise. Oezdemir obviously has incredible KO power; he has 11 career KOs and the effortless ease in which he KOed Manuwa and Cirkunov while on the back foot is testament to some inherent punching power. He likes to fight from the pocket and has excellent short hooks and uppercuts, but also has a strong kicking game from distance. The first thing that jumps out at you when looking at his record is a submission loss to a Bellator journeyman via neck crank. A neck crank is not usually a submission that forces a tap, especially against that level of opponent. He also showed difficulty getting back to his feet against St Preux, albeit that fight was on short notice. Grappling weakness and tendency to tap is not a good combination against a fighter with Cormier’s skillset.
Prediction: This fight breaks down very similarly to the main event. Cormier is the better MMA practioner, but his opponent has dangerous KO ability. The problem for Oezdemir is Cormier has already fought the best KO artist in light heavyweight UFC history, Rumble Johnson, and beat him twice. Cormier showed in those fights he knows how to use his wrestling game to negate the explosiveness of a power puncher and even took some of Johnson’s best shots without going down. That coupled with his big grappling edge and Oezdemir’s submission defence issues, leaves me confident in a Cormier decision here. However Oezdemir has the tools to win and if Cormier is at all complacent or physically declined he may find himself taking a nap in the middle of the octagon. Daniel Cormier by 3rd Submission.
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