UFC 220 - Clash of the Titans

Date: Sunday 20th January, 3am (UK)

Location: Boston, Massachusetts

Venue: TD Garden

Stipe Miocic vs Francis Ngannou

‘That was the past man, we are talking about now and now is me. I am the present.’ 
— Francis Ngannou
UFC 218 – 2017 knockout of the year, Ngannou (left) Overeem (right)

UFC 218 – 2017 knockout of the year, Ngannou (left) Overeem (right)

When questioned about his confidence going into the biggest fight of his career against the number one ranked and most experienced heavyweight in the UFC, Francis Ngannou simply shifted the focus on who is the ‘present’ - an eerie statement after delivering the knockout of the year which rendered the most decorated MMA striker of all time – Alistair Overeem – unconscious in a devastating and chilling fashion.

This unforgettable knockout has granted him a title shot against Stipe Miocic and a chance to fulfil his dream of becoming a UFC champion. What a remarkable story it is just to get this far; from collecting sand in the mines of Cameroon to walking in off the streets of France into a Boxing gym only five years ago, he is now in the UFC disposing elite-level fighters in a display of skill and peerless power.

This is a match-up the heavyweight division has been craving. Miocic has been humbly sitting at the top of the division since May 2016 and although it took him 11 UFC fights to get there, he has steadily improved his skills and is now a severe threat in any round and any area of the fight. He is thoroughly peaking with five knockout finishes on the bounce and a win over Ngannou will be a record UFC heavyweight title defence with three.

With 10 straight finishes of his own, what makes Ngannou more terrifying is that we don’t know if he has peaked and in all likelihood, he hasn’t. His striking can eliminate anyone and he has also shown glimpses of the same ruthless finishing in his grappling with four submissions.

The contest is unlikely to spill out into the second round and with a miniscule margin for error, they are fully aware that receiving one touch of leather may result in being awoken by the doctor’s flashlight. Miocic is in the form of his life and proven his own power by finishing top contenders for fun, but he has no choice but to strategize against the murderous uppercuts and hooks of Ngannou. His wrestling may be his biggest ally but he cannot afford to test the striking waters of Ngannou.

On the other hand, Ngannou cannot be complacent with his power. Miocic was finished by Struve earlier in his career and was floored by Overeem but the champ has some of the best movement and footwork in the division and crucially has the composure and championship experience which will pose a new problem for Ngannou.

It would be fascinating to watch these juggernauts grapple but the accuracy of their striking is likely to dictate how short this fight will be. Also highlighted in the statistical breakdown is the reach advantage of Ngannou which will be crucial to landing his power strikes but Miocic will back his movement to defend and inflict his own. This fight will be incredibly tense for however long it lasts, and another spectacular finish is expected to discover who really is the ‘present’.

Miocic v Ngannou.JPG

Daniel Cormier vs Volkan Oezdemir

Since dropping down to light heavyweight in the UFC, Daniel ‘DC’ Cormier has been on a rollercoaster of triumph, frustration and heartache with Jon Jones conducting every turn. An array of misdemeanours from Jones has prevented DC from creating any kind of legacy and redemption after handing him his first career loss in 2015.

Throughout DC’s UFC ride, Jones has received arrests for DUI, drag racing, a hit-and-run accident and receiving lengthy fight bans for cocaine and performance enhancing drug (PED) use, all of which has postponed fights and forced him to be stripped of the title on two separate occasions.

Since their first encounter, DC has earned success few fighters will ever experience, claiming the vacant title with incredible wins over Alexander Gustafsson and Anthony Johnson twice, staking his own claim as one of the best light heavyweights of all time.

However, his chance of redemption after Jones served his most recent ban was obliterated when Jones landed a ferocious head kick and finished DC off with strikes. Recovering from this devastating loss – physically and mentally, Jones was caught again for PED use, turning the fight into a ‘no contest’.

After the difficult realisation of being second best, DC has been handed back the title, and as the only man to beat him has been exposed for cheating he is now back in discussions for being one of the best light heavyweights of all time.

What a ride, but it’s not over as a Swiss-shaped hump looms around the corner in the form of the young and hungry Volkan Oezdemir. Although he has only had three UFC fights, the power he possesses in his hands makes him one of the most dangerous light heavyweights in the division, which was beautifully displayed in his last two fights, starching Misha Cirkunov and Jimi Manuwa in under a minute.

He has wasted no time in getting his title shot and will settle for being the heavy underdog again in this fight. Although he has never been taken down in the UFC, he has never fought anyone with the grappling prowess of DC. With the exception of Jones, the Olympic wrestler has enjoyed ragdolling his opponents and if he can avoid the nuclear power of Oezdemir like he did Anthony Johnson, it should be a comfortable night for the champion.

The grappling is the clear route to victory for DC, and although he would like to show off his underrated striking, he would be foolish to take the young slugger lightly. Oezdemir has the confidence as well as a three-inch reach advantage but will have to be cautious in avoiding the immaculate timing of takedowns and overwhelming cardio of the champion.

Cormier v Oezdemir.JPG

Calvin Kattar vs Rob Font

After stepping in on short notice to fight Andre Fili at UFC 214, Calvin Kattar took home the most important win of his career so far and has been rewarded with a fight on home turf and a slot on the main card for UFC 220. Seeking momentum from his dominant decision win, Kattar is set on living up to his nickname of ‘The Boston Finisher’ and putting Shane Burgos away early.

With similar intentions of his own, Burgos is accepting of his ‘enemy’ status as he makes the short trip from New York and will be hoping to make Kattar the ninth finish of his unbeaten record. Remaining unbeaten is very impressive but doing so in the UFC is a different level of achievement and Burgos has added three UFC wins to that record. He proved his potential with two dominant decisions over Tiago Trator and Godofredo Pepey as well as a TKO over Charles Rosa which earned him the ‘Fight of the Night’.

This is a huge fight for both men who are desperate to prevent a dent on their records which is a combined 27-2. They will both hunt the finish as they know an impressive win will catapult them towards the top 10 rankings. They are both very well-rounded but we should expect to see the fight start with a fast-paced trade of strikes.

Their significant strikes landed per minute is highlighted as they key stat as they both seek success in breaking down their opponents with a strong output. Burgos will hope to utilize his stunning jab to set up his powerful hooks but fighting in front of the Boston faithful could give Kattar the extra energy if the fight turns into a brawl. See below for the statistical breakdown:

Kattar v Burgos.JPG

Gian Villante vs Francimar Barroso

Two UFC veterans shape up as appetisers for the two title fights at UFC 220 and although the light heavyweight title isn’t on their horizon, they are more than content to simply put on a show in front of the Boston crowd. This is a fascinating match-up with both fighters providing a concoction of skills and a willingness to finish every fight they participate in.  

Gian Villante makes the short trip from New York on the back of two losses, the first of which was a devastating knockout to Shogun Rua before he lost a razor-thin decision to Patrick Cummins in his last fight. So, the New Yorker is desperate to get back to winning ways but don’t expect him to throw caution to the wind.

Francimar Barroso is also coming off a decision loss which was to Aleksandar Rakic back in September and has the added motivation of featuring on the main card of a Pay-Per-View event for the first time in his career.

With the amount of skill on show, the fight really could go anywhere. Villante builds success from a talented foundation of wrestling and explosiveness from American Football but has found comfort in slugging it out and coaxing his opponents into brawls. With eight knockouts to his name and a black belt in Kickboxing, Barroso won’t be afraid to trade and will also be confident in the grappling exchanges. Villante may back himself to take the fight to the ground when he wants but, being a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Barroso will be happy to oblige.

The fight could end anywhere but will start on the feet where Villante will look to throw a heavy output of strikes. Whether he is successful or not may decide whether the fight takes place on the feet or on the canvas. See below for the statistical breakdown:

Villante v Barroso.JPG

Thomas Almeida vs Rob Font

Kicking off the Boston main card in style, two very exciting and young talents are hoping to stake a claim in the ultra-competitive bantamweight division.

After winning a decision in his first pro fight and clearly bored with the outcome, Almeida went on to finish every opponent (13 knockouts and three submissions) before arriving to the UFC, amassing an impressive record of 17-0. Increasing his unbeaten run to 21-0, he met Cody Garbrandt in a battle of the unbeaten knockout artists. Garbrandt won the battle and went on to earn the title.

The Brazilian wasted no time in getting back to old ways, bouncing back with his 17th career knockout but then met the rampaging Jimmie Rivera, losing via a decision. In unfamiliar territory of recovering from losses, he has to remember these losses were against the very elite of the division and should provide the learning curve he needs to compete for the title.

First, he has to get through Rob Font who is also looking to bounce back from a loss after getting strangled by Pedro Munhoz. No stranger to ruthlessly finishing his opponents, Font is also unfamiliar with losing but with the calibre of the bantamweight division, it is almost inevitable when you reach the top.

This fight is bound to be fought at a fast tempo. But with the dangers that both men possess, they will also have to fight with caution. Almeida cannot take any chances with the well-rounded skills of the American but his one-punch knockout power is the killer weapon and all he has to do is land.

Almeida v Font.JPG