Just over three years ago at UFC 220, Stipe Miocic broke the record for consecutive heavyweight title defenses (3) when he won a unanimous decision over Francis Ngannou. This weekend at UFC 260, the pair engage in a rematch.
Miocic, despite being the reigning champion, comes into the fight as the betting underdog. He has fought three times since UFC 220. He lost his belt to Daniel Cormier before reclaiming it and then defending it, as the two future Hall of Famers embarked on what instantly became a classic trilogy.
Meanwhile, Ngannou has stepped into the cage five times since dropping his first title bid. After losing a unanimous decision to Derrick Lewis in a fight best forgotten, “The Predator” went on to notch four consecutive victories. All of those wins have come by first-round knockout, and only one has lasted beyond the opening minute of the fight. Ngannou looks to continue that trend this weekend while also evening the score with Miocic and winning the UFC heavyweight championship.
UFC 260 was also slated to feature a featherweight title fight between Alexander Volkanovski and Brian Ortega as the co-main event, but a positive COVID-19 test made Volkanovski ineligible to compete. The fight has been postponed. In its place as the co-feature will be a welterweight fight between former champion Tyron Woodley and Vicente Luque. Woodley has struggled recently. He lost the title to Kamaru Usman and went 0-2 in subsequent bouts. Luque, on the other hand, is 8-1 over his last nine contests. The 29-year-old American-born Brazilian has emerged as a rising star in the division.
Bantamweights Sean O’Malley and Thomas Almeida also land on the main card. O’Malley fights for the first time since suffering his first professional loss at UFC 252, where he fell to Marlon Vera by first-round TKO after suffering a foot injury. Once considered among the top bantamweight prospects, Almeida has not fared well since stepping up to fight some of the division’s top names. He sports just a 1-4 record over his last five bouts.
The main card also includes lightweights Jamie Mullarkey and Khama Worthy. Australia’s Mullarkey is in search of his first UFC win after dropping his first two appearances by decision. His opponent, Worthy, burst onto the scene with two straight finishes to start his UFC tenure, but he then fell to Ottman Azaitar by first-round TKO.
UFC 260, like all pay-per-view events, airs in three portions. The early prelims can be found on UFC Fight Pass and ESPN+, beginning at 6:15 p.m. ET. The televised prelims follow at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN and ESPN+. At 10 p.m. ET, the event switches to pay-per-view for the main card. The event will be the final pay-per-view held inside the UFC Apex in Las Vegas before the promotion returns to crowd-filled arenas. Combat Press writers Andrew Sumian and Matt Petela give their predictions this week as they go Toe-to-Toe.
Heavyweight champ Stipe Miocic is set for his first fight since 2018 to not feature Daniel Cormier as his opponent. However, it’s a rematch with the man he fought immediately before the Cormier trilogy: Francis Ngannou. Will Miocic cruise to another decision win over the knockout artist?
Sumian: After four monstrous first-round knockouts delivered by “The Predator,” it is very easy to completely write off Miocic as having little to no chance in delivering another impressive victory on Saturday night. Ngannou has looked nothing short of unstoppable. He has displayed his sheer power by brutally dismantling Curtis Blaydes, Cain Velasquez, Junior dos Santos and Jairzinho Rozenstruik over less than two years. The Cameroon native has long been considered the next generation of heavyweight prospect that boasts character, charisma and the ability to abruptly end any foe with one solid punch.
Despite this impressive run, Ngannou will certainly face the toughest challenge of his career when he rematches Miocic, who claims he is not even slightly worried about Ngannou. I absolutely believe it, too. The greatest heavyweight champ of all time has effectively cleaned out the division. He has captured the belt twice while adding four successful title defenses throughout his two reigns.
Since May 2015, Miocic has compiled an 8-1 record that includes seven title fights, 10 rounds of action with Cormier, and his prior dominant victory over Ngannou. The proud Cleveland native boasts one of the most well-rounded games possessed by a currently active heavyweight and has only continued to grow with each Octagon appearance. The question is whether this will be enough to derail the latest knockout streak from Ngannou.
This fight will ultimately be decided by one significant thing: Ngannou’s ability to land on Miocic early. The champ’s only loss in the last five and a half years was a first-round knockout by Cormier. Cormier baited him into a close-encounter boxing exchange and was able to land a short, flush right hand in the clinch to send Miocic to the canvas. The pair’s second fight was a completely different story, as Miocic successfully tricked Cormier into punching himself out for three rounds before landing a series of brutal left body hooks that led to a fantastic TKO victory over the exhausted Cormier.
Miocic has widely displayed his ability to adapt his game plan to his opponent. He did so when he first faced Ngannou in early 2018. The champ allowed Ngannou to get comfortable and throw heavy shots before utilizing his elite wrestling to constantly smother and pressure the larger challenger. This led to increasingly uncomfortable clinch and grappling exchanges for the exhausted Ngannou. Miocic displayed his versatility in the contest.
Despite an utterly terrifying and impressive four-fight winning streak since November 2018, Ngannou has yet to reach the second round of a UFC bout since his extremely underwhelming co-headliner with Derrick Lewis at UFC 226. He has always struggled to successfully maintain a well-balanced pace, which has led to either gassing out too quickly or waiting too long to establish any rhythm. While he will likely never admit it, Ngannou fears gassing out. This has been evident throughout his UFC career.
The belt will stay right where it is when Miocic scores another victory over Ngannou. This time, it will come via a third- or fourth-round TKO. Miocic will successfully avoid Ngannou’s power early and frustrate the challenger. This will prompt Ngannou to throw wildly in the back half of round one and in round two. Ngannou will stay composed early in the bout due to his fear of the takedown, but he will eventually let loose. This will result in several successful takedown attempts from Miocic, who will work tirelessly to frustrate and exhaust Ngannou.
Petela: There has been a lot of talk about the vast difference in Ngannou’s game since these two goliaths first met three years ago. His coaches have shared how he has a newfound dedication to grappling and a focus on technique rather than just using his overwhelming strength to defend takedowns.
Unfortunately, fans have no real proof of this improvement because of how quickly Ngannou has dispatched his recent foes. What those knockouts have shown, however, is that Ngannou has largely gotten rid of the mental block that overtook him in the staring contest against Lewis. It is one thing to clear that mental hurdle against other opponents, but his resolve will be tested in a new way when he faces the man who created that self doubt.
If Miocic is able to have his way early, thoughts of the first fight could easily creep into Ngannou’s mind and cause him to become overly cautious in the striking realm so that he doesn’t get taken down. If this is the case, Miocic will likely use his Golden Gloves boxing skills to land with enough volume to carry him to a second win over “The Predator” in a slow-paced, methodical fight.
However, while there may be lingering questions about his grappling, there is no doubt that Ngannou can knock out anyone with one punch. He doesn’t even have to land perfectly or with all of his power. He is so physically strong that even when he lands partially, the consequences can be disastrous. The Velasquez fight is a great example: Ngannou wobbled the former champion with a glancing uppercut.
Twenty-five minutes is a long time to avoid being hit. As former heavyweight boxing champion Deontay Wilder said in the lead-up to his first fight with Tyson Fury, “He has to be perfect for 12 rounds. I only have to be perfect for one second.” It is a similar case for Ngannou. This time, Miocic won’t be perfect for the entire fight. Instead, he will end up on the wrong end of a violent knockout.
For as long as the fight lasts, Miocic will show that he is still the more complete fighter. His striking is more precise. His technique, cleaner. He will still be far and away the better wrestler, though the gap will surely have narrowed somewhat. The incumbent will win the first couple rounds and implement his game plan perfectly, but eventually Ngannou will connect. The challenger will wobble Miocic. With his opponent at less than a hundred percent, Ngannou will land a wild follow-up punch that closes the show. This will be the beginning of a new reign at heavyweight.
The co-headliner between featherweight kingpin Alex Volkanovski and Brian Ortega has been scrapped due to COVID-19 protocols. How much does that hurt this pay-per-view lineup?
Petela: The loss of the featherweight title fight is obviously a major blow to this fight card. The heavyweight championship headliner is certainly enough to carry the event, but the scrapping of the co-main shines a light on the glaring weaknesses that this main card holds.
The welterweight fight between Tyron Woodley and Vincent Luque looks good on the surface. It pits a former champ against a surging contender. However, it won’t be competitive. Woodley is only a shell of his former self. This might lead to a highlight-reel victory for Luque, but this match-up otherwise leaves much to be desired.
Sean O’Malley and Thomas Almeida are also a head-scratcher of a pairing. O’Malley is coming off his first pro loss, whether he admits it or not, and is now pitted against a former highly touted prospect who was never really able to put things together inside the UFC. If Woodley is a UFC “has-been,” then Almeida is a “never-was.” There is not much upside here for O’Malley. A win over Almeida doesn’t vault him toward the top of the division or do much to support his status as an elite prospect. This hardly seems like the type of fight that should garner such a high-profile position on a pay-per-view main card. It would fit better either as preliminary action or on the main card of a Fight Night show.
Then there’s the bout between Jamie Mullarkey and Khama Worthy. Rarely do you see two fighters coming off losses placed in the curtain jerker, which is where this affair currently resides. Both of these lightweights have finished more than half of their pro victories, so hopefully they kick off the event with a jaw-dropping finish. However, it is still a puzzling position for a fight between two unranked competitors.
Sumian: Call it what you want, but these are certainly well-planned setups for Luque and O’Malley to score relatively easy victories that get fans excited for these two future stars.
Luque is 8-1 since October 2017 and likely sits just a victory away from a fight against a legitimate top-five welterweight. He should light up Woodley with his stellar Muay Thai and in all likelihood send the former UFC welterweight champion packing.
Meanwhile, the pairing of O’Malley with Almeida is outright absurd. This is an obvious attempt to give O’Malley a win so that the UFC can recapture the star power this young man displayed prior to his loss to Marlon Vera. O’Malley will finish Almeida in the second round, but he will fail to impress hardcore fight fans with a win over an opponent with a lackluster recent resume.
It is unfortunate to say that this card truly lacks any real substance beyond the headliner, which will still cause a large number of fans to tune in due to the popularity of both heavyweights and potential for the winner to fight Jon Jones in the near future.
Who’s the biggest winner at UFC 260?
Sumian: The obvious answer is Stipe Miocic. However, another win over Ngannou will merely remind fans of their first bout. Yet, it will also earn the champ a huge payday in the near future when he faces Jon Jones in a super fight and give him the chance to enter the GOAT conversation if he is successful against “Bones.”
Petela: Jessica Penne. With multiple fights on this card getting cancelled or postponed in a short time span, the UFC production team is going to have a lot of time to fill with B-Roll. Don’t be surprised to see a good portion of that time spent on the return of the former strawweight title challenger. It has largely gone under the radar thus far, but this has become one of the most intriguing storylines of the night, sort of by default. Penne will get a win over Hannah Goldy in her return, and the extra air time she gets will boost her profile even more as she tries to work back toward the top of the division.
Who’s the biggest loser at UFC 260?
Petela: Sean O’Malley. Since his loss to Marlon Vera at UFC 252, O’Malley has stated publicly that he still considers himself undefeated. He has been able to partially justify this stance because of the leg injury he suffered that was a catalyst to the TKO ending. Now, he faces Thomas Almeida, who has struggled recently. O’Malley is a heavy favorite, but there will be no excuses when things end poorly for “Sugar” this time around. The hype train will be nearly completely derailed.
Sumian: UFC featherweight fans. Despite the highly anticipated heavyweight clash that holds the headlining spot, the loss of the co-main event featherweight title bout between Alexander Volkanovski and Brian Ortega is a huge blow to an already underpowered event. Volkanovski and Ortega had a chance to deliver one of the most memorable title bouts in recent memory, but now they will have to do so at a later date.
What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?
Sumian: Jessica Penne. The former strawweight title challenger has suffered three straight losses. She returns here after an almost three-year layoff and is in desperate need of a win if she hopes to stick around in the UFC. Even a victory over Hannah Goldy might not be enough if it does not come in impressive fashion.
Petela: Tyron Woodley. Not only has he lost three straight fights, but he has looked less and less like an elite fighter each time out. Woodley has been increasingly hesitant to show any of his once explosive power. A devastating knockout loss to Vicente Luque will be the end of the road for “The Chosen One.”
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Petela: Modestas Bukauskas and Michał Oleksiejczuk. Both of these men are coming off losses to Jimmy Crute and will be hungry to show fans that they are still among the best young light heavyweights in the promotion. The winner of this contest will likely get a ranked opponent in their next bout. These two heavy-hitting European bruisers will not only deliver an entertaining fight, but they will both show that they are improving rapidly and remain a dangerous opponent for anyone at 205 pounds.
Sumian: Gillian Robertson’s clash with Miranda Maverick should be a fun one. Both ladies are skilled Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners with a distinct tenacity for producing entertaining scraps on a consistent basis. While Maverick should pick up the victory, it’ll be a back-and-forth affair filled with numerous wild grappling exchanges for as long as the fight lasts.
Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?
Sumian: Alonzo Menifield. He will rebound from his two-fight skid with a surprising finish of William Knight and extend his UFC stay, at least for the time being. The California native has a lot of work to do to stay relevant in the UFC light-heavyweight division.
Petela: Miranda Maverick. She picked up a TKO victory in her promotional debut. She will get another stoppage here against Gillian Robertson. A submission of a black belt like Robertson will be just what Maverick needs to pick up an extra $50,000.
Pair this card with…
Petela: A family size bag of Cheddar and Sour Cream potato chips. The biggest bag, for the biggest, literally and figuratively, main event in the sport. These chips are great, and the heavyweight title fight will be as well. However, everyone knows bags of potato chips are mostly filled with air, which is also what we have at UFC 260. We have a great main event, but, without the featherweight title fight in the co-main slot, this show is nearly void of anything meaningful.
Sumian: A march toward GOAT status. Stipe Miocic will emerge victorious on Saturday and once again solidify his status as one of the most underappreciated greats of his time. He will go on to fight Jon Jones in a fight where he has the chance to capture the title of GOAT. While the remainder of the event certainly lacks a spark, expect some surprises from a prelim lineup loaded with potential yet-unknown stars.
Main Card (Pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET)
HW Championship: Stipe Miocic vs. Francis Ngannou
WW: Tyron Woodley vs. Vicente Luque
BW: Thomas Almeida vs. Sean O’Malley
LW: Jamie Mullarkey vs. Khama Worthy
Preliminary Card (ESPN and ESPN+, 8 p.m. ET)
LHW: Alonzo Menifield vs. William Knight
Women’s StrawW: Jessica Penne vs. Hannah Goldy
WW: Jared Gooden vs. Abubakar Nurmagomedov
Preliminary Card (UFC Fight Pass and ESPN+, 6:15 p.m. ET)
LHW: Modestas Bukauskas vs. Michał Oleksiejczuk
Women’s FlyW: Gillian Robertson vs. Miranda Maverick
FW: TBD vs. Omar Morales
MW: Abu Azaitar vs. Marc-André Barriault
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