Welcome to Rear Naked Notebook, a new bi-weekly column here at Holyfield centered on the ever-changing landscape of mixed martial arts.
In this edition, we take a closer look at UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic’s dominant victory over hard-hitting standout Francis Ngannou, ponder whether Paige VanZant still has room to grow, heap praise on light heavyweight kingpin Daniel “DC” Cormier, and play matchmaker for the stars of UFC 220.
Not so fast.
Saturday night, under the bright lights of the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts, Francis Ngannou’s hype train came to a screeching halt. Against all odds, or so the promotion would have had you believe, UFC heavyweight kingpin and decorated knockout artist dispatched the Cameroonian native with relative ease. Miocic weathered a brief, albeit thunderous, early storm en route to a unanimous decision victory that should raise more than a few eyebrows within Ngannou’s camp.
Which begs the following question: exactly how much of Ngannou’s Kool-Aid were the oddsmakers sipping? Was the sweet chin music of a pair of first-round knockouts over two shopworn vets really enough to wave goodbye to Miocic’s own highlight reel? An unexpected gust of wind could have laid Andrei Arlovski to rest in 2017. If there were ever a time to pump the breaks, Saturday night would have been it.
Listen, Ngannou hits hard. That isn’t up for debate. Miocic tasted the MMA Factory product’s mitts early on and did everything in his power to avoid another bite. It wasn’t the most exciting fight fans of the sport have ever witnessed, but it served as a welcome reminder to conductors (choo choo!) everywhere that a limited skill set like Ngannou’s will only get you so far. Sure, this is heavyweight MMA, and any man can taste abrupt defeat on any given night, but I’ll empty my bank account on the back of a multidimensional athlete like Miocic ten times out of ten.
For Ngannou, it’s back to the drawing board, and hopefully a steady diet of treadmills and swimming pools at the UFC Performance Institute. For Miocic? With any luck, a fat check and the long overdue respect he so obviously deserves.
On Paige VanZant…
Look, it’s easy to discredit Paige VanZant. She’s a pretty, young face dressed with blonde locks that may or may not have been gifted an accelerated promotional push into primetime. I know it, you know it, the brass know it. MMA is as much sport as it is business, and commodities like Paige are an invaluable entity. Fair game.
That isn’t to say she isn’t tough — she is. VanZant is unquestionably athletic, and her tenacity is something to be lauded. She’s more than willing to press the action, bounce in and out of the pocket, and absorb punishment in order to dish it out. Her trademark scrappiness is nothing to scoff at, no matter how you feel about her handling.
But after watching her bounce around last weekend in St. Louis and clumsily misfire with the same leaping switch kick that she used to dismantle Bec Rawlings, you have to wonder if the former Alpha Male project has hit her ceiling. At just shy of 24 years old, the notion may appear foolish, but where her fellow young peers in new champ Rose Namajunas and Jessica Andrade have used their setbacks to elevate their game, we’ve yet to see that kind of growth from VanZant.
Perhaps it’s time we stop patting her on the back and admiring her toughness and expecting just a little bit more.
Consider the following little more than an excuse to heap more praise upon Daniel Cormier. The man is a champion at his very core and a shining example of what a champion in and out of the cage should be. Both his dedication to the game and his embrace of the grind are the stuff of legend, no hyperbole needed.
Throughout fight week, Cormier, like a broken record, echoed that there are “levels to this game,” a truth light heavyweight contender Volkan Oezdemir learned the hard way. Seeking to once again cement himself atop the 205-pound ladder, Cormier used his wrestling pedigree to plant Oezdemir firmly on his back before eventually entangling the Swiss native in a crucifix and raining down a barrage of strikes.
Oezdemir, much like Ngannou, had bystanders enamored with his power. His flash knockouts of fellow contender Jimi Manuwa and once blue-chip prospect Misha Cirkunov had many believing Cormier too would fall victim to his stand up, a short-sighted prognosis if there ever was one.
It’s Monday morning, and “DC” is back on top where he belongs. Now where’s that other guy?
On to the Next One
The champs retained, and new faces emerged. Where do the main card winners in Boston go from here? Let’s play matchmaker:
- Stipe Miocic vs. a healthy Cain Velasquez
- Daniel Cormier vs. Alexander Gustafsson 2
- Calvin Kattar vs. Myles Jury
- Gian Villante vs. Jared Cannonier
- Rob Font vs. Brett Johns
Tell me these fights don’t sound exciting because you know they are. In the meantime, though, we just have to wait a few more weeks until UFC 221, with Jacaré vs. Brunson 2 and Machida vs. Anders sprinkled in-between.