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UFC 220: Pros predict Stipe Miocic vs. Francis Ngannou

Stipe Miocic takes on Francis Ngannou on Jan. 20 at UFC 220.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

BOSTON — Daniel Cormier is getting a little tired of being asked to make fight predictions.

The UFC light heavyweight champion doubles as a high-profile analyst, so he carries a bigger megaphone than most fighters.

And when he predicts a fighter is going to win, he’s sure to hear from whomever he picked to lose.

“Y’all keep getting me in trouble,” Cormier said at Thursday’s UFC 220 media day at Fenway Park. “People keep getting mad at me.”

So Cormier, who defends his belt against Volkan Oezdemir in Saturday night’s co-feature bout at TD Garden, doesn’t want to make a prediction on the main event heavyweight fight between champion Stipe Miocic and challenger Francis Ngannou.

But Cormier is willing to say how he thinks each competitor could find his best path to victory in a matchup that many consider the most intriguing UFC heavyweight title matchup since the first Cain Velasquez vs. Junior dos Santos bout in 2011.

“Francis has to be Francis,” Cormier said of the power-punching Ngannou, who is 6-0 in the UFC with six stoppages. “Maintain his distance and land his big punches.”

For Miocic, it’s a bit more complex. Miocic also boasts one-punch knockout power. But he’s more experienced in all areas of the fight, and Cormier feels Miocic will take it to the next level in order to get the job done.

“I believe Stipe has to trick him. Some things are going to come natural to Francis. Some things aren’t. So, make him go to those areas where he can’t just do things. That’s where Stipe needs to fight him. All those years that he spent wrestling, his whole lifetime developing. That’s what he has to do against Francis Ngannou. Make him compete in those areas where he doesn’t have the instinct, because, remember, it has only been four years since he started doing this. That’s a short period of time.”

Cormier wasn’t the only fighter on the UFC 220 card who hesitated to make a pick. Part of it is the unpredictability of heavyweight fighting. When 265-pounders hit each other wearing four-ounce fingerless gloves, someone’s lights can get turned out fast.

But part of it is simply that watching knockout artists on this level — Miocic and Ngannou have combined for 20 KO/TKOs among their 28 career wins — can turn even the highest-level technical pro into a fan drinking beer in the cheap seats.

“I was getting in some PT work at the performance institute with the big man, Ngannou, and he’s just a big boy,” said featherweight Calvin Kattar, who meets Shane Burgos in a main card bout. “But I gotta tell you, Stipe, he’s a good dude, he was out back making jokes, he’s so laid back and was fun to be around, I was impressed how easygoing he is when he’s got someone like Francis coming up. Really, I don’t know how it’s going to go. It’s a true heavyweight fight, they’re going to feel it.”

Burgos, a jiu-jitsu black belt, said he had a premonition that Miocic is going to get Ngannou’s back in a scramble and choke him out — and yet he’s still picking Ngannou in a match he’s excited to see.

“Who doesn’t want to see that fight?” Burgos asked. “That’s probably the best heavyweight fight since Cain and JDS, right? I’m going towards, maybe toward Francis, because he has that streak, it’s hard to figure, but he’s finishing everybody. 6-0 in the UFC.

“At the same time though, I’ve got an inkling Stipe is going to get the submission. Stipe is going to get takedown, Francis is going to try to get up, Stipe gets his back and gets him in a rear-naked choke. I don’t know why, I just have this vision. But, I’m still picking Francis.”

Affable light heavyweight Gian Villante is no stranger to fights getting finished. He’s recorded 10 of his 15 career wins via knockout, and has also been on the wrong end of four KO finishes. He, too, sees Miocic’s all-around game being too much for the relatively inexperienced Ngannou to handle.

“I do think he finishes the fight in the first or second round,” said Villante, who faces Francimar Barroso on the main card. “Probably, I’d say early second if I had to pick a route. But I think he can finish it in the first. I think he kind of grinds him a little bit. Stipe’s not a guy who’s going to go in there and wing crazy punches like Overeem. I don’t know what that was, Overeem is a smart fighter and that’s the dumbest I’ve ever seen him look. Just going in and throwing big punches and it’s like, what are you trying to do? I just think Stipe is way better with the technique, more skilled than this guy, and beats him anywhere the fight goes.”

Miocic’s big-fight experience seems to be the tiebreaker. Just ask bantamweight veteran Rob Font.

“Heavyweights are scary,” the Boston-area fighter said. “If I had to put money on it — I wouldn’t — but you know, it can go, Francis hits two punches, or Stipe grinds him out and submits him, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if he knocked him out. It’s tough. It’s tough with heavyweights. It’s definitely not going five rounds. If you need a prediction, I’m going to go with Stipe, he’s got the experience.”

There was one other thing on which the fighters tended to agree.

Asked if there’s any chance the fight goes the full 25 minutes, Cormier, Burgos, and Villante all responded the same: “Hell no.”

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