It would be no surprise if the UFC Minneapolis main event between heavy hitters Francis Ngannou and Junior dos Santos ended in a knockout, and “The Predator” doesn’t seem to think that “Cigano” will rely on his ground game throughout the 25-minute contest.
During a recent media scrum in Las Vegas, Ngannou said he doesn’t believe dos Santos is a real black belt despite the fact that his longtime jiu-jitsu coach awarded him one days before his rematch with Cain Velasquez six-and-a-half years ago, when he was the UFC heavyweight champion.
“First of all, I don’t believe that jiu-jitsu black belt,” Ngannou said (h/t MMA Weekly). “I don’t believe in dos Santos’ jiu-jitsu black belt. I don’t know where he’s from, but I don’t believe that. And I don’t mind that at all.
“But you never know what some fighter is gonna come up with. I always keep thinking maybe he’ll try some wrestling, takedown, but it’s not his comfort zone, but I don’t know. He might try everything. But the most important is I’m prepared for every little (thing).”
“Cigano” has only submitted one opponent in 26 professional bouts, tapping Eduardo Maiorino with a guillotine choke less than a minute into his second professional fight in 2006. The Brazilian beat 19 of his next 24 opponents, 14 of those by knockout, but never really showed his ground game since joining the UFC in 2008.
That doesn’t mean it’s not there, though.
“I honestly don’t know what’s his strategy with saying something like that, but if he’s trying to avoid getting punched in the face, that didn’t work,” dos Santos told MMA Fighting. “And he came to that conclusion based on what? Come on.”
Dos Santos started his martial arts career training jiu-jitsu with Carlton in Salvador, Brazil, before making his transition to mixed martial arts. A few victories into the sport, Carlton took him to work on his boxing with Luiz Carlos Dorea.
Even though he has scored the majority of his wins using his fists, “Cigano” has always trained with high-level grapplers throughout his career, like the Nogueira brothers, Antonio Carlos Jr., Demian Maia and Roan Carneiro.
“He’s another trash talker looking for attention, trying to impress, or even try to challenge ‘Cigano’,” Carlton told MMA Fighting. “Cigano is going there to fight MMA, not jiu-jitsu. (Ngannou) is just another trash talker. If he wants to see Cigano’s jiu-jitsu, he should register to compete in a jiu-jitsu tournament here — well, I mean, I don't even know if he's a black belt.”
After hearing those words about his protégé, would it be more satisfying for Carlton to watch dos Santos submit the 258-pound rival in Minneapolis?
“I’m not that vain,” Carlton said with a laugh. “Shut him up with a win, no matter how it comes. I just want ‘Cigano’ to win. (Ngannou) is just another guy talking. They all talk. Every fight is the same old story. We’re used to that already.”
Ngannou and dos Santos were originally booked to meet at UFC 239 on July 6, but the promotion moved the contest to the main event of Minneapolis’ Fight Night show at the Target Center after the cancellation of Tyron Woodley vs. Robbie Lawler 2.