Francis Ngannou and Joseph Benavidez did everything possible to cement themselves as the No. 1 contenders in their respective divisions yet a title shot can’t be promised to either one of them right now.
Ngannou secured his third straight first round knockout with a devastating finish delivered against Junior dos Santos to cement himself atop the heavyweight rankings with champion Daniel Cormier about to face Stipe Miocic at UFC 241 in August.
Afterwards, Ngannou all but demanding another title shot after coming up short in his previous bid when he lost a lopsided decision to Miocic in early 2018. As impressive as he’s been lately it would be very tough to deny Ngannou but UFC president Dana White says there are just too many variables left in play to guarantee anything right now.
“This fight has to play out first. Stipe and Cormier has to play out, who wins, how they come out of that fight, what does Cormier want to do next if he wins,” White explained when speaking on the UFC post fight show. “So there’s a lot of things that play into what’s next.
“It’s not as easy as ‘I won tonight, I’m next for the fight’ and we know this. I go through this every single time there’s a fight.”
Cormier has stated very honestly that his next fight could easily be his last fight as he continues to plot his retirement in the near future. A second win over Miocic could also set up Cormier for a showdown against longtime rival Jon Jones, which would then put Ngannou back in line again.
If Miocic is able to avenge his previous loss to Cormier, that could potentially set up a trilogy between them, which once again means Ngannou is left on the outside looking in.
Meanwhile, Benavidez earned a second round TKO against Jussier Formiga to once again put himself into position to fight for the UFC flyweight title while already holding a win over the current champion, Henry Cejudo.
Unfortunately for him, Cejudo just had shoulder surgery that will likely keep him sidelined through the remainder of 2019.
Add to that, Cejudo is the reigning bantamweight champion as well, which means he’s got two titles to defend and there’s a chance he returns at 135 pounds rather than dropping back down to 125 pounds to face Benavidez.
“It’s definitely not good for Benavidez,” White said. “He’s going to be in this waiting period but I know that Cejudo came out and said he wants to defend that [flyweight] belt first. Benavidez looked good tonight. He got busted up in that first round, got two really bad cuts in really bad places. He didn’t let it get into his head and didn’t it throw his game off. Landing that nice head kick.
“Benavidez is a guy who’s been in this company a very long time, hard working guy, toes the line, does whatever he needs to do. It’s good to see him win tonight against a really tough opponent and get into the position that he’s in right now.”
In the past, White has made promises about title shots that ultimately didn’t happen so it appears he’s being a little more cautious these days even with two clear cut top contenders in the heavyweight and flyweight divisions.