Francis Ngannou might be the most terrifying heavyweight on the UFC roster, which is why he’s rarely heard his name called by potential opponents.
That wasn’t the case after undefeated prospect Jairzinho Rozenstruik started working his way up the ranks because he targeted the ferocious Cameroonian almost immediately after he made an impact in the UFC.
Eventually the matchmakers listened and gave Rozenstruik his wish and now he’s scheduled to face Ngannou on May 9 when the UFC expects to restart its regular schedule. While Rozenstruik has put together an impressive highlight reel thus far, he’s still only four fights into his UFC career and he just picked up his first win over a top-10 ranked opponent with a late, fifth-round knockout against Alistair Overeem.
Considering his resume, Ngannou didn’t expect to hear Rozenstruik calling his name so soon, but he was more than happy to accept the challenge.
“I was surprised, definitely. I was very surprised,” Ngannou told MMA Fighting. “He’s been doing combat sports for a very long time. He’s the one calling me out. So I guess he’s ready. I assume he knows what he’s doing.
“He called me out several times. I was like maybe he doesn’t know what he’s doing but he kept calling me out and making it very serious. I think he’s been doing combat sports long enough to know what he has to deal with. I don’t think it’s too soon for him.”
Through the first 10 fights of his career, Rozenstruik has gone to a decision on one occasion with only three fights making it past the first round. He’s got a 29-second knockout of a former UFC heavyweight champion in Andrei Arlovski and he endured a grueling battle with Overeem before pulling off the comeback victory late in their fight.
Despite Rozenstruik’s success, Ngannou hasn’t seen anything that has blown him away much less convinced him this is the biggest threat to his ultimate goal to fight for the UFC heavyweight title for a second time.
That said, Ngannou is giving Rozenstruik his full attention.
“Honestly, I haven’t seen anything I’d be impressed by,” Ngannou said about Rozenstruik. “Maybe in the future he’s going to impress me but for now, no. Definitely, I know not to take him lightly.”
For all the impressive finishes Rozenstruik has racked up in his short UFC career, Ngannou has plenty more on his record. He’s flatlined three former heavyweight champions in less than four minutes of total time inside the octagon. Ngannou has earned four “Performance of the Night” bonuses for his jaw-dropping finishes and perhaps the scariest part about his evolution is that he’s only been practicing mixed martial arts for the past seven years.
Because he’s built a reputation for nearly decapitating his opposition with arguably the heaviest hands in the UFC, it would be easy to understand if Ngannou was calling for another knockout when facing off with Rozenstruik.
That’s not the case, however, as Ngannou learned his lesson when trying desperately to land the knockout shot in his one and only UFC title shot and it cost him dearly.
“Here’s the thing — this is the mistake I made in the Stipe [Miocic] fight. I’m not walking into the fight like I’m going to knock somebody out,” Ngannou explained. “I walk into the fight, let’s go fight and win the fight. No matter how I win the fight, as long as I win the fight, it’s OK.
“I’d rather it be sooner than later but I still have to win the fight. On the ground, standup, whatever, I make myself ready for wherever the fight will take me to. Because things don’t always work as we expect so you better get ready for wherever the fight drag you to and be able to win the fight wherever.”
With three straight knockouts over Junior dos Santos, Cain Velasquez and Curtis Blaydes, the 6-foot-4-inch heavyweight behemoth probably should be waiting for the winner of the expected trilogy between current champion Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier.
Instead, Ngannou will face off with Rozenstruik while risking his win streak against a hungry newcomer itching to take his spot.
On paper it might make sense for Ngannou to just sit and wait but he knows that’s not really an option for him when the UFC comes calling with a fight offer like this one.
“Do you think I had a lot of choices? No, I did not have a lot of choices,” Ngannou said. “I didn’t know what saying no would look like. I didn’t want to say no. I just want to be active. Most of the time in the UFC, people say no to the fight, that ‘no’ can have consequences, which is something I don’t want to put myself into now.
“I think I’m very young in the sport. I have a very long way to go. My time will come. Everything will belong to me in time. No matter what happens, title shot or not, I’m going to get where I want to be.”