For decades in boxing, the heavyweight title was always seen as the crown jewel in combat sports thanks to a long list of legends competing in that division, not to mention the kind of fight ending power that can only exist with that size of athlete.
It’s not much different in mixed martial arts where heavyweight legends like Fedor Emelianenko are incredibly revered and that’s why title fights in this division always feel special.
UFC 260 on Saturday night was no exception as Francis Ngannou sought to become a champion for the first time in his career while facing off with arguably the greatest heavyweight the promotion has ever produced in Stipe Miocic.
After falling short in his first bid to win the title back in 2018, Ngannou had a lot to prove and he delivered in the best way possible by finishing Miocic with a brutal knockout in the second round to finally ascend to the throne as the top heavyweight in the sport.
Meanwhile in the co-main event, Vicente Luque took a big step forward in his career by taking out a former champion in Tyron Woodley, who came out guns blazing looking to erase the narrative that he had lost a step in the wake of three consecutive losses. Woodley threw everything and the kitchen sink trying to earn his first win since 2018.
It was not to be, however, as Luque survived the storm and came back to hurt Woodley on the feet before finishing the fight with a submission on the ground. It was a fast and furious four minutes in the cage, but Woodley and Luque definitely delivered.
With that said, there’s a lot to dig into from the latest pay-per-view card so let’s take a look at what passed and what failed on Saturday night. This is Making the Grade for UFC 260: Miocic vs. Ngannou 2.
Earned Not Given
When Francis Ngannou first fought for the UFC heavyweight championship at UFC 220, he was already being crowned the next king of the division with many predicting he would become a global superstar on par with names such as Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey.
Unfortunately, Ngannou never made it to his coronation because he spent the better part of five rounds getting hammered on the ground by Stipe Miocic, who exposed several flaws in the knockout artist from Cameroon.
Following that humbling experience, Ngannou was then matched up against fellow heavyweight finisher Derrick Lewis in a matchup that was almost guaranteed dynamite. Then a funny thing happened — the fight was an absolute dud.
Ngannou and Lewis spent more time staring at each other than actually throwing punches and when the night was over the once promising future champion was coming off two straight losses in a row. UFC President Dana White chalked it up to Ngannou’s own attitude coming back to bite him after his rapid rise to fame.
“I thought he was going to be the next [big] guy,” White said about Ngannou at the UFC 226 post-fight press conference. “I think his ego ran away with him, big time. I can tell you that his ego absolutely did run away with him. The minute that that happens to you in the fight game, you see what happens. You start to fall apart.”
Whether White was on the money with his assessment or not, Ngannou obviously knew something had to change if he was ever going to live up to the promise he showed in his first few fights in the UFC. It wasn’t long after that Ngannou changed teams and began working out of Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas.
He then added head coach Eric Nicksick to the group and Ngannou started delivering terrifying results.
After dispatching former heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez in just 26 seconds, Ngannou took out another ex-champion in Junior dos Santos and he followed up with a blistering 20-second obliteration of highly touted prospect Jairzinho Rozenstruik.
That set the stage for UFC 260 where Ngannou was once again matched up against Miocic.
Ngannou had largely bounced back from the first loss to Miocic and the bizarre performance against Lewis, but despite demolishing four opponents in a row in less than three minutes of total cage time, he still hadn’t really been forced to answer the questions that haunted him after his first title fight opportunity.
Could he stop a takedown?
Could his gas tank go past two minutes in the first round?
Could he win a fight where he doesn’t just steamroll an opponent in the first exchange?
While his rematch with Miocic only lasted 52 seconds into the second round, Ngannou made a huge statement with his performance to finally become UFC heavyweight champion.
He showed patience when striking with Miocic on the feet and he wasn’t swinging sledgehammers with every punch thrown. Ngannou stuffed an early takedown from the Division-I college wrestler and then made Miocic pay for it by punishing him with punches while he desperately tried to drag the fight down to the floor.
Then came the knockout blow where Ngannou showcased pinpoint accuracy with a well-placed straight punch down the middle — not some windmill haymaker — and that happened as he resisted the chance at a firefight when Miocic thought he found an opening to answer back.
As the heavyweight title was wrapped around his waist, Ngannou had a huge smile on his face not only because he was finally realizing his dream of becoming champion but because nothing had come easy in order to get that title. He didn’t have anything handed to him and he wasn’t anointed the next great heavyweight just because he could swing a bigger punch than his opponent.
No, Ngannou had to show real poise in the face of adversity after losing to Miocic the first time around and then suffering that second loss to Lewis that had some saying he’d never be champion. His comeback to claim that heavyweight ground was absolutely earned and there’s little doubt that Ngannou will appreciate his time as champion a little bit more now than he would have before.
Francis Ngannou’s journey from growing up in poverty in Cameroon to eventually becoming UFC heavyweight champion has to be one of the most inspiring stories ever told in all of sports.
Since first arriving in the UFC, Ngannou has told this jaw-dropping tale that started with him having very little education and even less money as he tried his best just to survive. He eventually decided to try his hand at professional boxing, but that required a change of locations so he decided to move to France.
The long journey to Paris was riddled with adversity not to mention a stint in a Spanish jail after he got busted for illegally entering Europe.
At one point, Ngannou was homeless, living on the streets of Paris just hoping that he could one day find a way to turn things around.
To think that a handful of years later, Ngannou is now considered the best heavyweight fighter in all of mixed martial arts is really just unbelievable.
Considering the UFC’s ties to Endeavor — one of the biggest talent agencies on the planet — and Ngannou’s own management team from CAA — another of the largest talent agencies on the planet — he should probably be optioning his life story for a major film any day now.
That said, Ngannou may want to hold off on casting any roles to play him just yet because in reality, the best part of his life story is just starting to come into focus.
Now that Ngannou is champion, he has the opportunity to begin building the kind of legacy that could be unmatched by the time his career is actually over. Anyone who knows Ngannou or has spent 15 minutes talking to him knows that he has the kind of drive and determination that could make him a long-reigning champion while simultaneously serving as one of the most vicious finishers combat sports has ever seen.
Not since Mike Tyson stood on top of the world as heavyweight boxing champion has a fighter taken over a sport as dramatically as Ngannou has managed to capture the attention of anybody who knows anything about MMA. His story to this point is already the stuff of legends — now just imagine how much more Ngannou will have to talk about if he’s still holding onto that UFC heavyweight title a few years from now.
In the past, that seemed almost impossible given the landscape of that division and the greatest champions who couldn’t even get past a second title defense. But Ngannou appears to be the kind of once-in-a-lifetime fighter who could rewrite those history books and the world will be watching to see how he adds the next chapter to his biography.
On His Shield
Give credit where credit is due — Tyron Woodley did everything possible to erase the memory of his last three fights by leaving it all in the cage against Vicente Luque at UFC 260.
The former welterweight champion lost his title in a lopsided decision to Kamaru Usman back in 2019, but that appeared to just be the changing of the guard. Usman has gone onto solidify himself as the best 170-pound fighter in the sport by a wide margin so obviously there was no shame in Woodley surrendering his title on that particular night.
The same could be said of Woodley’s next two losses to former title contenders Gilbert Burns and Colby Covington, who are both still ranked at the top of the division. The problem was Woodley appeared to be almost sleepwalking through both of those fights as he was tentative in exchanges and essentially non-existent when it came time to provide offensive counters to his opponents.
On Saturday night, Woodley decided to change his own narrative by charging out to the center of the octagon and swinging with all of his might in order to take off Luque’s head. While this wasn’t exactly the same Woodley that once served as champion — even in those days he wasn’t quite this aggressive — he showed a willingness to dispel the narrative that his best days were behind him.
Now the result still ended the same as Luque weathered that storm and then fired back at Woodley before eventually finishing the fight with a D’Arce choke submission on the ground. Much the same as his previous three losses, there’s nothing wrong with falling to Luque — he’s as dangerous as they come in the welterweight division.
The real difference was Woodley’s willingness to go out and put up a real fight this time and that has to be commended. With his back against the wall, Woodley came out swinging like a man possessed and while he still came up short, at least this time he went out on his shield.
No one can say Woodley didn’t show up — he just lost to the better fighter on that night.
Gone But Not Forgotten
Stipe Miocic obviously didn’t have the best night of his career, but it doesn’t negate the amazing things he’s done since becoming champion and that shouldn’t be forgotten so easily.
Never the loudest fighter in the room, Miocic exemplified the blue collar background he came from after making his way to the top of the division. He never enjoyed talking the talk, but there was never a time when he failed to walk the walk.
But after losing in a similarly shocking fashion to Daniel Cormier back in 2018, Miocic was barely coherent when he was getting shoved out of the octagon in order for former UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar to get introduced. The idea was that Lesnar would return from his retirement and challenge Cormier for the title while Miocic was essentially an afterthought.
The Lesnar fight never happened and Cormier eventually lost back-to-back fights to Miocic as the heavyweight title returned home to Cleveland.
His second reign ended dramatically on Saturday night thanks to a knockout blow delivered by Ngannou that had Miocic folded up like a piece of laundry. It was another tough pill for Miocic to swallow, but he’s nothing if not a professional because he shook Ngannou’s hand before leaving the octagon on his own power.
For the rest of the night, the spotlight was rightfully on Ngannou but the attention had already shifted towards a potential showdown with Jon Jones or possibly a rematch against Derrick Lewis.
While a trilogy with Miocic was brought up briefly at the UFC 260 post-fight press conference, it was almost like the former heavyweight champion was already on his way out and he was just holding the door open for Ngannou to walk through it.
Everybody involved in this sport is capable of becoming a prisoner of the moment and that’s understandable, but it would be nice to occasionally take time to reflect on what’s just happened while giving proper perspective on a situation.
Miocic is now tied at one win apiece with Ngannou and as devastating as the knockout was to cap off UFC 260, the full-time firefighter and now former champion dished out a completely lopsided beatdown in their first meeting just over three years ago. Of course, Miocic should probably take a good long break after getting knocked out so violently, but he also shouldn’t just be shoved to the back of the line like his accomplishments suddenly don’t exist.
Miocic doesn’t need to fight the trilogy with Ngannou tomorrow — nor should he — but to suddenly move past the longest-reigning heavyweight champion the UFC has ever produced like his best days are behind him just seems like a tragic misstep.
Pay That Man His Money
Prior to UFC 260 happening, Francis Ngannou had previously engaged in a very public war of words with Jon Jones over a potential superfight as arguably the best pound-for-pound fighter in the history of the sport teased a move to heavyweight. Jones had talked about changing divisions for years, but never pulled the trigger. Suddenly, it seemed like a real possibility as he drummed up interest in the fight against Ngannou.
Instead of the fight being booked, Jones blasted the UFC for failing to even try to negotiate with him after he wanted to strike a deal to face Ngannou. UFC president Dana White fired back while claiming the Jones had demanded “what Deontay Wilder was paid” for his last fight against Tyson Fury, which was reportedly around $30 million.
Jones then called White’s accusations “absolute bullsh*t” as they continued to go back and forth over what he supposedly asked to make in order for a fight against Ngannou to happen.
Fast-forward 10 months as Ngannou finally became champion and Jones took to Twitter once again to say “show me the money.” In response, White scoffed at that message as he suddenly shifted gears while adding that “Derrick Lewis is the fight to make” as if he hadn’t said dozens of times that Jones was next in line for a heavyweight title shot.
White then suddenly hinted that Jones was negotiating his way out of the fight by saying “show me the money” rather than just blindly accepting a showdown with Ngannou under the terms of his current contract.
“Listen, I can sit here all day and tell you, what’s show me the money mean? I tell you guys this all the time,” White said. “You can say you want to fight somebody, but do you really want to?”
Of course, this is nothing new for White when it comes to promoting fighters who battle him and the UFC for a bigger cut of the financial pie.
White has made similar statements about Dustin Poirier, Georges St-Pierre, Cris Cyborg, Tyron Woodley, Alistair Overeem and Nate Diaz — just to name a few — and the story is always the same. Suddenly these world class fighters, who willingly choose to step into a cage and engage in violence with other men and women as a profession, are now afraid of a challenge that appears to be too daunting a task to complete?
Give me a break.
Jones isn’t afraid of Ngannou — he undoubtedly respects the new UFC heavyweight champion and understands the inherent dangers that go along with a fight like that – but he also knows the value of that marquee matchup to the promotion. Jones has done enough research to know that UFC fighters are universally underpaid compared to the benefits reaped from athletes in other sports.
While pro football, basketball, and baseball players are routinely taking home around 50 percent of the revenue from their sports, UFC fighters are lucky to crack 20 percent — and that’s with the company reportedly growing in value from a $4 billion company in 2016 to somewhere between $6 to $10 billion in 2021.
Meanwhile, Jones is being painted as a coward because he dares to ask for a bigger paycheck in order to face Ngannou in a fight that will almost certainly break records for pay-per-view in the UFC heavyweight division. This sort of thing happens all the time and it needs to stop.
Jones should be allowed to ask for what he wants and the UFC can absolutely turn him down, but none of that means he’s negotiating his way out of a fight. It just means Jones believes he knows what it’s worth to the UFC to see him climb into a cage and do battle with Ngannou but under no circumstances does that mean he’s scared of anybody.