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Dana White: Francis Ngannou got ahead of himself before first title shot but ‘let’s see how he handles it’ now as champion

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Francis Ngannou
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Francis Ngannou will be the first one to admit that he wasn’t ready to be UFC champion when he fought Stipe Miocic in their initial meeting back in 2018.

In his mind, after tearing through every opponent the UFC threw in front of him, Ngannou expected to do the same to Miocic despite the champion’s long list of credentials. After spending an exhausting five rounds with Miocic punishing him from one side of the octagon to the other, Ngannou found out that winning the title wasn’t going to be as easy as he expected.

Just over three years later, Ngannou exacted his revenge against Miocic with a devastating second-round knockout to become heavyweight champion at UFC 260. While the result was similar to many of his past fights, Ngannou showed real poise under fire and patiently set up the strikes that led to the finish.

It was a crowning achievement for Ngannou but now that he’s holding onto that coveted championship title, UFC President Dana White recognizes this is when the real hard work begins.

“I can’t explain to you guys enough about keeping your head together when you either get the title shot or once you get the title,” White said about Ngannou at the UFC 260 post-fight press conference. “There’s a lot of things that go along with being the champion and it’s not as easy as just training and fighting anymore. There’s a lot that goes with it.

“He got a little ahead of himself the first time. Let’s see how he handles it this time. So far, so good.”

Inside the cage, Ngannou put on arguably his best performance to date as he shut down Miocic’s wrestling early in the first round while still showcasing his signature power on the feet.

Perhaps the biggest difference was Ngannou’s willingness to let the fight come to him so he could set up the strikes necessary to get the finish rather than just charging ahead like a bull without any Plan B if Miocic played the matador and just got out of the way.

Considering the way the first fight played out, White could not have been more impressed by Ngannou’s improvements and the adjustments he made in order to earn the knockout victory.

“He was a completely different fighter,” White said. “We saw things from him that we’ve never seen before. Head kicks, leg kicks, really good grappling, takedown defense and he took his time. Even ate that big right hand from Stipe. He looked perfect tonight.”

No one can say with certainty what the future holds for Ngannou, but even he admits the lesson in humility that Miocic taught him during their first fight stuck with him going into the rematch on Saturday night.

Following the knockout in the rematch, Ngannou approached White to let him know he’s truly ready to serve as champion, especially when compared to the overconfident contender he was the last time around.

“After the fight, when I was up there, he came up to me and said ‘trust me, I’m a different person,’” White revealed from his conversation with Ngannou. “I said, ‘I trust you.’”

Ngannou certainly has star power given his incredible backstory and the way he seemingly adds to his highlight reel every time he sets foot inside the octagon.

That said, White knows there are a lot of challenges awaiting Ngannou now that he’s champion and it’s one thing to win the title but now he has to defend it.

“Francis has some tough guys coming up in the heavyweight division,” White said. “So it will be interesting to see.”