With all due respect to the first minute of this weekend’s Alistair Overeem-Francus Ngannou fight at UFC 218, in which the two heavyweights hung out at the fence and just sort of idly touched bellies until the referee intervened, Overeem was essentially unconscious as soon as the fight began. In the first standup exchange of the fight, Overeem dangled his head a bit too close to Ngannou, who happily tried to knock it off and almost succeeded.
To be fair, Overeem is rather susceptible to getting his shit knocked out, though I doubt anyone could have taken that bomb. Ngannou has not only finished every single one of his UFC fights (with five of the six coming by way of knockout or TKO), his punching power is quite handily the hardest ever measured. Ngannou’s off-balance uppercut is notably the shit (Overeem called it an “uppercut from hell”), and it makes for the sorts of highlight reel knockouts that must get management at the star-dry UFC salivating. This is not a man you want to get in an exchange with, since he doesn’t appear to need much runway to set this bad boy up.
Now that he’s beheaded Overeem with it, Ngannou is going to get his first shot at UFC gold against Stipe Miocic, the heavyweight division’s dominant champ who has finished five of his last six wins with first-round knockouts. UFC czar Dana White confirmed as much after the fight, and because Ngannou dispatched Overeem without issue, the fight will probably happen before February. If Ngannou wins, he has the potential to be a massive star for the UFC.
Simply put, Ngannou has everything you could want in a superstar. He’s got incredible highlight potential, a decent (and improving) on-camera game, the flair for the dramatic that you want from a combat star, and that megawatt smile. His story is riveting and makes me want to cheer for him forever; he grew up poor in Cameroon and began working in sand mines when he was just 12, then emigrated to Paris where he was homeless for a while before starting his fighting career. Ngannou now lives in Las Vegas and trains at the UFC performance center, though he clearly cares deeply about representing Africa on the world stage.
The scary part is that Ngannou is clearly improving with every fight. His immense physical talent is obvious, but his grasp of MMA’s dark arts can only improve now that he’s receiving top-level coaching. He’s 31, though that’s not an issue, since he’s a relative newcomer and the heavyweight field is replete with contenders over 38. (Miocic himself is already 35.) Ngannou is the perfect man to bring the heavyweight division back to glory, which has been a muddled afterthought for half a decade. He is what the UFC needs right now, and the good news is, he appears to be up to the task.