It was last December that Francis Ngannou announced his arrival as a force to be reckoned with in the UFC heavyweight division with his brutal uppercut KO over Alistair Overeem at UFC 218. The win over Overeem turned Ngannou into a bit of a movie star for a little while and garnered him a title shot against Stipe Miocic at UFC 220. Although Ngannou was expected to go in there and knock Miocic out and win the belt, the hype train was halted when Ngannou had his takedown defense exposed as he lost a five-round grinding decision. It was a one-sided loss, but at least Ngannou could say he lost to the champion. It hurt his stock, but still kept him in the No. 1 contender spot at 265lbs.
The UFC then matched up Ngannou with Derrick Lewis at UFC 226 in a fight that everyone was expecting to result in a very violent knockout one way or the other. The fight was anything but that, as both men were tedious and tentative and barely threw any volume. The fight went three rounds and Lewis won a unanimous decision in what can only be described as an ugly, awful fight. Both men were blasted by UFC president Dana White for the fight but especially Ngannou, who White accused of letting his ego get in the way after the knockout win over Overeem. For the first time in his career Ngannou is on a two-fight losing skid, and he’ll hope it doesn’t extend to three when he takes on Curtis Blaydes this weekend in the main event of UFC Beijing.
This is actually a rematch as the pair met back in April 2016 when both were very green inside the Octagon. Although Blaydes had some success early in the fight with his takedowns, Ngannou was able to do enough damage to his face on the feet that the doctor was forced to stop the fight due to damage around the eye. Back then we knew both Ngannou and Blaydes had potential, and for a while there it looked like Ngannou was going to be the more special of the two. But after a terrible 2018 where he’s looked awful in two losses, it’s hard to say Ngannou is the better fighter right now. Since his only career loss to Ngannou, Blaydes has gone 5-0, 1 NC in the UFC with three knockout wins including a particularly brutal one over Overeem in his last bout at UFC 225. Ngannou may have won this matchup the first time around, but he finds himself the betting underdog in the rematch, and that’s for good reason considering how well Blaydes has performed this year.
That’s why this is such a big fight for Ngannou. If he can go out there and beat Blaydes — especially if it’s by knockout — everyone is going to say he’s back. If he loses, though, that’s three straight losses and the UFC might very well cut him or tell him to take a pay cut. Ngannou was on top of the world a year ago, but right now he’s on the bottom of it. We all thought Ngannou was going to be the next big superstar in the UFC but he’s shown in his last two losses that maybe he isn’t as good as we all thought. Blaydes, on the other hand, has been nothing but impressive. Ngannou needs this win to turn his career around. Maybe with less expectations this time around he’ll perform better. Maybe he’s just not as good as we all thought. Whatever it is, Ngannou needs to win this weekend against Blaydes to salvage what has been a terrible 2018 for him.