Saturday’s card from the Apex in Las Vegas will mark what the UFC hopes will be its last event without fans.
UFC 260 lost its co-main event when featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski tested positive for COVID-19, so his title defense against Brian Ortega will be rescheduled.
The main event is the heavyweight title bout between the champ Stipe Miocic, who is the +110 underdog, and No. 1 contender Francis Ngannou (-135).
This is a rematch of a 2018 bout. At the time, Miocic was +170 and as champion was defending his belt against a monster who looked the part, but who could not fight the part. We released Miocic as the selection and were rewarded as he won via unanimous decision.
Back then, Ngannou was able only to plod forward to clobber, club and drub opponents. In that bout, Miocic took the steam out of the giant early, then slowly and systematically dominated him with five rounds of wrestling pressure, superior conditioning and constant movement.
What has changed?
Miocic is a champion who in my view gets completely overlooked and underappreciated, just like the firefighter he is. Quiet humility can best describe Miocic, who is understated and looks a bit nerdy when he wears his eyeglasses, but is a most complete and worthy champion. I measure Miocic’s improvement since these two last tussled as intangible because he enters this fight brimming with confidence and surging with momentum.
Miocic bested Daniel Cormier 2-1 in their trilogy. Cormier was widely recognized as an all-time great two-division champion until he ran into Miocic in their second bout.
Miocic enters this fight with an abundance of tools. His wrestling, striking, cardio and confidence compose the complete fighter. Further, the many overlooking him as champion seem to motivate him to excel.
Miocic’s improvement since their first bout is emotional, not physical. The fact remains that at 38, Miocic got great fight experience and confidence from two bouts with Daniel Cormier, but they also had to take a toll on him physically.
With Ngannou, it’s a certainty that he has improved. In five fights since the loss to Miocic, Ngannou has a 4-1 tally. In two of those fights, elite wrestling talents were drawn into a striking barrage against Ngannou, who flushed each on the face and turned out their lights in the first round.
Ngannou has taken his training to a new and elite level by working with Las Vegas’ Xtreme Couture and coach Eric Nicksick. Ngannou’s issues with cardio and the unrelenting pressure of elite wrestling-based fighters surely have been addressed.
Let’s not forget how many millions Ngannou will get should he win — plus the praise and accolades Nicksick and Xtreme Couture would receive. No expense has been spared in preparing Ngannou for this fight. Also know that addressing and countering Miocic’s wrestling pressure has also been drilled into Ngannou for the past couple of years.
Whether these improvements make a difference remains to be seen because understanding wrestling concepts, especially takedown sprawl, is far different from executing them. Ngannou had no answer for the takedown in the first bout, but now he not only knows those attempts are coming, he has had years to address the strategy required to thwart them.
Ngannou, 34, is a special athlete, and I believe his improvement will be on display. This fight comes down to whether Stipe can use his intellect, cardio, movement and striking to set up his wrestling. Ngannou must realize that victory will come down to whether he can keep this bout standing, back up Miocic and find a way for one of his bludgeoning strikes to mangle his opponent.
Ngannou opened -155, and money has trickled in on the champion. Ngannou at -125 or better, if you can get it, would offer tremendous opportunity.