Next Saturday, the UFC will showcase the best of the best in the Heavyweight division as Champion Stipe Miocic defends his title against the number one contender Francis N’Gannou.
This will be the second meeting between the two men. In the first bout, Stipe utilized his incredible wrestling to neutralize N’Gannou’s striking and took N’Gannou into the later rounds, something he had not previously faced. Even though Stipe won the first fight convincingly and entered both fights as the champion, he was the underdog in that first fight and will be the slight underdog in this fight next weekend. Despite so many things being similar to the last fight, this second bout will be much different for both fighters. N’Gannou and his incredible power have ascended to the pantheon of MMA history. With all of the hype around the challenger yet again, what should Stipe look to do to retain his title?
Stipe Miocic is a world class wrestler. This is something that has always been known about him and is said before every on of his fights, yet it’s really only something Stipe has recently shown against N’Gannou. Despite his skill on the ground, Stipe is also an incredible striker. He has shown, much more frequently, how good he is on the feet. So with Stipe being so well-rounded, his strategy for this fight should be to simply provide N’Gannou with looks he has never seen before and to put him in positions to make him uncomfortable. The only problem with that strategy, is that N’Gannou only needs one punch to end the show. N’Gannou is not exactly the most technical striker, but he does have the incredible power to turn the lights out. This was the case for the first fight as well. Stipe knew all of this going in, which made it much easier for him to shoot for the takedown and put N’Gannou on the ground. Since that approach is now effectively out the window as well, since N’Gannou has been undoubtedly preparing for a ground battle, how can Stipe utilize his well-rounded game to defeat N’Gannou?
For Stipe, he’ll have to break the fight down into two portions: the ground, and getting N’Gannou to the ground. Let’s start with the much harder prospect of getting N’Gannou to the ground. In the first fight, N’Gannou had never faced someone as skilled as Stipe with takedowns and had no real defense to offer him. N’Gannou will be much more prepared to defend the takedown this time around. What that means for Stipe, is that he will have to shoot from different and more unconventional angles to create the takedown, or utilize the cage for his takedowns. The major problem with this is that N’Gannou will be throwing bombs at Stipe for the duration of this. Stipe also runs into the major problem this is N’Gannou’s ability to close the distance. Stipe will want N’Gannou to close the distance and possibly walk himself into a takedown, but he cannot eat punches while N’Gannou does this. That is exactly why the dynamic of this fight is so incredible. Most fighters, when faced with an opponent who has a propensity to wrestle, want to keep the distance and strike from afar. N’Gannou however, closes distance so effectively, that it might not matter how close he is to Stipe. If Stipe is able to secure the takedown round after round, he can win this fight.
If Stipe is able to secure these takedowns, he will also be faced with the task of keeping N’Gannou down. Now we know from the first fight, that when Stipe took N’Gannou down, N’Gannou began to gas himself out attempting to get back up. By the end of the fight, it wasn’t nearly as hard for Stipe to secure the takedowns. N’Gannou will have undoubtedly worked on this as well. If Stipe can get N’Gannou to the ground, he will need to utilize his wrestling to maintain top position, and strike from the top. One thing about N’Gannou’s power is that he has so much torque and weight behind those punches. Stipe should not be nearly as worries about N’Gannou striking from the bottom. Keeping busy and striking effectively will be Stipe’s plan of attack on the ground with N’Gannou.
Stipe Miocic is the Heavyweight Champion for a reason. He has faced the best of the best and shown his ability to defeat his toughest opponents. This version of Francis N’Gannou may be his toughest to date, but if he utilizes this plan, he may be walking out of UFC 260, still, the UFC Heavyweight Champion.
Photo: via UFC