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UFC 249: Ngannou stakes his claim for a title shot with a mauling of Rozenstruik

It will take you longer to read this article than it took Francis Ngannou to earn his bonus boosted paycheck at UFC 249.

All it usually takes for the Cameroon native is to land one — and it doesn’t even have to be flush. Last night, that was also the case. Having been a little irritated by the call out from his fellow heavyweight hopeful Jairzinho Rozenstruik, Ngannou strolled out of the gates to open up the fight shortly before unleashing a flurry of bombs aimed at his opponent.

Ngannou threw four vicious looking strikes towards a backtracking “Bigi Boy” and even though the first three missed, you just knew that if one of them so much as clips Rozenstruik, the amount of venom behind it would probably do the job. And it did. With Rozenstruik at that point very close to the cage, Ngannou’s fourth swing, a wide looping left hook, landed right on the money, putting Rozenstruik beyond the realms of consciousness. Referee Dan Miragliotta couldn’t step in there fast enough to wave the fight off.

Ngannou had done it again. An extra $50 thousand was secured. All it took was 20 seconds.

The 33-year-old is evidently hungry. And he has every reason to be. Following his enthralling start to life in the UFC, a title fight loss to Stipe Miocic stopped him in his tracks. Then, a loss to Derrick Lewis in one of the most bizarre contests followed soon after, and all of a sudden — the UFC’s golden boy found himself in a dark place. He was surrounded by feelings very much unknown to him in his short career. To everyone, Ngannou is a heavy-hitting freight train. A machine. Yet there he was, losing. Looking human.

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But perhaps that’s what needed to happen to him at that time to further his development. Ngannou got back to work almost immediately after it became common knowledge that perhaps a little complacency had crept in prior to his title shot. Justin Gaethje said in his Octagon post-fight interview following his win over Tony Ferguson that he needed to lose in order to learn. Perhaps that was also the case for Ngannou.

Saturday’s win now puts him on four consecutive wins and arguably looking better than ever. It’s hard to say that Ngannou is looking more calculated or more composed considering the fact that those four wins took him less than two and a half minutes of fight time, but there is certainly a different aura about him. He feels more poised. It feels like now, Ngannou knows exactly what he wants — and that is another crack at the title.

And he certainly deserves it. His overall body of work in the heavyweight division is exceptional and the improvement since his lone two UFC losses is obvious. But with the division currently in a standstill as the world awaits the trilogy of Stipe vs. Daniel Cormier, Ngannou is stuck. He’s already voiced his growing frustration at the situation he’s found himself in. The UFC has probably already ran out of challengers to throw his way. Or if they haven’t, they soon will. And Ngannou, who wants to stay active, probably doesn’t even feel like he was just in a fight. It’s a complicated situation.

But with all due respect to the champ and DC, the wait cannot go on forever. For one, DC wants to get his final fight wrapped up and hang up the gloves. And two, someone with Ngannou’s star power cannot be kept waiting around. Having started out in MMA late, he’s openly admitted that he’s been forced to fast track the road to his legacy. He needs to keep fighting. And it has become clear with the demolitions of his recent opponents that the next step on his quest is a title shot.

Ngannou needs an actual challenge. A true test of his abilities. Stipe Miocic set the bar for Ngannou to try and reach in their first fight. Cormier is also a tough matchup for the Cameroonian on paper. But in order to be truly validated as a heavyweight great, Ngannou needs to face one or even perhaps both of them. Those kind of fights make all time greats — and Ngannou is welcoming them.


Sports journalist based in CA, USA. Twitter: @ArionArmeniakos

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