Why Francis Ngannou deserves the great tag, but not the greatest

Francis Ngannou successfully defended his heavyweight title after defeating former sparring partner and rival Ciryl Gane via decision in the headliner of UFC 270.

Ngannou, 35, showed his championship mentality by refusing to pull out of the fight despite tearing his MCLs in both knees.

Among the hardcore mixed martial arts fans the Cameroon native earned a lot of respect for his performance, opting to wrestle Gane as a pose to using his striking ability.

Like Conor McGregor, Ronda Rousey and Bas Rutten before him Ngannou has transcended the sport of MMA striking sponsorship deal with fitness clothing brand Gymshark, appearing on the Joe Rogan podcast and featuring on some of the biggest talk shows in the world. But exposure doesn’t necessarily mean ability, which begs the question, is Ngannou among the greatest heavyweights of all time?

Francis Ngannou Shows Champion Spirit With Win Over Ciryl Gane – UFC 270 Breakdown

Growing pains of Ngannou in the UFC

Ngannou’s talent is unquestioned. After all in his 15 UFC wins he knocked out 11 of his opponents and is a frightening force in the division.

Like many of the GOAT contenders at heavyweight, he sports an impressive highlight reel with knockouts of the likes of Stipe Miocic, Alistair Overeem and Cain Velasquez to name a few. Ngannou’s striking ability is scary, so much so in fact that at one point it measured at 51,064 pounds/per second; which is equivalent to horsepower of a small family car.

But the GOAT conversation implies unquestioned, unmatched, seemingly unbeatable. There is still many questions surrounding Ngannou’s time in the organisation. He didn’t fight Daniel Cormier for instance, he lost against Miocic, he was in one of the biggest dud’s of all time against Derrick Lewis to name just a few counter-arguments.

We’ve only also seen the best of Ngannou in his last three outings in the UFC, with a win against Miocic in their rematch showcasing just how good the Cameroon fighter has become.

With UFC 270 potentially seeing the departure of Ngannou after a series of fallings out with UFC president Dana White, we may have not seen the best of the African-born heavyweight, and if the contract dispute continues with White we may never.

The Stipe Miocic argument

Mention the heavyweight division and the name Miocic is among the first that springs to mind. After all, the American/Polish former champion saw the most defences of a heavyweight title of all time with four and had two title reigns.

During his time in the organisation, like many on this list, Miocic has added a set of impressive scalps on his way, and whilst serving as UFC champion. Mark Hunt, Fabricio Werdum, Daniel Cormier, practically anybody showing skill at heavyweight Miocic has done battle with.

Look at any heavyweight record and likely Miocic has also claimed them. Not to mention he fought in the organisation whilst still working as a fireman, and while that doesn’t add to his skill inside the octagon it is certainly a feat.

Miocic also snuffed out Ngannou’s fire in their first title fight, and as of time of writing, is the only fighter to dominate the 6ft 4 in Ngannou.

His trilogy with Daniel Cormier just typifies Miocic. Losing their first matchup, making adjustments to win in the second before dominating to win their third.

Miocic has that champion heart, and has proved that across long spells in the division.

The Last Emperor

I could write Fedor Emelianenko’s mere name and that would be enough to end the GOAT debate.

In the late 1990’s to early 2000’s Emelianenko ruled the MMA scene as the undisputed icon of the sport. Mainly fighting in Japan, Emelianenko presence — or the lack of it in the UFC — cast a long shadow on the UFC.

To understand just how good “the Last Emperor” is he remained undefeated for almost decade from December 2000 to June 2010.

His 28 fights weren’t just for show, the Russian champion fought everybody at heavyweight in the early 2000’s. Hunt, Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira (Big Nog), Mark Coleman, Kevin Randleman, Mirko Cro Cop the sheer amount of names the wrestler has defeated is unfathomable.

So much is Emelianenko’s ability his mere absence in the UFC meant fighters ripped up their contracts to join Japanese promotions Pride for the chance to do battle with the Russian fighter.

Contractual disagreements between White and Fedor meant the MMA icon never featured in the organisation, which many use to discredit his legacy. But imagine losing a fight and the entirety of a sport paying a tribute to your amazing legacy.

Very few complaints from MMA hardcore crowd would be felt should you call Emelianenko the greatest heavyweight of all time, and I for one think that is an apt description.

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