UFC Fight Night: Ngannou vs Dos Santos
By Rubi R Hashmi
This weekend the heavy hitters are heading to Minneapolis for UFC on ESPN 3. Arguably the scariest man in UFC history – Francis Ngannou takes on former UFC champion Junior Dos Santos in the marquee bout.
In the co-main event, featuring two flyweights at the top of their division. Jussier Formiga will clash with Joseph Benavidez in a title eliminator.
Rewind to the beginning of last year, “The Predator” was being advertised as an unstoppable freight train, steamrolling everyone in the division. He was already being labelled the baddest man on the planet, a moniker usually given to the heavyweight champion. Stipe Miocic was that disgruntled champion, and when the two were slated to fight at UFC 220 it was almost a foregone conclusion that Ngannou would claim the gold.
But Miocic executed the perfect game plan, dragging Ngannou to the ground and into deep waters he hadn’t experienced prior.
That loss affected Ngannou mentally, who went on to fight Derrick Lewis in probably the worst bout in UFC history. Even more so as the two are decorated knockout artists.
He openly admitted fear of losing afterwards and vowed to make it right.
Fast forward to the present day and that seems like a distant memory now. Consecutive knockouts of Curtis Blaydes and Cain Velasquez in less than a minute have catapulted him back into the title conversation.
Standing in his way is JDS. A man who holds KO victories over five former world champions, it would be a mistake to discount him. A black belt in Jiu-Jitsu, Dos Santos is a well-rounded martial artist and a win in Minnesota would put him in pole position to face the champion next.
Joseph Benavidez has been calling his shot for quite a while now. The 125lber has a legitimate gripe, as he holds a KO victory over Formiga already and a win over double champ Henry Cejudo. However, he has been afforded two title opportunities to date, losing twice to the dominant Demetrious Johnson.
Formiga has verbalised his issues with the current champ, who vowed to “save” the flyweights only to move up and seemingly prefer it there. Nonetheless, should he get past Benavidez there is no doubt he will be given that long awaited chance.
UFC veteran Demian Maia takes on Anthony Rocco Martin. In what is sure to be a showcase of elite grappling, “Tony” Martin has his work cut out for him taking on the future hall of famer Maia. But with a black belt in BJJ and nine submission wins of his own, can he make history and be the first to submit Maia in MMA? Maia will have other ideas, as he snapped a three-fight losing streak against Lyman Good back in February and will want one last swansong.
Undefeated prospect Roosevelt Roberts will face Vinc “From Hell” Pichel. Both men have a tendency to finish the fight within the distance which is always appreciated by the UFC faithful. The up and comer Roberts will be the bookies favourite but Pichel will be looking to spoil the party, and prove age is just a number at 36 years old.
In another lightweight bout, Drew Dober will battle Marco Polo Reyes. In a stacked 155lb division, the Nebraska native has to bounce back from his loss to Beneil Dariush and he has found a willing dance partner in Reyes. Reyes is also coming off a loss in his last outing and it’ll be a long way back for the loser of this one.
In a light heavyweight bout, undefeated powerhouse Alonzo Menifield takes on the “Bearjew” Paul Craig. Menifield impressed on Dana White’s contender series, scoring an eight second knockout over Dashawn Boatwright. That was followed up by another first round knockout on his UFC debut in January. With the emergence of finishers in the 205lb division recently, Craig is not to be overlooked. His indomitable will has shone through, most memorably against then undefeated Dagestani phenom Magomed Ankelaev.
The latter dominated for three rounds up until the last seconds of the third, where he succumbed to the Scotsman’s last-ditch triangle choke attempt, with one second left on the clock.
For their first visit to Minneapolis since 2012, UFC has delivered a blockbuster card. Ngannou vs JDS was taken off UFC 239 and made a main event, deservedly so. Francis Ngannou’s story is nothing short of inspirational.
From being homeless and digging sand mines in Cameroon to the bright lights of Las Vegas. Can Dos Santos find a way to avoid the fearsome power of “The Predator” or will he be added to the growing list of Ngannou’s casualties?