What mattered most at UFC 260 at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas? Here are a few post-fight musings …
1. Francis Ngannou’s coronation
A moment that’s felt inevitable for a long time finally came to life in the main event when Francis Ngannou knocked out Stipe Miocic in the second round to become the new UFC heavyweight champion.
Ngannou (16-3 MMA, 11-2 UFC) has seemed destined to get his hands on the belt for years at this point. He failed in his first try against Miocic at UFC 220 in January 2018, but this time, he came in much more experienced and confident. His mental and physical preparedness was where it needed to be, and it showed with a devastating knockout.
That didn’t mean Ngannou winning was a lock coming in. In fact, I wrongly picked Miocic to defend the title. But even if he’d lost this fight, Ngannou’s hopes wouldn’t have been entirely squashed in my mind.
But he didn’t have to wait any longer, and the title win came courtesy of a near-flawless effort. Truthfully, Ngannou couldn’t have asked for anything more to validate himself as the best.
It would’ve been one thing if Ngannou rushed Miocic and got the finish in 30 seconds. The way he did it, however, was much more thorough. Ngannou was patient and technical, showed new wrinkles in his offense with low kicks and high kicks, stopped a takedown attempt, and didn’t tire out after just a few minutes of fighting.
No one left this fight thinking Ngannou is the champion by fluke, or just due to his freak power. He was the better man than Miocic, and now it’s new era in the heavyweight division.
2. Will Ngannou vs. Jon Jones happen?
Speaking of the new era, the excitement about Ngannou kicking off his title reign with a matchup against former light heavyweight titleholder Jon Jones was at a fever pitch from the moment “The Predator” laid out Miocic on the canvas.
Then Jones (26-1 MMA, 20-1 UFC) logged onto Twitter, and suddenly the situation felt significantly more complicated.
Jones’ first message in the aftermath of aftermath of the event was a simple one: “Show me the money.” That’s a clear and uncomplicated statement, and an echo of what Jones has been saying for the past several months about wanting to be justly paid to join the heavyweight ranks.
He could’ve – and probably should’ve – stopped there. But oh no, that was just the beginning. His tweet reached UFC president Dana White at the press conference, who immediately reverted to familiar tactics in response to a fighter making financial demands.
White implied Jones is intentionally pricing himself out of the bout as a means to avoid it, and named Derrick Lewis as a potential alternate challenger for Ngannou who would happily take the fight.
Those comments clearly irked Jones, because he went on a Twitter tirade about how he’s neither “scared” nor making too lofty of demands to fight Ngannou. Moreover, he said he’s fine stepping back if UFC wants to offer the title shot to Lewis.
Now it all feels like a mess.
It would be a terrible mistake if the two sides can’t find common ground to make the fight work. Jones’ heavyweight debut is one of the most anticipated storylines that exist in the sport right now, and the fact it could come against perhaps the scariest fighter in the history of the division in Ngannou makes it infinitely more captivating.
Jones, for his part, appears content with digging in his heels until his asking price is met. He’s already been away from the octagon for 13 months, and does not appear to be financially strained. And with his frustration clearly growing, his ego will likely prevent him from folding.
And on the UFC’s end – we know how White works. Ngannou vs. Lewis isn’t the fight we want right now (although it’s a very interesting rematch), but if push comes to shove and things don’t work out with Jones, it’ll be the fight we get.
3. What about Stipe Miocic?
You might be asking where Miocic (20-4 MMA, 14-4 UFC) falls into this, and why no one is talking about him getting a trilogy fight with Ngannou. There’s a pretty simple explanation, honestly.
Did anyone see that knockout he suffered? It was a scary one, and if Miocic knows what’s good for him, he should sideline himself until the final quarter of 2021, at minimum. And quite frankly, that’s probably the best place for him at this time.
Miocic would be wise to sit back and let this heavyweight title situation play out. The perfect world would see Ngannou and Jones fight this summer, and regardless of who is victorious – but especially if it’s Ngannou – then Miocic could make a play to face the winner.
In an imperfect world (but a beneficial one for the former champ), the UFC can’t come to terms with Jones, Lewis is injured or unable to take the title shot, and just like that Miocic gets his trilogy fight with Ngannou.
Worst case scenario, Miocic is forced to win one fight before getting another title shot. He could fight a contender like Curtis Blaydes or Alexander Volkov, and a win would put him right back in line to challenge for the belt.
All this is assuming, however, that the 38-year-old Miocic is even hungry to continue fighting. We know nothing of his plans for the future at this point, and UFC commentator Jon Anik hinted on the broadcast that he could be dealing with an eye issue, which has been a reoccurring injury. Given everything Miocic has accomplished, perhaps he decides this was it after a rough knockout.
Unless health becomes a serious roadblock, I don’t see the latter playing out, though. I expect to see Miocic hungry to win back his belt by whatever means necessary.
4. Tyron Woodley’s frantic farewell
Nothing it official at this point, but it seems most probable that Tyron Woodley has stepped into the octagon for the final time.
Woodley (19-7-1 MMA, 9-6-1 UFC) had his losing skid extended to four fights in a first-round submission loss to Vicente Luque. It’s been rough times for the former UFC welterweight champion, and his drought made him a prime candidate to join the likes of Yoel Romero, Junior Dos Santos and Alistair Overeem as a high profile UFC release.
The UFC’s decision was probably made easier, though, by the fact the fight with Luque was the last on Woodley’s current UFC contract. It seems like all the ingredients for a clean break, and UFC boss White said nothing to make us believe otherwise when asked about Woodley’s future post-fight.
Woodley tried to do everything we’ve wanted out of him in recent fights by putting pressure on Luque and throwing heavy shots. His durability didn’t seem to be there against a violent surging contender, though, and he was eventually put away.
It feels like we’re very far removed from Woodley’s glory days at this point. He’s not ever going to get back there, but regardless of what comes next, his accomplishments shouldn’t be forgotten. Some may find him unlikable, but Woodley is still a top-five welterweight in UFC history – at worst – in my book.
5. Sean O’Malley’s sensational rebound
Sean O’Malley got back on track in spectacular fashion with a slick, violent and dominant performance over Thomas Almeida in their bantamweight matchup.
There were a lot of questions about O’Malley’s (13-1 MMA, 5-1 UFC) physical and mental status on the heels of his loss to Marlon Vera last year. He took a lot of criticism for his reaction to the result, and speculation existed about whether that would negatively impact him.
That didn’t seem to be the case at all, because O’Malley looked shaper than ever. He was a sniper in hurting Almeida multiple times before finishing the job in the third round, and now he’s got the hype back that fizzled after the result with Vera.
It still remains to be seen how good O’Malley really is. Let’s not forget, Almeida is now on a four-fight losing skid, and he’s really struggled to get anything going over the past several years. If O’Malley is anything what he claims to be, he had to win just like he did.
The result should set up a bigger challenge for “Suga,” though, and the future appears bright for one of the most exciting prospects in the sport.
6. The Reebok deal ends
It wasn’t discussed much on social media or mentioned at all on the broadcast, but this event marked the final time Reebok apparel will be worn into the octagon as the UFC’s agreement with the outfitter came to its end.
We don’t need to sit here and wax on the trials and tribulations of the Reebok deal. It brought a “cleaner” look to the UFC product, but the way it negatively impacted the overall sponsorship market in MMA and took away athlete individuality was disappointing.
Venum debuts as the Reebok replacement beginning at UFC Fight Night on April 10, and with less than two weeks to go, we know nothing outside White claiming the new partnership will better compensate fighters than the Reebok deal and a leaked picture of Brian Ortega wearing what may or may not have been official clothing.
Nevertheless, a notable chapter in UFC history ends and hopefully Venum can better serve the fighters.