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Hindsight – UFC 220: Miocic vs. Ngannou in retrospect

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Get the thoughts and musings of Dayne Fox from UFC 220, from Stipe Miocic’s record setting performance over Francis Ngannou to Islam Makhachev’s brutal KO to open the evening.

UFC 220 featured one round of some of the greatest heavyweight action ever seen… followed by four rounds of boring action in which the competitors barely had the energy to stand. What seemed to be an instant classic devolved into a strategic grindfest as Stipe Miocic broke the record for consecutive title defenses in the heavyweight division by overthrowing Francis Ngannou, effectively staking his claim as the greatest heavyweight ever. Daniel Cormier defended his light heavyweight title as well, though that received far less attention as Volkan Oezdemir didn’t capture the public attention the same way Ngannou did. There were other stories on the night, but given the top heavy nature of the card, they didn’t receive much attention.

Here’s my thoughts on the UFC 220, with every fight and fighter involved broken down. The format is simple. The first bullet covers what was expected to happen and an attempt at a brief summary of what did happen. The next two bullets cover my thoughts on each fighter, how they did, and where they might be headed from here with the winner being covered first.

Islam Makhachev defeated Gleison Tibau via KO at 0:57 of RD1

  • Expectations/Result: Given he had been away for two years thanks to a PED suspension, no one knew what to expect from Tibau. Would he come close to resembling the durable gatekeeper that we knew for so long? Given Makhachev’s power wrestling and youth, most picked Khabib Nurmagomedov’s teammate to pick up a hard-earned victory. He did, but in a manner no one expected. Less than a minute in, Makhachev landed a short combination in which the second punch landed flush to put the Brazilian out cold. Brutal way to start out the night.
  • Makhachev: It’s hard to know whether the KO was flukish as we didn’t get enough time to see Makhachev’s form and accuracy. Knowing that, I’m withholding judgement on the alleged improvement in his hands. Though Makhachev had dominant victories over established vets in Chris Wade and Nik Lentz, he lacked a highlight reel moment to catch people’s attention thanks to his grinding fashion. This could be the moment that changes everything for the Russian. At 26-years old, Makhachev is primed to make a run up the lightweight ladder. Maybe I say this more than I should, but keep an eye on Makhachev. Seriously….
  • Tibau: Tibau has traditionally been one of the better gatekeepers in the sport due to his ability to take a lot of damage. Given how quickly he went out, it’s plausible those days are long gone. Not surprising since Tibau has been competing one way or another since the 90’s. Then again, sometimes the perfect punch just happens to land. Regardless, after three losses in a row, it’s likely Tibau’s time in the UFC is running short.

Enrique Barzola defeated Matt Bessette via unanimous decision

  • Expectations/Result: Even though he was taking the contest on short notice, many believed Bessette’s experience and violent tendencies would be enough to overwhelm the Peruvian. Instead, Bessette looked tentative in the cage, showing far more caution than usual with only the occasional flurry. On the flip side, Barzola did what he always does: land a high volume of low kicks with plenty of takedowns to supplement them. It was a recipe for success as there was little debate Barzola deserved the decision when the scorecards were read.
  • Barzola: I suppose it’s been long enough that Barzola has been able to get proper training that his improvements would be more subtle than obvious. Nonetheless, he showed just enough in his punching combinations to lead me to believe that Barzola isn’t a finished product quite yet. I don’t think he’s going to become a contender, but his endless stamina, constant barrage of low kicks, and relentless takedowns makes him a stout gatekeeper.
  • Bessette: Given his reputation as a non-stop action fighter, this was a bit of a disappointing showing for Bessette. Where was his aggression? He teased some leglocks from the ground when Bessette stood over him, but he never committed. At 33 with over a decade of experience under his belt, Bessette’s career is on the backslide. While I’m happy to see Bessette finally make it to the UFC, I’m expecting a victory to elude him now that he’s on the big stage.

Julio Arce defeated Dan Ige via unanimous decision

  • Expectations/Result: With both Arce and Ige making their UFC debuts, the odds were almost 50/50 with a slight lean towards Arce. Arce showed why he was the favorite off the bat, combating Ige’s takedown attempts while piecing up Ige with short punching combinations. Ige looked for the takedowns throughout the contest, but could never get Arce to stay down, leading to Ige chasing after a finish with his strikes as the contest progressed. He never found it with low kicks being his only consistent form of offense. As a result, Arce walked out with a comfortable margin of victory.
  • Arce: Many have been wondering how much longer Arce was going to have to wait before he got his shot in the UFC. Given the dominance of this performance, Arce justified the expectations from fans. His distance management was brilliant and his takedown defense was more stout than anyone could have guessed it would be. It feels too early to predict if Arce can develop into a contender, but I do feel more confident in that potential after this dominant performance.
  • Ige: You’d think Ige was the one who took the bout on short notice as he looked completely unprepared. Then again, he had been preparing for Charles Rosa prior to Rosa’s injury and that would have been a more favorable matchup for the Hawaiian. Still, he has a lot of work to do on his wrestling, footwork, and angles before he can be expected to be a consistent threat. At 26, Ige has the youth necessary to make the needed improvements. There’s no need to hit the panic button on his career yet.

Dustin Ortiz defeated Alexandre Pantoja via unanimous decision

  • Expectations/Result: Given Ortiz’s defensive deficiencies, many expected Pantoja to pull off the upset. Ortiz provided Pantoja with opportunities, exposing his back on multiple occasions, allowing Pantoja to take Ortiz’s back and nearly finished him off with an RNC in the first. Ortiz fought out of it, even getting the top position at the end of the round to land some ground-and-pound. Pantoja had little left to offer after that, giving away the second due to inactivity and unable to hold the lead he acquired in the third after some early grappling success, giving the more active Ortiz a big win.
  • Ortiz: While the win for Ortiz was certainly big, the manner in which he picked it up is disconcerting. Yes, he showed plenty of heart by overcoming adversity, but he also needlessly exposed himself several times as Pantoja didn’t have to work very hard to gain advantageous positions. Pantoja, while a very good fighter, isn’t an elite fighter. It could end up being a very different story if Ortiz ends up getting an opportunity against an elite fighter. Nonetheless, Ortiz deserves props for his relentless wrestling and striking once Pantoja was exhausted. He got what could be the biggest win of his career, but he still has to fill some holes if he hopes to keep moving up the ladder.
  • Pantoja: What is it about Nova Uniao fighters not having very good stamina? Jose Aldo has a reputation for slowing down. So does Renan Barao. After this contest, it’s clear Pantoja does as well. You’d think Andre Pederneiras would notice this himself and make some adjustments, but stamina continues to plague the Brazilian camp. The other thing the camp is known for – killer low kicks – were on display by Pantoja as well, but they lost all effectiveness beyond the second half of the contest. At 27, Pantoja has time to change things up, but it may require a change of camps to do so as opponents seemed to have figured out Nova Uniao fighters.

Abdul Razak Alhassan defeated Sabah Homasi via KO at 3:47 of RD1

  • Expectations/Result: After their barnburner at UFC 218 that ended prematurely due to a poor stoppage from Herb Dean — even if it was understandable why Dean stopped the contest – there was a lot of anticipation amongst the hardcore fans for this one. The contest started a bit slow as Alhassan and Homasi circled one another, waiting for the other to make a move. After a brief exchange of strikes, Homasi became the aggressor scoring a takedown and trying to hold Alhassan down. Unable to do so, they got back to their feet where Alhassan scored on a devastating uppercut to put Homasi out cold, putting to rest any arguments regarding the results of their first fight.
  • Alhassan: The one thing Alhassan seemed to have learned from their previous contest was to conserve energy. He wasn’t swinging with wild abandon this time, picking his spots and ensuring he could successfully fend off Homasi’s takedowns. Credit needs to go to his improved timing on his punches as well as he couldn’t have landed that uppercut any better than he did. If he can continue to pace himself the way he did here, he’s likely to remain effective beyond the first round. There is still untapped potential within Alhassan, though it is hardly a guarantee he’ll reach it.
  • Homasi: Much like Alhassan, Homasi realized it was smarter to pace himself rather than swing wildly for the fences without constraint. Going after the takedown was a smart play too, even if he couldn’t keep Alhassan down. But when you get hit clean the way Homasi was, there isn’t much that can be done. What has me worried about Homasi moving forward is his chin. He was rocked multiple times in the last contest too. One can only take so many blows like the one he suffered here. Given this was the third KO/TKO loss in three UFC contests, it’s safe to say Homasi doesn’t have the chin to hold up at the highest level.

Kyle Bochniak defeated Brandon Davis via unanimous decision

  • Expectations/Result: After an impressive showing on the Contender’s Series, Davis was being given a platform to display his aggressive, come-forward style against the disappointing Bochniak. In what was likely his last chance to prove he belonged in the UFC, Bochniak put together the ideal strategy. Refusing to meet Davis in the pocket, Bochniak circled the cage, picking and choosing his spots to attack with single strikes and short combinations. He was usually gone by the time Davis tried putting together volume, leading the Mississippi native to become highly frustrated on his way to a loss.
  • Bochniak: I’m not aware if Bochniak made any camp changes or anything else like that, but some sort of change was definitely made. He upped his output just enough to not only score enough offense on Davis, but to also irritate his opponent enough for refusing to engage at the rate Davis wanted. Perhaps wisest of all was his takedown attempts, something that opened up his striking even when he wasn’t getting Davis on his back. I had written Bochniak off prior to this contest and he proved me wrong. I’m very interested to see what he has to offer in his next showing.
  • Davis: I recall the broadcast team discussing something about a hip injury Davis was dealing with. I hope he was dealing with an injury as it would help to explain why he looked so flat. He went from landing – not throwing, but landing – almost nine strikes a minute in the Contender’s Series to just over two against Bochniak. Davis either couldn’t or wouldn’t cut the proper angles to cut off Bochniak, which allowed Bochniak fight his fight. Davis’ lack of activity ended up being his downfall… and I never would have guessed that would happen going into the contest.

Rob Font defeated Thomas Almeida via TKO at 2:24 of RD2

  • Expectations/Result: Though he had been living up to his reputation as a connoisseur of violence, Almeida had fallen short in a pair of high profile contests against Cody Garbrandt and Jimmie Rivera. However, those are two of the top bantamweights in the sport, leading most to pick him over Font as Font’s losses to John Lineker and Pedro Munhoz offered less inspiration. As usual, Almeida started slowly, allowing Font to establish an early lead. It didn’t take long for Almeida to find his range and slowly swing the momentum – and opening round – in his favor. Font rattled Almeida early in the second, but couldn’t secure the finish. However, he did secure it when he hurt Almeida again with a head kick a little over two minutes into the contest for the biggest win of his career.
  • Font: Going into this contest, Font appeared to be a front runner unable to swing the momentum into his favor when the tide is against him. It’s nice to see that narrative flip as there’s no way Font would be able to turn himself into a contender if he can’t overcome a bit of adversity. Font has worked hard to make his jab a consistent weapon and it kept him in the contest when Almeida began taking control, though it was his usual heavy hooks and uppercuts that eventually put away the Brazilian. Given his exciting style, this victory will more than overshadow his loss to Munhoz.
  • Almeida: Almeida already had a reputation as one of the premier action fighters of the sport. That hasn’t changed. However, the belief that he might develop into contender appears to be dwindling. His relentless pressure brings with it too much damage and his chin doesn’t appear capable of holding up to the onslaught. It’s a risky proposition to ask a fighter to change their style in such a dramatic fashion, but Almeida may want to consider a gradual shift if he can do so. He can beat the unranked of the division and a few within the rankings without changing things up, which isn’t a horrible fate. But can he become champion someday when he is that chinny? Nope.

Gian Villante defeated Francimar Barroso via split decision

  • Expectations/Result: A fight no one had any interest in seeing, most were picking Villante as he’s at least willing to throw punches whereas Barroso suffers extreme bouts of inactivity. That proved to be the difference maker in the end as Villante’s volume swayed the judges in his favor even though Barroso managed to land just as many meaningful strikes as the former NFL prospect. The contest consisted of Villante pressuring Barroso against the fence with Barroso responding with the occasional kick or jab. Given damage was fairly equal, the right man won based on his aggression.
  • Villante: To Villante’s credit, this may have been the most disciplined fight of his UFC career. He never went crazy in pursuit of a finish, nor did he suffer a lapse in defense where he ended up getting hurt. Those are traditional staples of his fights. So while the fight was relatively boring, that’s a good thing in terms of Villante’s development. Despite that, as most other analysts have, I’ve given up on Villante becoming on more than just action fighter. I’ll need to see him do it again against someone who will threaten to push a pace.
  • Barroso: To be fair, Barroso did step up his output from his usual level. Given it still fell short of giving him a victory, that says something about how pathetic that level traditionally is. Regardless of the improvement, Barroso has only secured a single victory in his last five contests. It’s plausible we have seen him in the UFC for the last time… something many would be perfectly fine with.

Calvin Kattar defeated Shane Burgos via TKO at 0:32 of RD3

  • Expectations/Result: Younger and more athletic, the aggressive Burgos was the popular pick here. Burgos started the contest stalking the lanky Kattar around the cage, resulting in Kattar picking him apart with his jab. Burgos wasn’t deterred, continuing to march forward while landing some decent offense of his own. Kattar seemed to be wilting to Burgos’ pressure towards the end of the second, leading to Burgos’ turning up the heat to open the third. Kattar made him pay with a brutal uppercut to stagger Burgos, then sending him to the ground with a combination. A few ground strikes followed, prompting the referee to step in and call it.
  • Kattar: That makes two fights in which Kattar was vastly overlooked only to upend the younger and more athletic talent. Kattar spent a few years focusing on coaching rather than fighting, indicating he’s highly intelligent inside the cage. He’s been proving it with these performances, seeming to know what his opponent is going to do even before they know. Kattar is also aware of his own physical abilities and never overextends himself. Sure, his physical limitations will limit his ceiling at some point – there is nothing special about him physically outside of his long frame – but Kattar has already exceeded expectations. Knowing that, I don’t know if I’m ready to jump on the Kattar train or if I’ll stubbornly continue picking against him. It will probably depend upon the matchup.
  • Burgos: I figured Burgos’ belief in his own indestructability would eventually cost him. I just didn’t think Kattar would be the one to do him in. Burgos has consistently waded into the pocket to engage with his opponents, regardless of what they throw at him. It doesn’t mean his defense is typically bad. It means the damage is inevitable. However, I have to say his defense was poor against Kattar. He didn’t change anything up despite Kattar piling up the volume. To be fair, Kattar was cracking in the second, but Burgos would have been well served to go for a takedown or two to mix up things. It’s amazing how much a change of pace can open up things….

Daniel Cormier defeated Volkan Oezdemir via TKO at 2:00 of RD2

  • Expectations/Result: Though Oezdemir was coming off a pair of victories that necessitated a combined 70 seconds of cage time, the wins had a fluky element to them. Thus, Cormier was a heavy favorite over Swiss competitor. Oezdemir came out aggressive, mixing up his punches to Cormier’s body and head while stuffing Cormier’s early takedown attempt. However, Oezdemir’s insane pace caught up to him quickly and Cormier capitalized. He got a late takedown off a kick and nearly ended the fight with an RNC, Oezdemir only being saved by the bell. Cormier got another takedown early in the second, made his way into a crucifix position so Oezdemir’s arms were trapped. A barrage of punches to the head against a defenseless Oezdemir prompted the ref to end the contest.
  • Cormier: Though there was little doubt Cormier was going to win, he needed a dominant performance to erase the memory of Jon Jones head kicking him into oblivion. Cormier delivered… only to remind everyone of Jones as his name was the first thing out of his mouth in his post-fight speech. Sure, he let Oezdemir open up strong, but Cormier has a habit of letting his opponents dictate the opening moments. Think of his two contests with Anthony Johnson. The question now is how long Cormier can remain the champion as he’s shown signs of vulnerability… and I’m not referring to the Jones loss. At 38-years old, Cormier is no longer in his prime and has never been a defensive savant. Then again, there doesn’t appear to be anyone on the horizon that can expose that deficiency… unless Alexander Gustafsson gets healthy. Then again, Cormier said he intends to retire next year….
  • Oezdemir: Given Oezdemir’s weakness towards wrestling, this wasn’t a terrible performance on his part. He knew Cormier would look to get him to the ground and hoped to finish off the former Olympic wrestler before he could. It didn’t work, but it was his best shot. At 28-years old with very little promising talent on the horizon in the light heavyweight division, it isn’t far-fetched to see Oezdemir getting another chance at the belt. He needs to brush up on his cardio and wrestling, but he’s already made some progress in his wrestling while cardio usually doesn’t become a priority until after it has cost someone a fight. Maybe that time has now come for Oezdemir….

Stipe Miocic defeated Francis Ngannou via unanimous decision

  • Expectations/Result: There hasn’t been a challenger with so much hype behind them since Conor McGregor than there has been for Ngannou. But this was a different hype. It wasn’t so much that all the casual fans believed Ngannou was going to dethrone Miocic; he had most of the MMA media believing he was going to become the heavyweight kingpin. Ngannou came out more aggressive than he has for any other fight, swinging for the fences with every swing. Miocic ate some of them, including a brutal uppercut less than two minutes into the contest… but Miocic was still there! Ngannou hurt him again with a few seconds left only for Miocic to wobble him before the bell. It was about as good of a round as anyone could have asked for! Then the action fell off a cliff as Ngannou had nothing left in the tank. Miocic spent the rest of the contest taking down the big Frenchman, leaning against him, and peppering him with punches. No, the final 20 minutes weren’t particularly entertaining, but the champion sent an emphatic message to the challenger to retain his belt in the process.
  • Miocic: Miocic played with fire early given Ngannou’s prodigious punching power, but he persevered by playing the long game. All this proved to be the perfect game plan to dealing with the heavily hyped wrecking machine. It wasn’t pretty, but it sure as hell was effective. There have been complaints that Miocic could have exerted more effort to put away Ngannou in one of the later rounds when Miocic had him down, but keeping the behemoth down is no small feat. Asking him to leverage up and pound him out when Miocic expended a lot of energy himself may have been more than he could handle. Miocic gave a resounding yes when asked if he believed he was the greatest heavyweight of all time. He has a solid argument. He’s beaten all the big names of this generation save for one: Cain Velasquez. Of course, there is no guarantee Velasquez’s health will ever allow him to compete at a high level again, but Miocic’s resume would be complete if he could add the AKA representative to his list of victims.
  • Ngannou: I sensed trouble in Ngannou’s performance from the beginning. Where was the patient striker who let his opponent come to him? He never chased Alistair Overeem. Nor did he chase Andrei Arlovski. Ngannou waited for them to swing at him and then countered. I don’t know if the spotlight got to him or if it was the hype, but he swung for the fences time and again, not bothering to cut off Miocic with footwork. I get he probably would have been crowned the new champion had one of those heavy shots landed, but they didn’t and he expended his energy resources in the process. I expect Ngannou will learn from this experience and come back stronger than ever. It will be a shock if this is the last title shot the big Cameroonian as he is still exceedingly young in his career.

Well, those are my thoughts. Until next time….

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