Francis Ngannou vs. Junior dos Santos was moved a week earlier, going from a UFC 239 main card attraction to UFC Minneapolis headliner on June 29, but the Brazilian, a former UFC heavyweight champion, doesn’t see any significant impacts in the change.
The seven-day move doesn’t affect heavyweights that much, “Cigano” says, and adding two rounds to the contest might not be a thing after all.
“It’s going to be my 12th main event in the UFC, so I’m used to fighting five rounds,” dos Santos told MMA Fighting. “I’ve been training for five rounds for a while. Honestly, it doesn’t make much different adding more rounds, especially because I expect this to be a really quick fight. Ngannou moves forward a lot, goes full speed in the first round. My goal is to make him pay in his first mistake, so I don’t think this fight will go much longer.”
Dos Santos is coming off second-round TKO wins over Tai Tuivasa and Derrick Lewis, while Ngannou stopped Curtis Blaydes and Cain Velasquez in a combined time of 71 seconds in his most recent main event bouts.
“I think this fight has everything to end in the first round,” dos Santos said. “I move really well, so he can expect that from me. Moving a lot, but always attacking, being aggressive. He must be ready to dance. Muhammad Ali-style. Fly like a butterfly, sting like Cigano — not like a bee [laughs].”
Ngannou’s last win, a 25-second finish over Velasquez, was the most impressive performance of his MMA career, and dos Santos is well aware that the Cameroon-native wastes no time in the Octagon.
“Ngannou is a really strong guy, has heavy hands,” dos Santos said. “I think it’s no exaggeration to say he’s the most dangerous man in MMA today. A punch that connects, even if it only grazes, will knock you out. He’s a dangerous guy and I’m getting ready for that. I know his potential, the danger he offers in the fight, but that’s the type of challenge that excites me.
“I want to fight the best, always. I’ve fought three tough opponents in my last fights, guys who were coming off wins, and I went there and stopped them. That’s what I’m going for in this fight as well.”
With former champion Brock Lesnar apparently out of the picture and Daniel Cormier set to defend his UFC throne in a rematch with Stipe Miocic in the main event of UFC 241 on Aug. 17, “Cigano” says it’s a no-brainer that a win over Ngannou should earn him another crack at the title.
“There’s no place else to run, this win over Ngannou will definitely put me in a title fight, no matter who has it,” dos Santos. “I’m not even thinking about that now, but, for sure, this wins put me in a title fight again. I’ll definitely fight for the belt and become champion again. I have all it takes to become champion and stay at the top for a long time.”
The Brazilian fought for the championship for the last time in May of 2017, losing a rematch to Stipe Miocic via first-round knockout. He had just become a father for the first time, and saw in his son Bento the right motivation to re-claim the belt. In hindsight, though, he realizes that he allowed his newborn to become a distraction.
As he prepares to face Ngannou in Minneapolis, dos Santos won’t let that happen again after the birth of his second child, Maria.
“I’m really happy, man, but since I went through that before with Bento, maybe I’ll know how to deal with that happiness better now,” dos Santos said. “When Bento came I was so excited that I needed to have him around me at all times, he was all I would think about. I went for the fight and only slept alone one night there. The next morning I called my wife and told her, ‘You have to come, I can’t stay away from him.’ It was great, I regret nothing, but I think it took my focus away a little bit.
“I did every fight week obligation and couldn’t wait to get back to the hotel to be with Bento. I completely forgot about the fight. That’s a moment of war, it’s kill or be killed. You can’t take your family to a war [laughs]. Family stays at home, safe, and we go to war. That was a learning experience, I know how to handle my emotions better now. I know that I will transform all that happiness and love in more strength during the fight.”