Francis Ngannou's thunderous, one-punch knockout of Alistair Overeem Saturday at UFC 218 was instantly the stuff of legend.
If you happen to be another fighter in the UFC's heavyweight division?
Perhaps it was also the stuff of nightmares.
Ngannou didn't just wrap-up the next shot at Stipe Miocic's 265-pound title when he cold-cocked Overeem one minute and 42 seconds into the first round of their co-main event fight in Detroit. He put every other heavyweight on the planet on notice.
And a forthcoming matchup between Miocic and Ngannou for the UFC heavyweight title?
Well, that's the sort of dream fight we seldom get in the fight company's most troublesome weight class.
"Tell Stipe that I am coming," Ngannou said after dispatching Overeem, via an official UFC release. "I am on my way to collect my belt. I thank him for keeping it for me, but that time is over. That is my belt."
We have never seen anybody do Overeem quite like Ngannou did. Not that fast. Not that violently.
After extending his record inside the Octagon to 6-0—all of them first- or second-round stoppages—it's clear we have never seen a heavyweight quite like Ngannou, either.
The 31-year-old's blend of size, speed, strength and smarts make him a singular figure in the UFC landscape. So does his life story. In just four years as a professional fighter, he's pulled himself out of poverty and homelessness to the brink of stardom.
The promotion is taking notice.
UFC President Dana White confirmed at the post-fight press conference that Ngannou was the new No. 1 contender for Miocic's title. White said he would like to schedule that championship bout as quickly as possible, certainly before the middle of 2018. Perhaps as early as UFC 220 in Boston on Jan. 20.
At least on paper, a fight between Miocic and Ngannou shapes up as one of the greatest heavyweight title tiffs in UFC history. While jetting to five straight wins and taking the championship from Fabricio Werdum in May 2016, Miocic has been a stabilizing figure in a division historically plagued by unpredictability and unforeseen mishaps.
As arguably the two most athletic heavyweights on the roster, both in their primes and both possessing powerful, strike-first attitudes, a matchup between Ngannou and Miocic should be enough to get hardcore MMA fans salivating. It's just the sort of pairing the heavyweight division should frequently muster but seldom does.
In spite of Ngannou's impressive victory over Overeem, White stopped well short of prematurely anointing him the future champion.
"Stipe is fast, he's agile, he's a great athlete," White said at his press conference Saturday. "Francis is bigger. He's not as fast as Stipe, but he hits very hard. It's a very fun matchup. Francis Ngannou is special. And Stipe? He's very fast, and he has knockout power."
If there is anything that could temper excitement for the bout, perhaps it's the champion's contract situation.
Miocic has been out of action since a victory over Junior dos Santos at UFC 211 in May. The typically mild-mannered fighter admitted some frustration with the structure of his existing UFC deal, which paid him less than his challengers in his two previous title defenses, according to MMA Fighting's Ariel Helwani.
Helwani also noted, however, that talks between Miocic's team and UFC were going well and that the champion hoped to fight again during the first quarter of 2018.
Now we know Ngannou will be waiting for him.
Each of the fast-rising contender's four most recent fights has ended in under two minutes. The past two—knockouts of Overeem and former champion Andrei Arlovski—set him apart from the small group of heavyweights hoping to score the next title shot.
After a lengthy break between those two bouts, Ngannou also said he will be ready to get back to action as quickly as possible.
"I'm injury free, so I'm ready to go," he said at the presser. "I've been out for a long time, like 10 months [before Overeem], and now I want to go [fight]."
He made it look easy against Overeem.
Patrick Wyman @Patrick_Wyman
I've been watching Overeem since the 2000s and I've never seen anybody big brother him the way Ngannou did. That was some special stuff. #UFC2182017-12-3 07:30:20
Jordan Breen @jordanbreen
Ngannou’s versatility with his left hand, regardless of stance, would be truly beautiful technique even if he wasn’t a monster truck-sized heavyweight. In that context, it’s breathtaking.2017-12-3 05:04:12
Like Arlovski before him, the 37-year-old striking specialist was supposed to be the stiffest test of Ngannou's career. Though Overeem came in as the underdog, according to OddsShark, his nearly two decades of experience and 59 previous MMA fights gave him a massive advantage in experience.
Analysts thought if Overeem could avoid the early knockout and start to put a game plan together, his depth of skill might be too much for the comparative upstart Ngannou.
But avoiding Ngannou's power shots is proving much easier said than done.
After firing off a quick opening attack to begin the fight, Overeem tried to surprise Ngannou with an early takedown. When that was stuffed, he tried to back Ngannou into the fence but immediately saw the position reversed.
After a referee restart and a short feeling-out process, Ngannou ended the bout with a single massive punch.
Following the opening salvo, Overeem appeared to want to pace himself and perhaps play a defensive game. The one time he ventured forward with an attack, Ngannou shut out his lights.
A looping left hand that missed its mark left Overeem in an awkward position. As he tried to straighten up, Ngannou blasted him with a scooping left-hand that knocked Overeem out cold.
It momentarily made for a scary scene, with Overeem prone on the canvas being attended to by ringside doctors. In a few minutes, however, Overeem was able to get up and congratulate Ngannou before the particulars of the stoppage were announced to the crowd.
He later tweeted he had suffered no damage:
Alistair Overeem @Alistairovereem
No damage and all healthy thankfully.. unfortunately lost today. Props to @francis_ngannou, I got hit with a uppercut from he**, one of his specialities which we new were very dangerous. Some chill time now before back to the drawing-board 🙏🏽2017-12-3 07:27:48
For Ngannou, it was just the performance needed to assume control of the next UFC heavyweight title shot. Possessing both the skill and the look of a future star, he is taking shape as an important figure in a weight class that badly needs some exciting new blood.
If Miocic vs. Ngannou can come off with the speed everyone wants it to, it could be one of the biggest attractions of early 2018 for the UFC.