UFC 220: Stipe Miocic vs. Francis Ngannou Full Card Preview and Predictions
The UFC's 2018 kicks off in two weeks with UFC Fight Night St. Louis...but the real show in January is UFC 220 in Boston, Massachusetts. Here is the full card as it stands:
- Stipe Miocic vs. Francis Ngannou
- Daniel Cormier vs. Volkan Oezdemir
- Gian Villante vs. Francimar Barroso
- Dustin Ortiz vs. Alexandre Pantoja
- Abdul Razak Alhassan vs. Sabah Homasi
- Islam Makhachev vs. Gleison Tibau
- Calvin Kattar vs. Shane Burgos
- Kyle Bochniak vs. Brandon Davis
The two biggest belts in the UFC will be on the line on January 20 as Stipe Miocic defends the heavyweight title from Francis Ngannou while Daniel Cormier looks to retain the light heavyweight championship opposite Volkan Oezdemir. It's the first time the UFC light heavyweight and heavyweight titles have been featured on the same card since UFC 44 in 2003 and both fights promise edge-of-your-seat action. Worth noting, however, is that just eight bouts have been officially announced for the event as of this writing (UFC 218, by comparison, had 13).
While UFC 220 may still be under construction, it's worth taking a look over the event as it stands today, and previewing the fights that have been penned in.
Preliminary Card Bouts
Gian Villante vs. Francimar Barrosso
The light heavyweight division needs to have some housekeeping done and the UFC is tasking two of its lower-ceiling 205ers with justifying a pink slip for the other. Gian Villante is 2-4 over his last six fights while 37-year-old Francimar Barroso holds little long-term value for the promotion. This is likely to be the last UFC fight for one of these men...and that will likely be Barroso.
Kyle Bochniak vs. Brandon Davis
The UFC's efforts to promote the Tuesday Night Contender Series continue at UFC 220 with Brandon Davis being welcomed to the main roster by Kyle Bochniak. The UFC is expecting Bochniak (1-2 in the Octagon) to be an easy out for Davis and he will likely oblige them in that regard.
Calvin Kattar vs. Shane Burgos
Shane Burgos is off to a 3-0 start to his UFC career while Calvin Kattar debuted with a win over a solid veteran. Both men have already established themselves as talents worth keeping an eye on the winner will only cement that status. Kattar has the better resume of the two and is the safer bet because of that.
Abdul Razak Alhassan vs. Sabah Homasi
The controversial ending to the UFC 218 fight between Abdul Razak Alhassan and Sabah Homasi has resulted in a now-rare immediate rematch. Alhassan won the last bout via dubious TKO but make no mistake; he should be favored here.
Dustin Ortiz vs. Alexandre Pantoja
Dustin Ortiz, at least for the moment, is firmly settled into a gatekeeper role in the flyweight division. Against a top-10 opponent, he is all but guaranteed to fizzle. Anyone below that level, though, will be smashed in merciless fashion. That makes this a huge risk, and a huge opportunity for Alexandre Pantoja.
The Brazilian quietly entered the UFC as RFA flyweight champion following an impressive run on the regional circuit. He is currently 2-0 in the Octagon, most recently retiring Neil Seery with a rear-naked choke, and looks the part of an upper-echelon contender. If he can get through Ortiz, it bodes well for his future...at least in the short-term.
Islam Makhachev vs. Gleison Tibau
Gleison Tibau is back! After spending two years on the shelf due to a failed drug test, the enduring lightweight is returning to the cage...for an incredibly tough fight opposite Islam Makhachev.
Makhachev isn't a glamorous name in the deep lightweight division, but the Sambo specialist has looked formidable to this point in his UFC career, tallying a 3-1 record with his most recent performance being a decision win over veteran grinder Nik Lentz. While a more active Tibau may have been able to turn this into a close contest between two skilled grapplers, expect his rustiness to cost him here.
Daniel Cormier vs. Volkan Oezdemir
Division: Light Heavyweight
Records: Daniel Cormier (19-1 (1)), Volkan Oezdemir (15-1)
UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier enters UFC 220 in an all-too-familiar spot; smack-dab in Jon Jones' shadow.
While DC was knocked out in devastating fashion by Jones just six months ago, a flag on a pre-fight drug test resulted in the contest being rendered null and the title being handed back over to Cormier. It's the second time he has wound up holding gold after a loss to Jones due to out-of-the-cage issues and it's the second time he'll be forced to make lemonade with some less-than-ideal lemons.
He can start doing so by defeating Volkan Oezdemir.
Oezdemir burst onto the scene less than 12 months ago with an upset win over Ovince Saint Preux at UFC Fight Night 104. While many looked at the victory as a fluke or a mistake by the judges, back-to-back knockout wins over top-10 opponents Jimi Manuwa and Misha Cirkunov vaulted him into the title picture. A perfect storm of injuries and absences by other contenders followed, and the result is Oezdemir fighting for the title in just his fourth fight in the UFC.
Though Oezdemir has proven himself to be a fearsome power puncher, it's incredibly difficult to imagine him defeating Cormier. Despite the awkwardness surrounding his reign as champion, there is no debate that DC is an elite pound-for-pound fighter that is proven across multiple divisions. Unless Oezdemir can drill the champ with something in the early goings of the fight, expect a wrestling clinic by the former Olympian.
Prediction: Daniel Cormier def. Volkan Oezdemir by Unanimous Decision
Stipe Miocic vs. Francis Ngannou
Records: Stipe Miocic (17-2), Francis Ngannou (11-1)
For a significant portion of the promotion's history, the UFC heavyweight division has been among its worst. That has been especially true in recent years.
At the very top of the division have been a procession of injury- or illness-prone champions. From Brock Lesnar's diverticulitis to Cain Velasquez's back to Junior dos Santos' knee, maladies upon maladies have resulted in the title being defended just 13 times in the last nine years.
In the middle of the division have been a list of enduring, but badly aging, contenders. Names like Andrei Arlovski, Alistair Overeem and Fabricio Werdum have hovered in and around the top-10 for over a decade. While some of that can be chalked up to the steeliness of the veteran fighters, a lot of it can be credited to the weakness of younger talent.
At the bottom? Something of a running joke. Even in major promotions like Bellator and Rizin FF, heavyweight bouts frequently feature undersized or overweight competitors. And the regional level...well, the less said about that the better.
It's been a long road but the UFC 220 heavyweight title fight between Stipe Miocic and Francis Ngannou might just mark a turning point for the division.
Miocic is the durable, consistent champion that has long been missing in the UFC. Combining strong wrestling with technical boxing and legitimate athleticism, he is potentially capable of remaining atop the division, and active, for an extended period of time.
Ngannou, meanwhile, is the kind of hot up-and-comer that hasn't been seen in eons. Just two years deep into his UFC career, the French monster is already cemented as the deadliest finisher in the sport today. Not a man alive can survive his left hand, and he has managed to find a way to land that punch on nearly everyone he has faced in the UFC thus far (the sole exception being when he almost tore off an opponent's arm).
This is a rare clash of titans, and one of the most exciting fights in recent memory. Miocic should be looked at the favorite, given his well-rounded game and the lingering questions the still-new Ngannou. If Ngannou can catch Miocic the way he has caught other opponents, though, he will walk away with the title.
Prediction: Stipe Miocic def. Francis Ngannou by Unanimous Decision