Will UFC's Uncrowned Heavyweight Champ Francis Ngannou Remain That Way Forever?

Kelsey McCarsonFeatured ColumnistMay 6, 2020

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JUNE 29:  Francis Ngannou of Cameroon poses for a post fight portrait backstage during the UFC Fight Night event at the Target Center on June 29, 2019 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Mike Roach/Getty Images

Francis Ngannou hopes defeating Jairzinho Rozenstruik on Saturday night at UFC 249 in Jacksonville, Florida, will finally give the 33-year-old heavyweight another shot at capturing UFC gold.

But he also isn't counting on it and implied that the UFC should remember who the future of the heavyweight division is, or it might find Ngannou's future lies somewhere else.

"I don't know, supposedly, " Ngannou told Bleacher Report about getting next crack at the UFC heavyweight title. "That's what I thought for my last fight, and it still didn't happen."

To put it bluntly, Ngannou is super agitated that he's been so dominant over his last three fights against top-notch competition but hasn't yet been assured a title shot.

In fact, Ngannou said all he felt like he could do about it at this point was to focus on what's in front of him and work his way through the process.

"The problem is the power is on one side, and the UFC decides what happens," Ngannou said. "That's rough, but that's how it is. You do what you have to do, and what I'm concerned about is fighting out my contract."

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So Ngannou is feeling chippy heading into his bout against Rozenstruik.

Additionally, that Ngannou plans to participate in a cage fight in an empty VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena while the rest of the world shuts itself in behind closed doors doesn't seem to faze him either.

"I had malaria maybe like 20 times in my life," Ngannou said. "But I still had to go out there and struggle and find a way to put food on my table, so I think this is a risk I can take."

Two years ago, Ngannou was hailed as the UFC's hardest puncher ever and its next big thing until he lost two straight fights in 2018. Such is how Ngannou's heavyweight takeover parade was delayed.

Ngannou admits beating UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic at UFC 220 in January 2018 was probably just too big an ask for a fighter who had just learned what MMA was four years beforehand.

"I didn't have much time to mature and learn," Ngannou said. "I started MMA and then three months after I had my first professional fight."

Indeed, Ngannou's journey from poverty to becoming a rich and famous professional athlete is quite inspiring. He didn't leave his native Cameroon until he was 26 years old, and he didn't find out what MMA was until long after he had begged his way into a Paris boxing gym.

Indeed, Ngannou's epic come-up is the kind that will be told over and over again in his tiny hometown of Batie, aka "The Sand Village," for generations to come. Nobody from Ngannou's village had ever become a professional athlete, and no one has done it since. No matter what happens from here on out, Ngannou is likely to continue inspiring others long after his career is done.

But Ngannou isn't focusing on any of that right now. Instead, the mauler who Joe Rogan once hailed as "The Mike Tyson of MMA" because of his absurd power and athleticism just wants another shot at picking up that coveted UFC belt.

This time, Ngannou says he'll be ready for the five-round slugfest.

"In the [Miocic] fight, I was very concerned about what happened in an MMA five-round fight...because I had never fought five rounds before," Ngannou said.

Still, losing to Miocic and then picking up another blemish in a stinker against Derrick Lewis at UFC 226 six months later seemed to tank the high expectations some had for Ngannou.

But that probably wasn't fair.

Right before the Ngannou train got derailed, MMA analyst Patrick Wyman told Bleacher Report in 2017 he estimated Ngannou still had a long way to go before reaching his full potential, and that about three or so years from then, he'd start to round out.

"I would guess he's got three more years at least of still making big improvements from fight to fight," Wyman said. "How terrifying is that, right? It's hard for me to overstate how impressed I am with him."

Indeed, Ngannou's head coach, Eric Nicksick, revealed to MMA Junkie's Farah Hannoun in April that Ngannou was looking just as scary in recent camps as Wyman had predicted.

"He's super accurate," Nicksick said. "I think that's one thing, too, that he's been working on a lot with [boxing coach] Dewey [Cooper] and myself. But he's accurate and he's pinpoint," Nicksick said.

Ngannou already possessed the scariest knockout power in UFC history, and now his coaches are touting that his skill set is blossoming to the point that he's becoming an even greater terror than once thought possible.

"He's not overthrowing his punches maybe like he once was, sitting down on everything," Nicksick said. "His technique is impeccable, but he hits like a truck."

After his two UFC losses, Ngannou violently rebounded to turn the lights off on all three of the opponents he faced next. 

And witnessing that he did it against the likes of Curtis Blaydes, Cain Velasquez, and Junior Dos Santos, all in just one round? It would seem as if Ngannou is already delivering on his amazing potential.

Ngannou is ranked No. 2, and the undefeated Rozenstruik is ranked No. 6.

All that's left to do at heavyweight is to finish out the rivalry between UFC heavyweight champ Miocic and Daniel Cormier, who are knotted at one win apiece, so Ngannou's fight against Rozenstruik will likely determine the UFC's next heavyweight title challenger.

But one might argue that Ngannou's fight against Rozenstruik better determine the UFC's next heavyweight title challenger, at least beyond Miocic vs. Cormier 3.

Because Ngannou still has the look of being the future of the heavyweight division for some organization down the line.

It might as well be the UFC.

                  

Kelsey McCarson covers combat sports for Bleacher Report and Heavy. Follow @kelsey_mccarson on Twitter.