Tradition holds that the UFC heavyweight champion is known as The Baddest Man on the Planet. If anyone ever fit that mold, it's Francis Ngannou.
In his rematch with reigning belt-holder Stipe Miocic (20-4), Ngannou (16-3) showed why he may be the most feared fighter on the UFC roster today. Ngannou walloped Miocic with audible punches and kicks early and often before ultimately shutting off the champ's lights at 0:52 of the second round. Miocic ran face-first into a short counter left hook, and that was all she wrote.
"I don't know if I can find the words, the vocabulary, to explain this, but it feels amazing," the hulking French-Cameroonian told broadcaster Joe Rogan after the fight. "I'm working toward greatness."
The word he may have been looking for is "scary."
Because it was a scary performance. His power is unteachable and inimitable, but it was truly scary because he's getting better. Significantly better. Ngannou corrected mistakes from his original effort against Miocic in 2018, when the champ exhausted Ngannou over five rounds for an easy decision win.
"That was the biggest night for me: January 20, 2018," Ngannou told Rogan. "It might sound weird to say this, but I feel I don't lose that fight because of the way it gave me experience about mixed martial arts, and how to manage a fight. So I had a great outcome from that fight."
In this performance, Ngannou conserved energy with refined patience, displayed better quickness and, perhaps most importantly, showed off substantially improved takedown defense.
Ngannou served notice in the first round, when the champ ate a big right hand and then, seeking safe harbor, shot for a takedown along the fence. It might have worked before, but this time Ngannou sprawled to stuff the shot, then spun around to take the champ's back and rained punches on Miocic's head.
In the opening moments of the second round, Ngannou dropped his opponent with a flush left jab. It was a strange sight given that Miocic's chin is typically pretty solid. Ngannou followed with bombs at close range, but Miocic shook the challenger off, though he was clearly in rough shape at this point. As he backpedaled, Miocic swung and connected with Ngannou. At that moment, presumably thinking he had hurt Ngannou, Miocic stopped in his tracks and rushed toward him. And there was that left hook waiting.
In shades of Cro Cop-Gonzaga, Miocic's ankle folded awkwardly beneath his body as he fell unconscious to the canvas. Ngannou landed one final hammerfist before referee Herb Dean could get between them to stop the contest.
It was a great win for Ngannou, a gentle giant and likable person outside the cage. By now, most fight fans are familiar with his life story, which includes a period of homelessness on the streets of Paris. He's an easy guy to root for.
He's all terror in the cage, however, one of those fighters who gives you a sense of impending doom. This is his 12th professional knockout win, with 10 of those coming in the UFC.
Now, no one is saying Ngannou is somehow a better champion than Miocic or anyone else. That would be a silly thing to think. But for sheer scariness in terms of what he can do in the cage, Ngannou's the guy.
So what's next? A bout with Jon Jones is brewing. Gulp.
Miocic is still the greatest UFC heavyweight ever. He could well win a rubber match. Ngannou, though, was probably the baddest man on the planet even before Saturday.
The belt just makes it official.