The 5 Best Opponents for Francis Ngannou's Next Fight

Tom Taylor@@TomTayMMAContributor IIJanuary 24, 2022

The 5 Best Opponents for Francis Ngannou's Next Fight

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    Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

    Francis Ngannou is still the UFC heavyweight champion, but his fighting future is shrouded in mystery.

    Ngannou was back in action in the main event of UFC 270 on Saturday night in Anaheim, California, where he defeated former training partner Ciryl Gane by unanimous decision to retain his title. But the champ is embroiled in a heated contract dispute with the UFC. Had he lost to Gane at UFC 270, his latest deal with the promotion would have expired. His victory, however, activated a championship clause in his contract that will make it impossible to leave the promotion until December.

    The heavyweight champion and the MMA leader will spend the months between now and then attempting to iron out a new deal, but with Ngannou looking for the freedom to compete in professional boxing—and a hefty raise—there's no guarantee the two parties will patch things up.

    The silver lining is that whether or not he stays with the UFC, Ngannou has some exciting options at his fingertips.

    Here are the five options we like best for MMA's apex predator, from the UFC's Octagon and beyond.

Jon Jones

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    This is probably the biggest fight the UFC can make that doesn't involve Conor McGregor.

    Jon Jones, if you're just arriving home from Mars, ruled over the UFC light heavyweight division for many years and is widely considered the greatest fighter of all time. He vacated the light heavyweight throne after a 2020 victory over Dominick Reyes and subsequently laid out plans to move up to heavyweight.  

    Jones has yet to make the climb up to the heavyweight division, but remains the most alluring challenge available for Ngannou. That's truer than ever after UFC 270. 

    It's long been speculated that Jones' versatility, speed and grappling could be the key to beating Ngannou. Gane possesses all of those skills—and occasionally draws comparisons to Jones—but still couldn't dethrone the champ.

    It would see one of the greatest fighters of all time moving up a weight class to challenge the scariest fighter in the history of the heavyweight division—and it's harder than ever to say who would win. If the UFC doesn't make this one happen, it's going to be a colossal bummer.

Stipe Miocic

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    Sometime in the aftermath of his March 2021 knockout loss to Ngannou, former UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic fell through the cracks. Despite his reputation as the greatest heavyweight in the promotion's history, we just don't hear much about him anymore.

    That doesn't change the fact that he is tied 1-1 in two fights with Ngannou. 

    Miocic first met Ngannou in early 2019, defeating the knockout artist with a lopsided unanimous-decision win. They met again at UFC 260, and as we said, things didn't go quite as well for the American.

    If Jones is unavailable, Miocic is probably the biggest fight available to Ngannou inside the UFC. They have plenty of history, and it will be difficult for either man to call themselves the GOAT until their rivalry is settled.

    Assuming Miocic wants to fight again—he still works as a firefighter—this could be a great option for both.

Tyson Fury

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    Your opinion on this fight's inclusion on our list will come down to your interpretation of the word "best" in the headline.

    If we're talking about the best fights in terms of competitive merit, this one doesn't bear mentioning. Despite his ridiculous knockout power, Ngannou would most likely be blown away in a boxing match with lineal heavyweight champion Tyson Fury. We all know this. But if we're talking about the best fights for Ngannou and the people who want to see him get paid, failing to mention this one would be a colossal oversight. It's far and away the most lucrative opportunity at the UFC heavyweight champion's fingertips.

    Unfortunately for him, it's not going to be easy to make happen. His win at UFC 270 activated the champion's clause in his contract, which will keep him with the UFC until December or longer still if he returns to the Octagon before that.

    If Ngannou is able to secure his free agency, however, the Fury fight will suddenly become a definite—and polarizing—possibility. Ngannou definitely wants it. Fury seems to be on board. And it would probably do as good or better business than anything else either man has on the table right now.

    Money talks.

Tom Aspinall

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    Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

    Tom Aspinall's inclusion on this list is based on two assumptions.

    The first is that the Brit gets by No. 5-ranked heavyweight contender Alexander Volkov in the planned main event the UFC's return to London on March 19. That's far from a certainty, but if he pulls it off, he'll be 5-0 in the UFC with wins over the likes of Volkov, Sergey Spivak and Andrei Arlovski. Ordinarily, that good-but-not-great streak probably wouldn't be enough to earn a heavyweight title shot, but if Jones, Miocic and Fury are all out of the question for Ngannou, the 28-year-old Brit might get the opportunity by default.

    That leads us to our second assumption: That Ngannou's contract dispute could keep him out of action for quite some time. In theory, Aspinall could beat Volkov and one other top heavyweight before the champ is even ready to return to the Octagon, assuming he ever does.

    We're not saying it's the most likely option, and from the current vantage point, it's definitely not the best. But it would still be an awesome fight between a surging young contender and a lethal champion. Not a bad consolation prize.

The PFL Heavyweight Division

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    Professional Fighters League

    This one is a long shot, but it's possible. 

    If Ngannou leaves the UFC after December, he will become the hottest free agent in combat sports. Regardless of whether he scores a boxing match with Fury, he's likely to be courted by every major MMA promotion out there—many of whom would likely not share the UFC's objection to his moonlighting as a professional boxer.

    One organization that could make a play for Ngannou in such an event is the Professional Fighters League. The league promotes MMA in a seasonal format and hands the champion of each weight class a $1 million check at the conclusion of each year. That format alone gives Ngannou a route to the kind of payday he has not yet seen in his UFC career—he banked $600,000 for defeating Gane on Saturday.

    The PFL also seems to have some money to spend, which could allow it to sweeten the pot for Ngannou. That was evidenced most recently when reports surfaced that the league could become the home of YouTube star-turned-boxer Jake Paul's move into MMA.  

    Last, the league has proved it has no objection to its fighters competing in boxing, having allowed Claressa Shields to drift between the two sports for the past year. 

    Again, it's a long shot, and it hinges on Ngannou leaving the UFC and the PFL forking over a mountain of cash, but it's an interesting idea. The only question is which heavyweight Ngannou would debut against, as he would have to work his way through the tournament to the title like everybody else. A fight with the promotion's 2021 champ, Bruno Cappelozza, would be fun. As would a fight with former UFC heavyweight champ Fabricio Werdum, whom the league signed last year.

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