Francis 'The Predator' Ngannou vowed to claim the heavyweight title after his first round knockout of Bojan Mihajlović on the main card of UFC Chicago on Saturday night.
"I'm ready for the next (fight)," said Ngannou following the first round TKO stoppage. "It's a long time ago that I prepared myself to fight. I'm ready for the next step."
Although Joe Rogan specifically asked Ngannou about his need to face a bigger challenge, and indeed, a bigger opponent to establish himself in the championship fray, the 29-year-old Cameroonian simply promised that he would achieve his goal of becoming the UFC heavyweight champion.
"I will back up what I said. I will be champion. I can guarantee I will be champion," he declared through a translator.
Mihajlović did his best to look intimidating as he faced off with the 6-foot-4-inch goliath at Friday's weigh-in. In what would soon prove to be a taste of things to come for the Serbian fighter, Ngannou dismissively smirked as he tried to get closer to him by pushing his arms away, to the delight of the Chicago gathering.
As soon as the contest got underway at the United Center, Mihajlović showed no urgency to add to his ten-fight winning streak. As Ngannou pressed forward, the SBC veteran circled to his left to avoid the power his counterpart's left hand that caused his first two UFC opponent, Luis Henrique and Curtis Blaydes, so much trouble in the past.
After catching a right hand to the chest, Mihajlović dropped to the mat only to be met by two thudding hammer fists from his opponent. Only one more of Ngannou's shots broke through the Serbian's shell, but referee Herb Dean saw it fit to stop the contest.
Mihajlović may have had a genuine argument as to the prematurity of the stoppage, but nevertheless, Ngannou improved 8-1 and 3-0 under the UFC banner for the 90-second contest.
Without a doubt, a man as big as Ngannou with proven stopping power as he has showcased thus far with UFC is capable of knocking any heavyweight out on the roster.
Although Saturday night's win didn't prove as definitive as his first two outings, you couldn't see Mihajlović lasting too long on the ground if he continued to simply block and allow 'The Predator' to tee away on him from top position.
With a reach of 83 inches, there are few men in the category that can hit from the same range as Ngannou. His ability to switch from southpaw to orthodox to open up his big left uppercut caused Henrique a lot of trouble in his debut. Although he couldn't stop his second UFC opponent, Ngannou's shots were so devastating that a doctor called off his bout with Blaydes before he could stand up for the third as his right eye was completely closed shut.
While size can be a huge advantage, it can also hinder opponents as fights wear on. Due to the heavy build and muscularity of Ngannou, his previous opponents have looked to drain him in the grappling exchanges. Both Henrique and Blaydes took him down with ease when they fought him, and surely opponents further up the rankings would be able to do exactly the same thing in a more efficient manner.
Although he has looked very imposing in his first three bouts for UFC, a top tier test is certainly needed for us to gauge just how far Ngannou can go in the division.
To Test, or not to Test?
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Ngannou is the fact that he only began training three years ago when he moved from Cameroon to France and joined up his team at the MMA Factory. Due to the lack of fighters in the heavyweight division, he was able to make his transition to UFC quite quickly, despite only contesting six professional bouts up until that point.
There are still some weaknesses in his game. As mentioned earlier, his takedown defense leaves a lot to be desired and without having the same pedigree of wrestlers that fighters in the US have to train with available to him in France, it could continue to hinder him in the future.
His inexperience may call for further fights to build his repertoire before a big-name fight can come along. Certainly, fans would relish the thoughts of him squaring off with heavyweights known for their savvy in the striking department like Derrick 'The Black Beast' Lewis. As soon as his fight was finished on Saturday night a number of people tweeted about their desire to see that fight being made in the future.
Ngannou has made quite a name for himself in such a short period of time in the sport, and regardless of the opponent, the MMA Universe will be interested to see what he can do the next time he takes to the Octagon.