When Francis Ngannou was tearing through the UFC’s heavyweight ranks a few years back people – myself included – started to get very excited.
And when he knocked out MMA legend Alistair Overeem in spectacular fashion – sending his head flying back like a Pez dispenser – back in December 2017, it really looked like the UFC had a new heavyweight champion-in-waiting.
PaddyPower.com’s odds are a knockout
But, Ngannou got absolutely dominated – and humbled – at the hands (and the wrestling) of then-champion Stipe Miocic at UFC 220, then he+- lost to Derrick Lewis in one of the worst MMA fights I’ve ever seen live at UFC 226 as “The Predator’s” sky-high stock plummeted through the floor.
However, anyone quick to write him off had to eat their words as he bounced back by finishing wrestler Curtis Blaydes in just 45 seconds in Beijing, then stopped former world champion Cain Velasquez in 26 seconds in Phoenix in February.
Make no mistake, Francis Ngannou is back.
The hulking Cameroonian is set for action in the main event of UFC Minneapolis this weekend, where he faces another former UFC heavyweight champion, Brazil’s Junior Dos Santos.
Both men prefer to stand and bang, which should deliver a spectacular main event, for as long as it lasts.
The big question here is who has the power to stun the other, and the honest answer here is they both do. The pair possess explosive knockout power, and the fight really could end in the blink of an eye.
But, Ngannou’s power is an almost unworldly phenomenon, and even the battle-tested chin of Dos Santos is unlikely to be able to take too many shots from “The Predator”.
When Ngannou lands clean, that will almost certainly be it.
Bet of the bout: Francis Ngannou to win by KO/TKO – 8/13
Back Benavidez to book his shot
If it feels like Joseph Benavidez has been a top contender in the UFC flyweight division for a long time, that’s because he has. Benavidez has been there or thereabouts at the top of the UFC’s 125-pound division ever since the weight class was introduced. And now he stands just one win away from a huge rematch.
Benavidez holds a victory over current flyweight (and bantamweight) champion Henry Cejudo, and victory over fellow top contender Jussier Formiga on Saturday night may well see him thrust into a rematch with the UFC’s newest “champ-champ”.
Benavidez stopped Formiga with strikes in just over three minutes when the pair met six years ago, but both men have improved since that first meeting and meet for a second time with a possible shot at Cejudo on the line.
Formiga is a much more shrewd, savvy operator these days, so it’s likely that he’ll take Benavidez much longer into the fight than he managed the first time around, but I still fancy “Joe Jitsu” to walk away with the win.
Bet of the bout: Joseph Benavidez to win by points – 7/5
There's something that annoys @TonyRoccoMartin, and it's fighters who go into fights saying they having nothing to lose.
The rest of our fun #UFCMinneapolis talk coming tomorrow on @UFCNews. For now, I'll let him explain: pic.twitter.com/QSYOazOPS0
— Steve Latrell UFC (@TheUFSteve) June 27, 2019
Back Rocco to roll past a legend
The third fight on the main card sees a rising prospect take on a legend as Anthony “Rocco” Martin faces off against Brazilian veteran Demian Maia that could potentially see Martin make the leap from prospect to contender at 170lbs.
Maia has been there, seen it and done almost everything in the game, except capture a UFC world title. He’s still as dangerous as ever, as he showed as he snapped a three-fight losing streak (all to champions) by submitting Lyman Good inside a round in February.
But Martin looks like a man who might have the game to defeat Maia. The American is riding a four-fight win streak, with wins over Keita Nakamura, Ryan LaFlare, Jake Matthews and, most recently, former BJJ world champ Sergio Moraes, and looks a solid underdog bet to claim the victory.
Martin is better in the striking department, has solid wrestling and grappling and, providing he doesn’t get too comfortable on the ground, he has the skill set to cause something of a surprise.
Bet of the bout: Anthony Martin to win by decision – 11/4Get the latest odds for the biggest bouts on PaddyPower.com
* All odds correct at time of posting.