Illustration: Ben Duffy/Sherdog.com
UFC 226 is now available on Amazon Prime.
Two of the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s hardest punchers will collide when Francis Ngannou takes on Derrick Lewis at UFC 226 this Saturday at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. No one expects it to go the distance. However, because of the stacked nature of the card, their heavyweight encounter has flown under the radar.
This edition of The Film Room puts their fight in the spotlight.
Hype vs. Reality
Ngannou was supposed to be the Next Big Thing, but a one-sided loss to heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic in January brought his hype train to a temporary halt. He looked completely lost in the grappling exchanges, gassed early and admitted his preparation for the fight was lacking. Despite the setback, Ngannou still possesses otherworldly power in both hands. One can only think he learned from his experience against Miocic.
Ngannou may not be the most skilled striker, but he gets by on power and aggression. He is built like a video game character and at times fights like one. Ngannou often sits back, waits for an opening and then blitzes forward with a sloppy combination, hoping to catch his opponent with just one of the strikes. He shows flashes of competent striking but tends to get too confident, forgets his technique and runs forward with wild hooks. Against Luis Henrique Barbosa de Oliveira, Ngannou landed a beautiful series of lead hooks and uppercuts before connecting with a lead uppercut that folded Henrique and finished the fight. Against Andrei Arlovski and Bojan Mihajlovic, he prompted stoppages but swung wildly and lacked the technique necessary to consistently succeed at the highest levels.
Despite his deficiencies, it is hard to criticize Ngannou’s style when he is authoring highlight-reel knockouts against legends of the sport. Beating Alistair Overeem in his current form may not mean what it once did, but Ngannou’s knockout of the Dutchman was impressive nonetheless.
Although Ngannou’s grappling skills are less than stellar, we have seen him finish submissions with strength alone. He grabbed a kimura to defend a takedown from Anthony Hamilton but wound up in the knee-on-belly position from side control and completed the submission. While Ngannou may be known as a knockout artist, he does have four submission victories under his belt.
Before Ngannou arrived, Derrick Lewis was seen by many as the most formidable power puncher in the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s heavyweight division. “The Black Beast” has now been in the UFC for four years and has delivered his share of devastating knockouts against veterans and prospects alike.
Lewis and Ngannou have similar approaches to fighting: They like to stand and trade until someone gets knocked out. Lewis takes on a more tactical approach to this style, but at the end of the day, he steps into the cage to “swang and bang” and nothing else. Instead of trading in the center of the Octagon, Lewis likes to back his opponents to the cage and leave them no choice but to trade with him in the pocket.
Although he is the more technical fighter, Lewis also tends to get overexcited and start throwing wild hooks from his waist, with no setup or defense. He caught Roy Nelson -- only “Big Country’s” granite chin kept him upright -- with one of those aforementioned hooks, but in general, fighting like this at the highest levels will get one in trouble eventually.
What separates Lewis from Ngannou is his grappling ability. He does not have much of a grappling background, but he often finds himself in full mount -- a position from which he can drop relentless ground-and-pound until the job is done. In fact, most of his UFC knockouts have come on the ground. While it is not his preferred route, do not be surprised to see Lewis shoot for takedowns if the exchanges on the feet are not to his liking.
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