The biggest fight in UFC history could be Stipe Miocic vs. Francis Ngannou

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist
Heavyweight champ Stipe Miocic might be involved in the biggest UFC fight ever. (Getty Images)

Stipe Miocic has matured into a truly great fighter, as he proved Saturday by laying waste to Junior dos Santos in the main event of UFC 211 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas.

Miocic successfully retained his heavyweight title with a first-round stoppage that took just two minutes, 22 seconds and one crunching right hand.

Miocic has developed into a world class fighter, whose combination of power, athleticism and technical skill is unmatched in the division.

He’ll break the record for consecutive successful heavyweight title defenses if he wins his next outing, and though there are a number of elite contenders, Miocic figures to be a healthy favorite at this point over any of them.

He just may be involved in the biggest fight in UFC history, too, if management gives Francis Ngannou time to develop.

Ngannou is already ranked fifth, and a fight with Miocic in a few months would be sensational.

But as Frankie Edgar proved to hot prospect Yair Rodriguez in their featherweight bout on Saturday, there are levels to the game.

Miocic has made the slow climb up the ranks. He was in the UFC for nearly five years before he fought for the championship. He lost to Stefan Struve in 2012 and dos Santos in 2014. He’d be a massive favorite to defeat Struve if they fought today.

There wasn’t a lot of hype around Miocic when he first started, and he was able to grow and learn the game at his own pace.

That wasn’t true of Rodriguez, who was fast-tracked to a bout with Edgar before he was ready for it.

UFC matchmakers face an extraordinarily difficult task when dealing with prospects, and Rodriguez made it harder on them than most. They have to challenge their prospects and put them in fights they’re not guaranteed to win, but they can’t overwhelm them, either.

Doing so could stunt their development.

Rodriguez was impressive in getting past guys like Andre Fili, Alex Caceres and B.J. Penn, but none of them were at the top of the division at the time they fought Rodriguez.

Edgar, though, is, and he also brought a wrestling game that seemed to be Rodriguez’s glaring weakness.

The matchmakers had to decide whether they felt he was ready to deal with the wrestling, as well as the overall abilities, of someone like Edgar.

That he lost in a one-sided fight that ended after two rounds doesn’t mean they were wrong. There are, as they say, horses for courses, and perhaps Edgar’s style is all wrong for Rodriguez.

But UFC matchmakers Sean Shelby and Mick Maynard may also be second-guessing themselves. What they don’t know is what the psychological effects of the beating that Rodriguez took will have upon him in the long-term.

Will he ever fulfill the vast potential he showed in winning his first six UFC fights? No one can possibly know yet.

Much the same is true of Ngannou, who is being hailed as the Mike Tyson of MMA at this stage.

Ngannou is 10-1 overall and 5-0 in the UFC, and already ranked in the top five among heavyweights.

If UFC president Dana White announced this week that Ngannou would challenge Miocic for the heavyweight title next, the news would create a lot of buzz and people would be excited for the match.

But Ngannou remains a relative MMA novice. He didn’t even begin to train in MMA until 2013.

His natural punching power makes him a threat to win every fight he takes. But he’s more than just a puncher and already has submission wins by Kimura, arm triangle and armbar.

Francis Ngannou is 10-1 overall and 5-0 in the UFC, and already ranked in the top five among heavyweights. (Getty)

He can be a truly special fighter and a star of the highest order.

A Miocic-Ngannou fight for the heavyweight title in late 2018 or early 2019 could become the biggest match in UFC history. Imagine if over the next 18 months, Miocic continues as champion and increases his streak of successful title defenses to six or seven.

At the same time, let’s say Ngannou racks up four or five more wins, by knockout and by submission, and has beaten all of the elite contenders.

If that happens, a Miocic-Ngannou fight for the belt has the possibility to attract a throng to AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, perhaps the biggest crowd in UFC history. It would be an event covered by media that often ignores the UFC, and would cross over into the general sports realm.

But that means Ngannou needs time. He needs time to make mistakes and not pay for them, like Rodriguez did against Edgar. He needs to become a complete mixed martial artist, because that’s exactly what Miocic has become.

There’s no shortage of good fights for each of them to take in the interim.

If Ngannou continues to progress and both fighters keep winning, Miocic-Ngannou is going to be a fight MMA fans will talk about and remember fondly for a long time.

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