After knocking out all three of his UFC opponents, Francis Ngannou was painted as quite the knockout artist. Then he submitted his fourth Octagon foe, Anthony Hamilton, with a slick kimura in December, and all of a sudden, the picture changed when it came to breaking down “The Predator.”
So is a flying armbar next on the menu when he faces Andrei Arlovski this Saturday in Denver?
“No, not for this one, but maybe some kind of flying KO,” Ngannou laughs, knowing that given his UFC history thus far, fans will be happy with whatever he delivers on fight night.
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That’s a great position to be in, fighting a former heavyweight champion on the main card of a FOX event, where the possibility is there for a whole new audience to see the Cameroon native fight for the first time. And while Ngannou is already in the top ten, beating Arlovski likely puts him in a whole new neighborhood.
“For me personally, it means that I am improving,” he said of a win over “The Pit Bull.” “And beating a former champion means that I am going on the right direction. I have been paying a lot of attention to the other names in the division, and we know that once I win this fight, I have a very good chance to be fighting someone better ranked very soon.”
Given the recent form of both men, the odds are in Ngannou’s favor. The France resident is 4-0 in the UFC with four finishes, and he’s sporting an eight-fight overall winning streak. The 37-year-old Arlovski, after going 4-0 after returning to the Octagon in 2014, has dropped three straight. The losses were against current champion Stipe Miocic, Alistair Overeem and Josh Barnett, but the UFC is a hard place, and losses are losses, putting both fighters at an interesting crossroads. If Ngannou blows through Arlovski, it’s the biggest win of his career, but fighters like Arlovski can never be counted out, and if there was ever an opportunity for the Belarus native to rise to the occasion, this is it.
Unfortunately for Arlovski, Ngannou knows precisely what is in front of him, and he’s prepared accordingly.
“I think he has a lot of experience and is a very good fighter and striker like me, but right now I believe I am better than him,” Ngannou said. “He is a good striker, with good takdown defense, but is not a very good takedown artist. On the ground, he has some good leg submissions but I don’t see him taking me down.”
The 30-year-old also has youth on his side, but when it comes to experience, that’s a huge edge for Arlovski. So how does Ngannou negate or at least dull that edge?
“Experience is very important to get us confident, and that, I think, is one of the biggest things,” he said. “Knowing that you have been through all that can happen in there is a big factor. But I am younger, I am stronger and I know I am more hungry than him. It is my time now.”
As the great Muhammad Ali once said, “It’s not bragging if you can back it up,” and though Ngannou is being confident in the most respectful way possible, he’s not about to back down when it comes to getting where he wants to go. Yet, at the same time, he admits that we haven’t seen the best of him. That’s scary if you have to meet Mr. Ngannou in an Octagon sometime soon.
“I still think I have a lot to improve,” he said, emphasizing the “a lot” part. “I am still very, very far from a finished product.”
A statement like that guarantees that everyone reading it will be in front of their television sets on Saturday night to see what Ngannou does next. That’s a pressure he doesn’t mind.
“It’s okay,” he said. “I will do my best to get the win, and finishing a fight is the best way to guarantee that.”
Dare we say that Ngannou isn’t just performing under pressure, but enjoying it at the same time?
“I have to enjoy the moment, as this is the first time that I am getting a chance to enjoy the fruits of my labor,” he said. “I had a very hard road to get here and I have to enjoy and be grateful for everything that is going on and all that the future holds.”