What does it feel like to be in the Octagon with Francis Ngannou? Let him tell you.
“You talk and then when you get close to the man, then you feel different and you realize that it was a mistake to call him out or whatever,” he said. “But there’s no way out from there.”
The knockout artist from Cameroon calls it his aura, and that aura has scared plenty of opponents away before a contract was even offered. The reason is simple, and though he was scary before a two-fight losing streak in 2018, he’s been even more frightening since, as he halted No. 3-ranked heavyweight contender Curtis Blaydes and a pair of former champions – Cain Velasquez and Junior Dos Santos – in a combined two minutes and 22 seconds.
Following that symphony of destruction, the 33-year-old expected to get a rematch with the first man to beat him in the UFC, heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic, but after Miocic evened his score with Daniel Cormier last August, the two will finish their trilogy in the next fight for both men, leaving Ngannou without a dance partner.
“When I saw the fight with Stipe and DC, I thought I was gonna have a title shot and a rematch right away because I was in position for that,” said Ngannou, who has already faced and defeated two members of the top five currently without fights scheduled (Blaydes and Dos Santos) and lost to the third (Lewis) in a lackluster bout with little appeal at the moment.
“It’s not easy to have the right opponent for me,” he said. “To have an opponent that matches up well with me and makes sense, it wasn’t easy for those past few months.”
Enter Jairzinho Rozenstruik.
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Unknown to UFC fans as 2019 began, the Suriname native went 4-0 with four knockouts in his rookie year in the Octagon, the last two finishes coming against Andrei Arlovski and Alistair Overeem. And after his last-round knockout of Overeem in December, he left no question about who he wanted to face next. His first goal of 2020 was to get in the Octagon with the man few wanted to fight.
“I heard somebody was calling me out and I’m like, ‘Who is that?’” said Ngannou. “I thought it was gonna be some guy I knew, but he was a new guy.”
Hitting the internet to first learn how to say Rozenstruik’s name, then to check out his fights against Arlovski and Overeem, Ngannou soon had a signed main event in March against someone just making his presence known on his radar.
“The only thing I know about Jairzinho is that he’s the fighter who is probably the first guy who really called me out,” he said. “This guy came from nowhere; he has no name. I guess that’s why he called me out, to elevate his status. But I guess this won’t be a good idea for him. But I know I have to take him serious, and that’s what matters to me.”
Ngannou looks like the type that is always serious when it comes to his day job, and with such an attitude comes an inability to say anything other than what’s on his mind. Ask him about Rozenstruik’s come from behind finish of “The Demolition Man,” and you’ll get his thoughts straight, no filter.
“I saw him against Overeem, surviving for almost five rounds,” said Ngannou. “Something that I know for sure is he has very high luck, so you have to take that into consideration because winning that fight was just about luck. He wasn’t even close to winning that fight. This guy’s full of luck.”
Not impressed, then?
“From what I have seen, he doesn’t have much to impress me,” he said of his foe. “I’m not impressed with anything from him at all. The question is, how is he going to win this fight? I don’t see how he’s going to escape me.”
Rozenstruik and Ngannou have both had a little extra time to figure out the logistics of the battle, as the COVID-19 pandemic scrapped the Columbus five-rounder and saw it turned into a three-rounder on this Saturday’s UFC 249 card in Jacksonville. Not that anyone ever expected this fight to go five rounds, three rounds, or even two rounds. That’s the kind of firepower these heavyweights possess, possibly making it a case of who lands first this weekend.
If that’s the case, or even if it isn’t, “The Predator” expects to leave the Octagon with his current place in the heavyweight pecking order secure.
“My motivation is to go out there and prove myself as the best,” Ngannou said. “He’s going to play my game, he’s going to play under my rules.”
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