Something seems to have clicked lately with the UFC and its desperate need for more talent in the heavier divisions. They've brought in three new light heavyweights in the last month and now they've got a new heavyweight talent coming over from the well regarded French Crossfight camp. Ngannou's signing was announced via Facebook and reported on MMADeferlante.com. From the sound of it, the heavyweight is on a 4-fight deal and is expected to make his debut sometime in or around December of this year. Joining him in signing news is a new Japanese prospect, Yusuke Kasuya. The UFC itself announced his contract as he'll be taking on Germany's Nick Hein at the UFC's Saitama event on September 27th. So...
Who is Francis Ngannou?
As i stated above, the 28-year old Frenchman is coming to the UFC out of rising European camp Crossfight, based out of Paris, France. The gym has been home base to current UFC talents Taylor Lapilus and Mickael Lebout along with former Bellator champ Christian M'Pumbu and title challenger Karl Amoussou. It's also been a mainstay for top rising prospect Tom Duquesnoy, along with Teddy Violet and Magomed Bibulatov. In a country where full "unified rules" MMA isn't even legal, Crossfight seems to be building some of Europe's top fighters. With a record of just 5-1, it's a little early to say if Francis Ngannou is the next great heavyweight in the making, but a legit win over X-Gym's William Baldutti and a competitive decision loss to power punching talent Zoumana Cisse certainly suggest that he could mold himself into a real talent down the line.
What you should expect:
He's raw. That's the first thing to know. The second thing is, at 6' 4" 250 lbs of pure fast twitch muscle Ngannou looks like the basic answer to the question of "What if you gave X NFL defensive end some sprawl training and some BJJ classes?" He's huge, strong as an ox, looks ridiculously fast and light on his feet, and has the basics of a developing MMA game. I've seen some video of him in no-gi grappling tourneys and he looks... huge and dynamic. As for actual ring craft goes, he mostly seems to square up in the pocket and sling leather at people. He's got power, the fact that he didn't get KO'd by Cisse suggests he's got a good chin, so now it's just about how much he can grow his technical game while fighting other big tough dudes.
To get us better acquainted, here's his recent bout against Luc Ngeleka:
Who is Yusuke Kasuya?
After kicking around Legend FC and Shooto for a while "Young Gun" made his way over to PXC and a win there lead him to the UFC. He's got a Shooto Rookie Tournament title under his belt, and unusually for a Japanese fighter has a relatively intact record of 9-1-2. He has big wins over strong regional talent Frank Camacho and prospects Nobumitsu Osawa and Kenjiro Takahashi. His only loss came to regional journeyman Rob Hill. In general it's a pretty strong record, especially on a circuit that tends to see fighters rack up multiple early career losses to high end competition. Kasuya trains out of Akimoto Dojo Jungle Junction, which has a strong stable of regional talent, but of which he appears to be the most notable prospect.
What you should expect:
In a lot of ways, it feels like Kasuya is another example of exactly what's broken with the development of MMA talent in Japan. He's clearly a good athlete and a skilled fighter. He moves well in the pocket, has solid combination boxing, a good kicking game, and a crafty, powerful grappling game. But his game has no real functional flow to it. He doesn't really have a set takedown game, instead waiting on opponent mistakes or opportunities in scrambles to create submission threats and good positions. In something of a trademark for JMMA as well, he's incredibly complacent standing at range, constantly looking for just the right opportunity to land just the right strike. Because of this and even though he's not a bad defensive fighter, he almost always gets hit hard in his fights and ends up taking a ton of punishment. It's a testament to his particular skills (most notably his grappling) that he has won as often as he has. When he's pressed, Kasuya is great at creating offense, but it seems like he has to be on rubber legs to do it. That's not usually a great recipe for long term UFC success.
What this means for his debut:
This is an interesting fight for Kasuya as it's one that Hein should win, but it's more of a "should" than a definite "will win." Kasuya's got decent hands and decent movement and is a much more aggressive and dynamic grappler than Hein. And Hein has had trouble opening up his striking arsenal to include more variety. However, it seems unlikely that Kasuya would be able to get Hein down, and Hein seems to take less and dish out more punishment in his fights as he generates a lot more power in his hands. This could be a grueling 3 round staring contest where Hein wins just on volume, damage, and pressure. But, if Hein hurts Kasuya and goes in for the kill (or gets clipped himself), this could become a very interesting test of Hein's Judo base against Kasuya's any limb at any cost grappling style.
To get a better feel for Kasuya's game here's his most recent bout against Frank Camacho: