The history of heavyweight has always been a history of defeat more than victory. The legacies of Anderson Silva, Jose Aldo, and GSP always felt encouraged. The legacies of Fedor, Couture, Velasquez, and Nog? A little less so. I don’t know why. Maybe we’re harder on the heavyweights. Or maybe it’s just harder for fighters to keep their promises about legacy. This weekend, Miocic failed to keep the promise of legacy against Francis Ngannou at UFC 260.
And he did so in brutal fashion. The first round looked similar to the first round of their first bout. Ngannou was able to keep it on the feet long enough to hurt Miocic. Which he did. Except this time, Ngannou defended Miocic’s (rather deep) takedown. The end result was this:
It’s un unflattering image, to say the brutal least. Ngannou looks like he’s chasing a blue plate special; but not the perfunctory kind from some random diner in suburbia — I’m talking Aun’t Meg’s special here. Meanwhile, Miocic looks like he was mauled by a bear, and is unsuccessfully trying to flag down a helicopter because his leg is trapped between two jagged rocks. Except the bear’s returning, and help is too late.
Unflattering though it may be, this feels very heavyweightish. How many great fighters lose — on an aesthetic level — with dignity? Go down the list: Fedor, Couture, Velasquez, Mir, Ngannou. Between losses via quick submissions, early knockouts, or just putrid performances, nobody at heavyweight has ever lost with grace. They bigger they are, the more embarrassingly they fall. That’s the nature of heavyweight.
I was pretty adamant about favoring Ngannou before the fight. Whether making the final pick, analyzing the fight itself, or making the argument that ‘improvement’ in a mechanical sense would be wholly unnecessary, the end result felt predetermined. And yet, that’s make makes Ngannou’s performance all the more impressive. The man he beat was, and still is, one of the greatest heavyweight fighters of the modern era.
It’s easy to undersell who Miocic is. All four of his losses were definitive. The Struve knockout was a prolonged, brutal exchange of uppercuts, and exhaustion. In his loss to JDS, he found himself on the wrong end of the crimson pendulum. Cormier and Ngannou caught him, as only heavyweight power will do.
I think that highlights something really important, and why Miocic stands out. It’s rare for us to catalog a fighter’s complete history of defeat. Even the best heavyweight fighters always seemed insulated from types of competition. How would Fedor do against a strong wrestler with submission skills? How would Werdum do against a striker with wrestling skills? How would Velasquez do against a grappler with striking skills? And so forth. We never needed to ask these questions of Miocic because he fought all shapes and sizes.
Squint your eyes, and pretend Miocic is 6’4, and 265lbs. What do you think of a man with the record for most heavyweight title fight wins, and a 75 percent knockout victory rate?
‘Most heavyweight title fight wins’ might seem like a stat with an asterisk, but I can’t imagine anything more important if we’re talking about legacy. I’m not trying to rile up the Fedor fans, but what says more about the caliber of a champion than the amount of times they’ve been able to beat those who have earned to right to establish their own legacy?
I try to avoid discussions about ‘legacy’ because I don’t like the discussion in a sport as new as MMA, and because, well, I’ve written a lot about it. But it’s hard to deny that Miocic was and is something special.
Miocic is passing the torch to a fighter with the exact same knockout victory rate. I wouldn’t be too quick to declare the ‘Ngannou era.’ After all, it’s fighters like Miocic who have won with consistency as champions: Fedor, Velasquez, Cormier, Couture. Not the Shane Carwins or Brock Lesnars. It’s the monster hunters who have traditionally been king. Ngannou may have smaller shoes to fill, but his footprint will need to be bigger if he wants to be discussed in the same breath as Miocic.