Francis Ngannou’s fight against Ciryl Gane in the UFC 270 headliner didn’t go the way anyone seemed to expect. Two highly respected strikers – one with devastating power, the other with a large bag of technical tricks – went five whole rounds, in what ultimately proved to be mostly a grappling contest.
Later fans would learn that the ‘Predator’ had suffered a severe knee injury in training, one that had medical professionals advising that he pull out of the fight. But he didn’t, and walked away the victor nonetheless.
And while it may not have been the prettiest thing, Ngannou cornerman and current UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman had some glowing praise for the Xtreme Couture trained fighter.
“It’s always tough to watch a brother compete, because I can’t go in and actually physically help,” Usman told BT Sport backstage after the bout. “So, I’m excited for him. That belt comes back home to his home country of Cameroon; you know, Africa still has three belts.
“When you become the champion, of course you’re the champion—the number one guy. But, everybody in the world is gunning for you. So, to be able to defend that belt and hold them off, that truly depicts the mark of a champion.”
More than Ngannou just finding a way to win, Usman highlighted how he feels the wrestling and grappling skills put on display show the continued evolution of heavyweight MMA.
“Francis, that’s the thing about him, he’s one of those special athletes that—he takes everything as it comes. He was gonna be able to deal with whatever was coming at him. He didn’t engage in the clinch or the wrestling in the first round. That came from Gane, which I thought was an excellent gameplan. But, we’re just seeing the evolution of heavyweights. I mean, did you see that sweep in the fifth? I mean, damn! Even I don’t do that one. We’re seeing the evolution of the game. Francis is a scary man.”
While the bout has not been officially agreed upon or contracted, all signs point to a rematch against Leon Edwards as the next step for Kamaru Usman. Usman and Edwards first met way back in 2015, with the ‘Nigerian Nightmare’ picking up the unanimous decision victory.
“I think Leon has grown a lot as a fighter and so have I,” Usman said when asked about the bout. “If that fight does happen, the one thing that remains true is that I know his heart, he knows mine when we’re in there. That’s the only that matters is that when we’re in there, face-to-face, man-to-man, is that he knows my heart and I know his heart. I’m a champion, and the best man will definitely prevail.”