January 24, 2017

UFC on FOX 23: Arlovski Bout Could Be Francis Ngannou's Coming-Out Party

By Adam Martin

If you look at the top 10 contenders in the UFC's heavyweight division, it's filled with household names, but for the most part it's lacking fresh blood.

That's why Francis Ngannou is so important.

The Cameroonian-born Frenchman has taken the UFC by storm since debuting in the promotion just over a year ago, going 4-0 inside the Octagon with four straight finishes, including knockouts over Luis Henrique, Curtis Blaydes, and Bojan Mihajlovic, and, in his most recent outing, a submission win over Anthony Hamilton.

The 30-year-old has been nothing but impressive en route to upping his MMA record to 9-1, with his lone loss coming in his second pro bout just over three years ago. Otherwise, he's been perfect, and he's been devastating, finishing all nine of his wins, earning a spot in the UFC along the way, and now, securing a deserved place inside the UFC’s Top 10.

Ngannou is a freak athlete who is still raw in the game, but he has that special ability to absorb new MMA knowledge and techniques like a sponge, and he improves rapidly from fight to fight. Looking back at his earlier fights, it's almost unreal that this is the same fighter, but it is. He's a special talent, and with his four wins in the UFC, he's shown that.

He's a massive heavyweight, routinely weighing in near the 265-pound limit, and at 6'4 and blessed with an 83-inch reach he has physical tools that give him an advantage over most opponents he'll fight. The fact that he has explosive knockout power, improving wrestling, and a growing submission game makes Ngannou a scary man in the UFC heavyweight division; he has all the potential to make a run for the title in a division devoid of new talent.

For his next fight, the UFC has given Ngannou a well-deserved step up in competition, as he takes on former UFC Heavyweight Champion Andrei Arlovski this weekend at UFC on FOX 23. Arlovski may be on a three-fight losing streak, but he's still ranked in the top 10, and with his knockout power and experience, this is still a risky fight for Ngannou. But it's a fight that he can win, and if he can win, it would put him on the fast track towards a title shot.

Although hardcore MMA fans are well aware of Ngannou by now, casual fans aren't, and the way to build new stars is to put them in the position to succeed by giving them favorable matchups on the biggest platform possible, and that's FOX. The UFC is giving Ngannou a tremendous opportunity to pick up a highlight-reel KO victory over a legend in Arlovski on network TV, and it's an opportunity that could shoot Ngannou into stardom, should he capitalize on it by going out there and finishing Arlovski in devastating fashion.

Should Ngannou win, it would be his coming out party on a huge platform, and it could be enough to propel him into a fight against a top-five contender. With a win in that fight, it's very possible that by the end of 2017 or beginning of 2018 that Ngannou is fighting for the UFC Heavyweight Championship. And though he's still unproven against top-10 talent, right now it looks like he has all the skills and ability to be a future world champion.

But first it starts with a win over Arlovski this Saturday night at UFC on FOX 23. The UFC has given Francis Ngannou the keys to the ride, now all he has to go out there and show the world what he's made of. And based on what we've seen in his first four UFC fights, he has all the ability in the world to do it.

UFC on FOX 23: Shevchenko vs. Peña takes place January 28, 2017 at Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado.

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