The Remix, Vol. 14: Ngannou intrigue, UFC on ESPN and Bellator’s next big fight

first_imgEvery week, we’ll release a new MMA mix tape entitled “The Remix” that looks back at not only the biggest stories of the last seven days, but some of the ones that aren’t getting enough attention too, with some weekly awards and a prospect to watch going forward added in for good measure.Resurgent Ngannou the most intriguing figure in the heavyweight divisionFrancis Ngannou has the kind of speed and power that make the opening moments of all of his fights tense, anxious experiences. I know there are people who moan about watching guys dominate with takedowns and top control, but I still ascribe to the “If you don’t want to spend five minutes with your back on the mat, learn to stop a takedown or get up” philosophy and think high-level wrestlers remain the most ready-to-win prospects in the sport and right now, Storley is one of the best in that group.The biggest reason he gets the mention here, however, is because this feels like it was his last “should win” fight because Storley is now 5-0 in Bellator and passed his “veteran regional talent” exam, which means matchups with more experienced, savvy opponents are on the horizon and the top of the Bellator welterweight division is mighty dangerous.It will be really interesting to see how the promotion opts to book Storley going forward and how the University of Minnesota product responds to his forthcoming step up in competition. You sit there knowing he’s going to start launching heat-seeking missiles at his oncoming opponent and you wonder if they’re going to land, knowing that if they find a home, everyone is going home early. And if they don’t, it’s a chance to see if the contender from Cameroon has indeed worked to shore up the weaknesses that landed him on the wrong side of a unanimous decision loss in his first bid for UFC gold early last year.Join DAZN and watch more than 100 fight nights a yearNgannou knocked out Cain Velasquez in 26 seconds on Sunday night, catching him with a short, sharp right hand in tight before the former champion’s knees turned to Jell-O and he dropped to the floor. In his last two appearances, the 32-year-old “Predator” has needed 71 seconds combined to dispatch Velasquez and Curtis Blaydes, using those victories to propel himself back into the thick of the title chase and return him to being the most intriguing fighter in the heavyweight division.The massive physical specimen got kicked to the curb by a lot of people after back-to-back embarrassing losses to start last year, following up his title fight defeat with a 15-minute staring contest against Derrick Lewis where Ngannou admitted he was still carrying the baggage from his previous loss with him into the cage. He promised to never let it happen again and thus far, he’s made good on that promise, reminding everyone why he enjoyed such a meteoric rise in the first place.Part of what made Ngannou such an intriguing emerging prospect when he first arrived in the UFC was that he was developing at a rapid rate and making major strides between each fight. His speed and power were always off the charts and awe-inspiring, but the way he picked up new tricks and added to his arsenal and understanding of the sport with each successive appearance stood out as well and made him seem like someone truly capable of steamrolling to the top of the division.That didn’t happen, but Ngannou has clearly learned from his mistakes and all those elements that made him such a compelling figure as he readied to challenge Miocic for the heavyweight title at UFC 220 remain in place today. On top of that, he’s experienced the surging highs and crippling lows of being overhyped and underperforming, only to come out the other side better for it.The questions about his wrestling defense and ability to get back to his feet will remain until he shows development there, but what if no one is able to get him down again? Ngannou’s power is such that he doesn’t need to land flush in order to scramble your sensors and knock you off kilter, and in those moments, he’s absolutely lethal.Daniel Cormier might run through Ngannou as he suggested on Sunday night after “The Predator” plowed through his friend and training partner, but he also might land on the wrong side of one of those rockets Ngannou throws that cause havoc and alter approaches. Miocic could replicate his effort from last January in a rematch, but those opening moments will be just as tense as they were the first time around because Ngannou has already been humbled and embarrassed and now he’s hell-bent on never letting it happening again.And that makes him the most intriguing fighter in the division, perhaps even the entire UFC. Look Ma — We Made It!Sunday’s debut on ESPN was a big deal, even if the event took place at the same time as the NBA All-Star Game and following a demolition derby at the Daytona 500.I’ve said all along that being a fixture on ESPN brings a different level of credibility to the sport than it enjoyed in the past when only the odd crazy highlight or massive star turned up on “The Worldwide Leader.” It will be interesting to see what kind of impact airing in prime time on a Sunday will have on how recognizable and in demand fighters like Andre Fili, Vicente Luque, Bryan Barberena and Kron Gracie are after delivering standout performances on the network to kick off this weekend’s main card.Do I think they’re going to become overnight superstars? Of course not — it takes much more than one fight to build that kind of momentum, but I do believe that far more people saw Fili work Myles Jury, Luque and Barberena author 2019’s clubhouse leader for Fight of the Year and Gracie make quick work of Alex Caceres in his UFC debut than would have on FS1 and that carries weight.So, too, does being talked about alongside the biggest sports stars of the day and having the next event promoted during a Wednesday NBA telecast that literally millions of people are watching.The television landscape isn’t what it once was and streaming is never going to deliver the same size of audience as the old “four channels and no other options” days, but being on ESPN is a massive positive for the UFC, its fighters and the sport in general, even if it’s cool to pretend like it.Chandler-Pitbull Set for Bellator 221Somewhat lost in the shuffle of Bellator’s big weekend and the UFC’s main card broadcast debut on ESPN was the fact that Bellator MMA announced that a “Champion vs. Champion” clash between Michael Chandler and Patricio “Pitbull” Freire will headline Bellator 221 on May 11 at Allstate Arena in suburban Chicago.The featherweight champion Freire will move up to challenge Chandler for his lightweight title in a battle between the two most-decorated and accomplished fighters in the organization’s history and the culmination of more than three years of back-and-forth jawing between the two titleholders, which really kicked up a notch after Chandler knocked out Patricky Freire in June 2016.While last year’s similar fight between middleweight kingpin Gegard Mousasi and welterweight champ Rory MacDonald was the biggest fight the company could make in terms of name-brand talent at the peak of their powers, this might be the more complete and compelling fight.Chandler has been a permanent fixture at or near the top of the lightweight division for over seven years, while Freire has done the same at featherweight. They are one-two in terms of all-time wins under the Bellator banner and the two greatest examples of relatively unknown talents who were unearthed by the company and given the opportunity to blossom into elite competitors and promotional cornerstones.It’s an outstanding fight from a skills perspective, plus, unlike Mousasi and MacDonald who kept it classy and had nothing but good things to say about one another, they legitimately dislike each other and we should get several months of quality quips before they step into the cage and try to take each others’ heads off.Fight of the Weekend: Vicente Luque vs. Bryan Barberena at UFC PhoenixNot only was this clearly the best fight of the weekend, it set the bar for the Fight of the Year race pretty high.This was one of those fights where everyone immediately tweeted “And we’ve still got one more round to go!” after the horn sounded to end the second because the opening 10 minutes were so chaotic, so entertaining, so vicious that it felt like they’d been standing in the cage beating the bejesus out of one another for an eternity… but there were still another five minutes left.Luque showed his incredible toughness and tenacity by weathering the storm and still getting the late finish, while “Bam Bam” reinforced that he’s as gritty and durable as they come and one of those fighters who you’re going to want to watch every time out, regardless of his record. WHAT A FIGHT!WHAT AN ENDING!Welcome to @ESPN, folks! @VicenteLuqueMMA #UFCPhoenix— UFC (@ufc) February 18, 2019 It’s going to take a lot to knock this one out of top position in the Fight of the Year race, but I’m here to watching people try.Submission of the Weekend: Kron Gracie submits Alex Caceres at UFC PhoenixThere were a bunch of impressive submissions this weekend and I wish I could talk about all of them, but as much as I love the efforts turned in by John Douma, Austin Vanderford, Steve Mowry, Emily Whitmire, Manny Bermudez and all the regional fighters doing slick work on the canvas, Gracie had the most outstanding submission finish of the week and it wasn’t even close.Making his first trip into the Octagon and competing in MMA for just the fifth time, Gracie needed just over two minutes to choke out Alex Caceres, a 20-fight UFC veteran with long limbs, an awkward style and plenty of experience on the mat.Everything about the finish was awesome — from the way he got hold of Caceres and kicked out his legs to how clinically and swiftly he secured the choke and squeezed out the tap. This was Brazilian jiu jitsu artistry from the 30-year-old UFC newcomer. THE LEGACY LIVES ON! #UFCPhoenix— UFC (@ufc) February 18, 2019 It felt very reminiscent of when Demian Maia first hit the UFC and won his first five appearances by submission and while Gracie is still four shy of matching Maia’s mark, no one would be surprised if he replicated the effort going forward.Knockout of the Weekend: Francis Ngannou stops Cain Velasquez at UFC PhoenixIn the immediate aftermath of Sunday’s main event on ESPN, people pored over the slow-motion replay of the Ngannou-Velasquez fight like the Zapruder film, trying to see exactly how the bout ended.Did Ngannou land a big punch or did Velasquez’s knee give out, prompting referee Jason Herzog to come in and save him? [email protected]_Ngannou gets it done in Arizona! #UFCPhoenix— UFC (@ufc) February 18, 2019 It took some searching and multiple re-watches, but it was clear that Ngannou connected with a tight, right-hand uppercut as Velasquez was dropping down that took the former champion’s legs out from under him. It was a compact shot that underscores how scary-powerful the heavyweight is and why he’s such an intriguing figure in the division going forward.Prospect to Watch after this Weekend: Logan StorleyThe Bellator welterweight pushed his record to 10-0 with a lopsided, wrestling-heavy victory over Ion Pascu on Friday night at Bellator 215.last_img