Everything comes quick for Francis Ngannou.
His fights end fast, with combined time in the octagon over his past four UFC bouts (all wins) totaling 2:42 — the longest lasted 1:11, while his only 2020 appearance only went 20 seconds.
His initial rise to challenge Stipe Miocic for the UFC heavyweight title on Jan. 20, 2018 came less than five years after he took up the sport. That fight itself materialized just days after a Dec. 2, 2017 knockout victory over Alistair Overeem via a gravedigging uppercut, leaving less than seven weeks to prepare for the biggest bout of his professional career.
Now, as Ngannou (15-3, 15 finishes) readies for a second crack at Miocic (20-3, 15 finishes) and UFC gold in Saturday’s UFC 260 pay-per-view headliner at UFC Apex in Las Vegas, it’s easy for him to point out what’s different about this one: time.
“For the last time, there wasn’t preparation at all, not a good preparation,” Ngannou told The Post over the phone last Friday. “Basically, when I look back and I see how we prepared for that fight, the time that we had wasn’t enough. And how I managed that time, it wasn’t a way to manage preparation for that caliber of competition.”
Such a fast turnaround (49 days) is rare for a UFC heavyweight title fight. There was only other fighter over the past 20 years to vie for gold in the heaviest weight class within two months of his last fight. Mark Hunt lost by TKO to Fabricio Werdum in a 2014 interim title bout just 56 days after his most recent fight.
Lesson learned, says Ngannou, who said he and his Xtreme Couture coaches, including head coach Eric Nicksick, carried out a 10-week training camp in preparation for Miocic.
It’s cliche for fighters to say “I’m better everywhere” before a fight, but it’s more believable from a fighter who, at the time of the Miocic fight, had only been training MMA for about 4 1/2 years. Now more experienced and hardened by humbling losses to Miocic (a near sweep of the scorecards) and Derrick Lewis (in one of the most disappointing matchups of UFC heavy hitters in recent memory) six months later, the 34-year-old Ngannou figures to be better equipped to challenge Miocic this time.
But who would even know where Ngannou has gotten better in any other way than his petrifying power punching over the past three years? Not anyone outside of his team; not when he can’t help but steamroll some of the best heavyweights in the world — former champions Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos, as well as ranked contenders Curtis Blaydes and Jairzinho Rozenstriuk, are his most recent victims.
“I try to tell myself not to rush in a fight,” Ngannou said, “but I can’t say no when the fight comes to me.”
By his own admission, the Cameroon native wouldn’t have minded the chance to implement into an actual fight some of the skills he’s been harnessing in training. To a point, that is.
“Sometimes, I wish so, but wishing that is like not being OK with a win,” Ngannou said. “… Yeah, maybe being there with [opponents] longer would give me more experience, but I can’t complain because I’m winning.”
For the fight against Miocic, Ngannou enlisted the help of UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman, whom he considers a brother. Usman, whose wrestling base and overall evolution as a mixed martial artist have him on the short list of top pound-for-pound fighters, will be in his friend’s corner for this fight.
An inability to stop enough takedowns — Miocic brought him down six times on 14 attempts, per UFC Stats — doomed Ngannou last time they met. The 170-pound champ Usman, who like Ngannou was born in Africa (Nigeria), has worked with the challenger to improve his wrestling technique in the leadup to this title fight.
“He came to the gym a couple times to help me,” said Ngannou, who weighed 261.5 pounds for his most recent fight against Rozenstruik. “I mean, he’s a little bit lighter [than me], but he’s got some techniques that he can just show and then watch my wrestling and point out some stuff about it.”