Stipe Miocic vs. Francis Ngannou heavyweight title fight official for UFC 220

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One of the most anticipated heavyweight title fights in UFC history is official for the UFC 220 main event.

The heavyweight title fight between champion Stipe Miocic and No. 1 contender Francis Ngannou was confirmed today by UFC officials for the Jan. 20 event, which takes place at TD Garden in Boston and airs on pay-per-view following prelims on FS1 and UFC Fight Pass.

Following Ngannou’s (11-1 MMA, 6-0 UFC) devastating knockout win over Alistair Overeem at UFC 218, UFC President Dana White said “The Predator” is next up for Miocic (17-2 MMA, 11-2 UFC). Now it’s happening less than two months later.

Since winning the belt with a victory over Fabricio Werdum in May 2016, has defended it against Overeem and Junior Dos Santos. All three victories have come by way of stoppage – two as knockouts and the Dos Santos win via TKO. Miocic’s last five fights in total have resulted in stoppage wins. A third title defense would give him the UFC heavyweight record.

As for Ngannou, who started fighting professionally just four years ago, all six of his UFC wins have been stoppages – three TKOs, two knockouts and a submission.

Miocic vs. Ngannou is UFC 220’s second title fight. Daniel Cormier will defend that the light heavyweight title vs. Volkan Oezdemir on the card.

It marks just the fourth time in UFC history that the heavyweight and light heavyweight titles would be at stake on the same card. The last time it happened was on Dec. 27, 2008, at UFC 92, where 205-pound champion Forrest Griffin lost the title to Rashad Evans via TKO, while interim heavyweight champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira was stopped for the first time in his career by Frank Mir.

The only time both undisputed titles were on the line on the same night was at UFC 44 in Sept. 2003.

With the addition, the latest UFC 220 lineup includes:

  • Champ Stipe Miocic vs. Francis Ngannouo – for heavyweight title
  • Champ Daniel Cormier vs. Volkan  Oezdemir – for light heavyweight title
  • Islam Makhachev vs. Gleison Tibau
  • Dustin Ortiz vs. Alexandre Pantoja
  • Thomas Almeida vs. Rob Font
  • Shane Burgos vs. Calvin Kattar
  • Kyle Bochniak vs. Brandon Davis

For more on UFC 220, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

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The Speed Bag: With Francis Ngannou, our excitement has made us dumb

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When it comes to Francis Ngannou, we, as MMA fans, are doing something we’ve done before: We’re getting ahead of ourselves, and we’re not going to learn from the past.

Then again, when it comes to someone like Ngannou – a UFC heavyweight contender who’s now one win away from the title, all while sporting one of MMA’s most remarkable background stories – the excitement is a little understandable.

But it’s also made us dumb.

As reported this week, Ngannou (11-1 MMA, 6-0 UFC), who’s No. 2 in the USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA heavyweight rankings and fresh off a vicious knockout of Alistair Overeem, takes on reigning champ and No. 1-ranked Stipe Miocic (17-2 MMA, 11-2 UFC) at UFC 220, which airs on pay-per-view on Jan. 20 at TD Garden in Boston.

It’s arguably the greatest heavyweight title fight in years – yet we’re already talking about what’s next, including the possibility of Ngannou vs. Brock Lesnar and even Ngannou vs. boxer Anthony Joshua. Also, the early money is pouring in on Ngannou to beat the otherwise-dominant Miocic, and fans are talking about an inevitable longtime title reign for Ngannou.

Is too much too soon? As we discuss this week in The Speed Bag, sure, we may be getting ahead of ourselves. But it’s understandable. Let’s just not lose sight of the first fight that’s ahead for one of the heavyweight division’s most exciting contenders.

Check out the video above.

And for more on UFC 220, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

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Twitter Mailbag: On GSP's potential middleweight exit, Ngannou's terrifying possibilities

What would “”GSP”’s” immediate exit from middleweight tell us about Michael Bisping’s title reign? Is Francis Ngannou going to scare off all the would-be heavyweights? And what is the UFC going to do about its Conor McGregor problem?

All that and more in this week’s Twitter Mailbag. To ask a question of your own, tweet to @BenFowlkesMMA.

Why, because it would prove that Michael Bisping lost the UFC middleweight title to a welterweight? Seems to me we already knew that. From the very beginning, this was a savvy calculation by Georges St-Pierre. He went years without even seriously discussing a comeback, then changed his tune the instant Bisping became middleweight champ.

It was smart. Whatever else you think of it, you have to give him that. “GSP” wanted to come back for a big money fight, but he also wanted an opponent who wouldn’t take his head off. Bisping allowed him to etch his name into MMA history as a two-division champ while also padding his bank account.

Why stick around at middleweight now? Because UFC President Dana White will be “pissed” if he doesn’t? I’m not sure a friendship with the same man who threw him under the bus upon his departure from the UFC is reason enough to risk a fight you don’t really want to take, especially if you’ve already got “GSP” money.

As for Bisping, it’s true that his title reign wasn’t exactly the picture of dominance. He had one successful defense against an aging non-contender, and even then he narrowly clung to consciousness long enough to win.

But the fact that Bisping won a UFC title at all, and so late in his career, is impressive all on its own. So many people (myself included) wrote that possibility off as an impossible dream that only he still believed in. Then he made that dream come true, and leveraged it for a huge payday. Knowing how the fight game is played, you have to respect that – even if you don’t like it.

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Easy there. You might be doing the thing where you remember best the thing that happened last. Personally, I think you only have to go back to UFC 217 to find a bigger, better event, especially when you start comparing prelims.

What UFC 218 reminded us is that when you book exciting fights, you get exciting outcomes. Look at all the best fights from that card. They were exactly the ones you would have predicted to deliver exactly the type of action that they did. No real surprises there, which is unlike all the title turnover that made UFC 217 so memorable.

The UFC is in a sticky situation with Conor McGregor. He can’t be controlled, can’t be manipulated. At this point he has so much money that he can’t even be enticed or motivated. That leaves the UFC sitting around waiting for him to decide what, if anything, he wants to do next.

But how long do you wait, especially as he seems to be creating more obstacles to a return with his choices outside the cage? According to Dana White, McGregor may never fight again (of course, White also wants us to believe that he was booked to fight on Dec. 30, before all the Bellator madness). So how do you let him keep walking around with a title he hasn’t defended in more than a year if you think he might be done?

Still, the guy’s a walking payday for the UFC. Taking away his title would only alienate him, and anyway it’s not like it would makeTony Ferguson’s title seem that much more “real” just because you removed the interim tag. (The same Tony Ferguson just had elbow surgery, to boot.)

It’s a tough situation, and right now it seems like the UFC doesn’t know what to do. That might explain why, at least so far, what it’s doing about it is nothing at all.

Jon Jones has other stuff to worry about at the moment, but I would definitely rethink my options if I wereAnthony Johnson.

But just generally, can we resist the urge to get too far ahead of ourselves withFrancis Ngannou? He has yet to fight for, much less win the UFC heavyweight title, and already he seems to be getting the Ronda Rousey-esque “once in forever” type of treatment.

I get it. We’re hyped about the guy, and with good reason. But let’s not forget how hard it’s been to keep star heavyweights healthy and consistent in the UFC. There’s a reason that title has never been defended more than twice in a row.

What a terrifyingly plausible look into the future. Watching McGregor live out the most cliched possible version of the Sudden Fame Lifecycle, I can’t help but wonder how it is that so few people in that situation seem capable of learning from the mistakes of others.

Is that indicative of the kind of person who achieves that type of fame in the first place? Is it created by the environment that comes with all that? Is it one of those things where, it’s easy to see it happening from the outside, but when you’re stuck in the whirlpool you can’t quite appreciate it?

I don’t know. But if McGregor ends up as an MMA Mike Tyson, blowing through all of his money as he self-destructs in full public view, it’s going to be seriously depressing. Though I admit I am curious as to what his eventual face tattoo will look like.

I remember being at a post-fight press conference a few years ago when Dana White, only half-jokingly, mentioned the possibility of Frankie Edgar some day ending up as a bantamweight. The look on Edgar’s face right then could best be described as nervous dread.

Back then, Edgar was a small lightweight (and former champ in the division). Now he’s a small featherweight who lost his most recent crack at the title due to a training injury, and so here we are talking about him shedding 10 more pounds at age 36 like it’s as simple as switching parking spots.

Could he drop to bantamweight? Maybe. Is that really something anyone should pressure him to do when he’s 7-2 as a featherweight, with his only losses coming against one of the best in the history of the division? Nope.

Plus, at featherweight Edgar represents something thatMax Holloway needs right about now – a fresh challenge. The UFC featherweight champ beat so many different people on his way to the belt that title defenses could easily turn into reruns. If the division loses Edgar, that only becomes more likely.

Ben Fowlkes is MMAjunkie and USA TODAY’s MMA columnist. Follow him on Twitter at @BenFowlkesMMA. Twitter Mailbag appears every Thursday on MMAjunkie.

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Source: MMA Junkie

Stipe Miocic-Francis Ngannou heavyweight title fight targeted for UFC 220

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UFC 220 is on the verge of getting even bigger – literally.

The expected heavyweight title fight between champion Stipe Miocic and No. 1 contender Francis Ngannou is being targeted for the event, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the UFC had yet to make its plans public.

UFC 220 takes place Jan. 20 at TD Garden in Boston and airs on pay-per-view following prelims on FS1 and UFC Fight Pass.

Following Ngannous’s devastating knockout win over Alistair Overeem at UFC 218, UFC President Dana White said “The Predator” is next up for Miocic.

Since winning the belt with a victory over Fabricio Werdum in May 2016, Miocic (17-2 MMA, 11-2 UFC) has defended the belt against Overeem and Junior Dos Santos. All three victories have come by way of stoppage – two as knockouts and the Dos Santos win via TKO. Miocic’s last five fights in total have resulted in stoppage wins.

As for Ngannou (11-1 MMA, 6-0 UFC), who started fighting professionally just four years ago, all six of his UFC wins have been stoppages – three TKOs, two knockouts and a submission.

If booked, Miocic-Ngannou would be added as the second UFC 220 title fight. Last week it was announced that Daniel Cormier will defend the light heavyweight title vs. Volkan Oezdemir on the card.

This would mark just the fourth time in UFC history that the heavyweight and light heavyweight titles would be at stake on the same card. The last time it happened was on Dec. 27, 2008, at UFC 92, where 205-pound champion Forrest Griffin lost the title to Rashad Evans via TKO, while interim heavyweight champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira was stopped for the first time in his career by Frank Mir.

The only time both undisputed titles were on the line on the same night was at UFC 44 in Sept. 2003.

It’s unclear which of the two title fights would serve as the UFC 220 main event.

With the addition, the latest UFC 220 lineup includes:

  • Champ Stipe Miocic vs. Francis Ngannouo – for heavyweight title
  • Champ Daniel Cormier vs. Volkan  Oezdemir – for light heavyweight title
  • Islam Makhachev vs. Gleison Tibau
  • Dustin Ortiz vs. Alexandre Pantoja
  • Thomas Almeida vs. Rob Font
  • Shane Burgos vs. Calvin Kattar
  • Kyle Bochniak vs. Brandon Davis

For more on UFC 220, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

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Joe Rogan: Francis Ngannou can recreate 'Mike Tyson days' as UFC's next big star

There’s a constant discussion of late about which fighters will represent the UFC’s next crop of notable, crossover stars. Longtime commentator Joe Rogan views heavyweight contender Francis Ngannou as someone with that potential.

Ngannou (11-1 MMA, 6-0 UFC) picked up one of the most memorable knockouts of the year at UFC 218 this past weekend when he put former Strikeforce champ Alistair Overeem (46-15 MMA, 8-5 UFC) to sleep with a brutal one-punch finish. The performance kept “The Predator” unbeaten in the UFC and set him up for a title shot against champ Stipe Miocic (17-2 MMA, 11-2 UFC).

Fighters come and go in the sport, but Ngannou’s skill, attitude and harrowing backstory as an African immigrant make him a more compelling package than most. Whether that translates to mainstream attention with continued success remains to be seen, but Rogan said on today’s edition of his “JRE MMA Show” podcast that he views Ngannou as having all the potential.

“Now they’ve got a star,” Rogan said. “I think Ngannou, one or two more fights, you’re going to be looking at Mike Tyson days. That’s what I think. You’re going to watch fights just to see how long these mother(expletives) can survive against this guy. That’s what I think. That could be their big, breakout star.”

Currently the UFC is in a phase of uncertainty when it comes to its biggest names. Ronda Rousey is all but retired, Jon Jones can’t stay out of trouble and Georges St-Pierre is dealing with health complications. The promotions marquee draw, Conor McGregor, might never fight again, according to UFC President Dana White.

Add all that together, and Ngannou has a real opportunity on his hands.

“Conor, who knows if he’s ever going to fight again,” Rogan said. “We really don’t know. We haven’t heard Conor saying, ‘This is my plan. This is who I’m thinking of fighting. This is who I want to fight.’ He’s been talking (expletive) to Max Holloway, he’s been talking (expletive) to Tony Ferguson, but he’s not set it up.”

For complete coverage of UFC 218, check out the UFC Events section of the site.

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USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA rankings, Dec. 5: Ngannou now among pound-for-pound best

UFC heavyweight title contender Francis Ngannou officially has arrived.

Ngannou, whose professional MMA career began just four years ago, delivered a “Knockout of the Year” candidate in his win over Alistair Overeem this past weekend at UFC 218. As a result, Ngannou has vaulted up seven spots in this week’s USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA heavyweight rankings to No. 2, behind only UFC champion Stipe Miocic, who will next defend his title vs. Ngannou.

That development in the heavyweight rankings, impressive as it is, shouldn’t come as a surprise in the wake of Ngannou’s dominant performance. What might, though, is the fact that Ngannou has skipped honorable mention altogether in the pound-for-pound rankings and finds himself at No. 11 – ahead of interim middleweight champion Robert Whittaker (15), welterweight contender Stephen Thompson (14), and ex-bantamweight champions Dominick Cruz (13) and Cody Garbrandt (12), respectively.

Check out all of the rankings above.

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Source: MMA Junkie

Coach: UFC heavyweight contender Francis Ngannou could fight Anthony Joshua or Deontay Wilder

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When former champ Alistair Overeem went crashing to the canvas at UFC 218, it wasn’t a surprise for Francis Ngannou’s coach.

“Francis trained very hard for months, since the (Junior) Dos Santos fight got canceled,” Dewey Cooper on Monday told MMAjunkie Radio. “He stayed in the gym working hard, had great sparring, and we all expected the outcome that the world saw.”

In taking out Overeem (43-16 MMA, 8-5 UFC), Ngannou (11-1 MMA, 6-0 UFC), the No. 9 fighter in the USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA heavyweight rankings, notched his sixth straight win and cemented his status as one of MMA’s hardest punchers. He also secured a title shot against No. 1 ranked champ Stipe Miocic (17-2 MMA, 11-2 UFC), which could take place early next year.

Both fighters have stopped their past four opponents in the first round. UFC President Dana White indicated scheduling will take place when negotiations are finalized on a new contract for Miocic.

Responding today to a Miocic dig on Twitter, Ngannou wrote, “Enjoy the belt while you can and say your farewell before your next fight. #AndNew.”

Cooper, a former kickboxer and MMA fighter, will be in Ngannou’s corner when the title challenge takes place. But as fast as the heavyweight is ascending, the coach doesn’t want to rush things.

After all, it’s been only six months since Ngannou moved to Las Vegas to further his career. Only three years ago, he stepped on MMA gloves for the first time.

“If it were up to me, I’d like to take a little time just to recalibrate, keep working out, get different sparring, work more just to improve on the perfections,” Cooper said. “But it’s totally up to Francis. He didn’t get any injuries. He said he’s willing to fight any time.

“Whenever we get the date, he’ll be ready. I like to let things simmer down, refresh yourself, and go again.”

The brutality Ngannou displays inside the octagon is countered by intense study outside it, which makes him a more well-rounded threat than outsiders may realize.

“This isn’t some jock-type guy,” Cooper said. “He’s really smart, he really studies, he really studies, and he really believes what he’s going to accomplish. Everything is coming to fruition right now.”

There’s no limit to Ngannou’s potential in other sports, as well. Cooper said if the 31-year-old Cameroon native wanted to compete in boxing, he would quickly move into the ranks of contenders.

“He has punching power,” Cooper said. “Anyone that has that equalizer will fare well. If he spends more time and takes it seriously, trains hard, he could be a champ in boxing also.

“Everyone was so enthralled about the Conor McGregor/Floyd Mayweather fight. I’d like to see Francis about one year from now fight whoever the heavyweight champion is, whether it be Deontay Wilder or Anthony Joshua. Thta would be a real fight, where an MMA fighter could go in there and upset a current boxing champion.”

But first, Team Ngannou will focus on taking the UFC heavyweight title.

For more on UFC 218, check out the UFC Events section of the site.

MMAjunkie Radio broadcasts Monday-Friday at 1 p.m. ET (10 a.m. PT) live from Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino’s Race & Sports Book. The show is hosted by “Gorgeous” George Garcia, Brian “Goze” Garcia and Dan Tom. For more information or to download past episodes, go to www.mmajunkie.com/radio.

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UFC champ Stipe Miocic – the underdog? He is against Francis Ngannou

Dann StuppFor the first time since his title-winning victory, UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic is the underdog.

On Monday Miocic (17-2 MMA, 11-2 UFC), who’s No. 1 in the USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie MMA heavyweight rankings, opened as the underdog to fast-rising contender Francis Ngannou (11-1 MMA, 6-0 UFC), who secured a title shot with a first-round knockout of Alistair Overeem (43-16 MMA, 8-5 UFC) in this past weekend’s UFC 218 pay-per-view co-headliner.

ESPN.com’s Brett Okamoto broke news of the opening line (via Twitter):

The opening line had Miocic +130, and Ngannou was -160.

At those odds, a winning $100 bet on Miocic would result in a net profit of $130 (implied win probability of 43.5 percent). A winning $100 bet on Ngannou, meanwhile, would net a profit of $63 (61.4 percent win probability).

As of this morning, the line had largely held steady, and 5Dimes has Miocic +120, and SportBet has him +124, according to BestFightOdds.com.

Miocic closed as a +138 underdog to Werdum, whom he beat for the title in May 2016. He closed as the favorite in his recent title defenses over Alistair Overeem (Miocic was -146) and Junior Dos Santos (-185).

Ngannou, meanwhile, has closed as the favorite in every one of his UFC fights except his second UFC bout, when he was a small (+120) underdog to Curtis Blaydes.

Ngannou, who entered UFC 218 as the No. 9-ranked heavyweight (rankings will be updated later today), didn’t waste much time issuing some friendly trash-talk to the champ (via Twitter):

After UFC 218, UFC President Dana White said Ngannou is next up for Miocic, who’s 5-0 with five knockouts since 2015. A date hasn’t been set for one of the heavyweight division’s more intriguing title fights of late.

For more on UFC 218, check out the UFC Events section of the site.

The Blue Corner is MMAjunkie‘s official blog and is edited by Mike Bohn.

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What we talk about when we talk about building 'stars' in the MMA business

Francis Ngannou showed up to the UFC 218 post-fight press conference looking resplendent in a black-and-gold dashiki, flashing a thousand-watt smile as he nonchalantly discussed that time he nearly knocked Alistair Overeem’s head clean off his massive shoulders.

It was one of the most brutal knockouts this side of Sean Salmon, and it came against a perennial heavyweight contender who’s been in the UFC for longer than Ngannou has even known what MMA is. Was he impressed with himself for this act of sudden devastation against such a prominent opponent? Not particularly.

“That is the past we are talking about,” Ngannou said. “Now I am the present.”

If you were writing a superhero movie and wanted to shoehorn in an MMA fighter character, you couldn’t do much better than this. The boy from the sand mines of Cameroon who became the fearsome fighting prospect while homeless on the streets of Paris. A martial arts savant equipped with an almost supernatural punching power, tossing off quiet one-liners with an oddly terrifying tranquility.

If he wasn’t already a real person, “The Predator” would have a Netflix series or a role in an Avengers movie by Summer 2018.

Instead, you can find him most days just walking around the UFC Performance Institute in Las Vegas, where he must seem to company executives like a walking answer to their prayers.

That question UFC President Dana White always says he’s so sick of hearing, the one about how the UFC will replace the aging or departing superstars who drive pay-per-view buys? Now he can just point to Ngannou, a 31-year-old heavyweight whom the UFC signed two years ago on a contract that paid him just $12,000 to show for his first fight with the promotion. Talk about your “penny stock” fighters who pay off big.

But is Ngannou a “star,” in the MMA sense of the word? How about Max Holloway, who swaggered in with another sci-fi necktie to beat up Jose Aldo for a second time in the main event of UFC 218? How about UFC women’s featherweight champ Cris Cyborg, who, along with Holly Holm, will headline the UFC’s year-end pay-per-view event on Dec. 30?

Are any of them stars? What does the word even mean to us?

Historically, the UFC’s own internal flowchart on the question “Is this fighter a star?” typically points straight to the follow-up: “Depends – are they asking for more money?”

See, when the UFC is making the case for our money, usually in the form of pay-per-view buys, star fighters are everywhere, lighting up the night sky with their cosmic brilliance. It’s when those same fighters make a case for more of the UFC’s money that the galaxy suddenly grows dark.

All you need to do is look at the one remaining consensus superstar – Conor McGregor – to know that money is inextricably tied up with the question of what it means to be an MMA star.

McGregor’s fame isn’t just built on winning fights. Lots of people win fights. There are UFC fighters who have won more and lost less than he has, but you don’t see them making international headlines when they speed off from a court date in a six-figure sports car.

McGregor is a star in large part because he lives like one. He’s larger than life, and he never misses a chance to prove it with his bank account. No matter how much natural charisma the man may have (and he has a ton), he’d never be such an enduring public fascination if he were making $80,000 a fight.

I was talking to Charles McCarthy recently, a former UFC middleweight turned MMA manager (now retired from both businesses), who made a similar point about the UFC’s struggle to generate new stars on a budget.

“How are you going to get us to believe these guys are stars if they still have to work a day job?” he said.

It’s a solid point, and something to think about when you hear a broadcast full of fighters begging for a little bit of bonus money.

And yet, that money has the desired effect, does it not? It convinces hungry young athletes to disregard imminent health risks for the sake of our entertainment. It also brings with it some instant attention. After every UFC event, bonus payouts are a guaranteed story. The less star-studded the fight card, the more importance the bonuses seem to take on.

For instance, look at new UFC women’s strawweight champion Nicco Montano’s win at the TUF 26 Finale on Friday. Her story coming into the bout was her spartan existence in a crappy little basement apartment as she struggled to make it as an MMA fighter. Then she banked $100,000 for the title fight, plus a $50,000 performance bonus and another $30,000 in “outfitting” pay.

“We were dirt poor just before tonight in all reality,” Montano said after the bout. And now? “I’m going to go move to an apartment with some water pressure, and buy some good food and treats for my cats,” she said.

We love these stories in MMA. We revel in them, whether it’s Junior Albini, the heavyweight who could only afford empty shampoo bottles for his daughter’s toys before his first UFC payday and bonus, or Pat Barry living on rice and ketchup and then suddenly trying to convince the bank that he really did have tens of thousands of dollars to deposit out of nowhere.

It’s prizefighting, after all. It’s fitting that the “prize” comes first there.

Which brings us back to Ngannou. His knockout of Overeem was so memorable that White promised him a bonus (of an undisclosed sum), which was welcome news to the new top heavyweight contender.

“I do need that money,” Ngannou said.

And sure, of course he does. He’s in the middle of doing the rags-to-riches story. Started from the bottom and now he’s here. But where is here, exactly, especially when the man he’s tentatively slated to fight next – UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic – has been sitting out while griping about pay?

It’s hard to convince us that we’re looking at superstars if they’re mostly paid like middle management. It’s not much easier even if you are paying them well but then keeping it a secret.

The way you know the stars in this business? They’re outwardly, visibly rich. They have power. They can call some of their own shots and stand their ground. They are people whose wealth has become inseparable from their public persona.

They are also, perhaps not coincidentally, exceedingly rare in the brutal business of MMA.

For more on the UFC’s upcoming schedule, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

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Sean Shelby's Shoes: What's next for Max Holloway and UFC 218's other winning fighters?

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(ALSO SEE: Sean Shelby’s Shoes: What’s next for UFC 218’s losing fighters?)

The UFC featherweight title was defended for the first time in more than three years on Saturday when Max Holloway successfully retained his title against Jose Aldo in UFC 218’s pay-per-view headliner.

Holloway (19-3 MMA, 15-3 UFC) closed out the five-fight main card at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit with a third-round TKO of Aldo to extend his winning streak to 12.

Prior to the main event, Francis Ngannou (11-1 MMA, 6-0 UFC), Henry Cejudo (12-2 MMA, 6-2 UFC) and Tecia Torres (10-1 MMA, 6-1 UFC) made cases for title shots in their respective divisions, while former UFC champ Eddie Alvarez (29-5 MMA, 4-2 UFC) bounced back from a two-fight skid.

After every event, fans wonder whom the winners will be matched up with next. And with another night of UFC action in the rearview mirror, it’s time to look forward, put on a pair of Sean Shelby and Mick Maynard’s shoes, and play UFC matchmaker for UFC 218’s winning fighters.

* * * *

Tecia Torres

Cynthia Calvillo

Should fight: Winner of Cynthia Calvillo vs. Carla Esparza at UFC 219
Why they should fight: Torres continued to shine in the UFC strawweight division when she beat former Invicta FC champion Michelle Waterson for her third consecutive victory in the weight class.

A month ago it seemed guaranteed a Torres unanimous-decision victory would be enough to get the next title shot. Then Rose Namajunas stunned Joanna Jedrzejczyk to win the 115-pound title at UFC 217, and the entire division was turned on its head.

Instead of fighting for the belt next, Torres, whose only pro loss came to Namajunas, will likely have to wait for a rematch to play out. That could take quite some time, which would mean another fight is necessary in order for “Tiny Tornado” to keep her momentum.

A title-eliminator matchup with the winner of Calvillo (6-0 MMA, 3-0 UFC) and ex-champ Esparza (12-4 MMA, 3-2 UFC), who fight at UFC 219 on Dec. 30 in Las Vegas, would be an appropriate fight for the top contenders.

Eddie Alvarez

Dustin Poirier

Should fight: Dustin Poirier
Why they should fight: After a forgettable two-fight stint in which he lost the UFC lightweight title and then fought to a no-contest, Alvarez finally got a clean win on his record when he spoiled the undefeated run of former WSOF champ Justin Gaethje.

Alvarez, a former UFC and Bellator champ, was eager to fight one of the most hyped fighters in the sport in Gaethje. No one had been able to figure out “The Highlight” prior, but Alvarez got the job done with a third-round TKO and is back on stable ground in the 155-pound division.

Considering he lost UFC gold to Conor McGregor – who still hasn’t fought since – Alvarez is aware he’s in no position to be fighting for the title in the near future. That leaves him looking to take exciting matchups similar to one he got with Gaethje, and there’s some bad blood out to be resolved with Poirier (22-5 MMA, 14-4 UFC).

Alvarez and Poirier had an exciting fight at UFC 211 in May that ended in a no-contest after Alvarez landed an illegal knee. He claims it was accidental, but Poirier insists it was because he wanted out of a fight that was on the verge of being lost. “The Diamond” has been clamoring for a rematch since, and he stumped for it again after a win over Anthony Pettis at UFC Fight Night 120 this past month. Now is the time to run it back.

Henry Cejudo

Demetrious Johnson

Should fight: Demetrious Johnson (or T.J. Dillashaw?)
Why they should fight: The rapid development of Cejudo’s skillset was a big talking point prior to UFC 218, but against Sergio Pettis, the Olympic gold medalist went back to his wrestling roots to earn a unanimous-decision victory.

Despite already failing in a title bid against UFC flyweight champ Johnson (27-2-1 MMA, 15-1-1 UFC), Cejudo seems like he is the most equipped member of his weight class to dethrone “Mighty Mouse.” He provided another example of why when he snapped Pettis’ winning streak.

The initial meeting between Cejudo and Johnson didn’t take place that long ago, but Cejudo’s improvements since then have created a compelling argument for a rematch. The holdup, however, is the champ. Johnson will apparently look to defend his belt against bantamweight champ Dillashaw (15-3 MMA, 11-3 UFC) in a super fight next, and if that happens, it leaves Cejudo left waiting.

Cejudo would either have to be sidelined or take another fight if the Johnson vs. Dillashaw matchup moves forward, but assuming it doesn’t (or Cejudo waits until after), there’s no more deserving contender.

Francis Ngannou

Stipe Miocic

Should fight: Stipe Miocic
Why they should fight: There weren’t many objections to the idea of Ngannou getting a heavyweight title shot before UFC 218. Now that he holds a win over Alistair Overeem, it’s a guarantee.

Ngannou continued his unbeaten run inside the octagon with his biggest win to date. He beat the former Strikeforce and DREAM champion by vicious first-round knockout, strengthening his argument even more as the man who should next challenger current heavyweight kingpin Miocic (17-2 MMA, 11-2 UFC).

Although Ngannou’s dominant style still leaves many questions about potential flaws in his game, no one has been able to expose them so far. He’s earned his keep, but if anyone is capable of figuring him out, it’s champion Miocic.

Max Holloway

Should fight: Frankie Edgar
Why they should fight: Watch the video above to see why Holloway should fight Edgar (22-5-1 MMA, 16-5-1 UFC) next for his second title defense.

For complete coverage of UFC 218, check out the UFC Events section of the site.

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