Opinion | Move over Brock Lesnar, Francis Ngannou should be next in line to challenge Daniel Cormier

Francis Ngannou

26 seconds.

That’s the time it took for the human destroyer, Francis Ngannou, to put down arguably the greatest heavyweight fighter in MMA history at the UFC’s inaugural ESPN event.

Cain Velasquez entered the Talking Stick Resort Arena as the prohibitive favorite to make a mere mortal out of Ngannou the same way former heavyweight champ Stipe Miocic did over a year ago at UFC 220. Instead, Ngannou unseated the legend and created the most compelling heavyweight championship storyline in the process.

Velasquez’s teammate and reigning UFC champion Daniel Cormier stands on the other end of the next heavyweight blockbuster.

Move over, Brock Lesnar.

That isn’t to suggest a fight between Cormier and Ngannou would outsell Lesnar as a main event. The WWE Universal champion could sell out Madison Square Garden headlining against a janitor carrying around a mop in a gray jumpsuit. Outside of Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey, there has never been a UFC fighter that has resonated with a mainstream audience on the scale of Lesnar. That’s why Cormier was willing to sit on the sidelines and wait for his return to fighting, even if it meant holding up the entire heavyweight division.

Whether fans agreed or disagreed with Cormier’s intentions, it was hard to dispute a potential retirement fight with Lesnar making for one hell of a sendoff. If anyone deserved the big-money fight, it was the guy that accomplished a goal of becoming a two-division champion by always doing things the right way. There isn’t a heavyweight on the planet more deserving of a fight with Lesnar than Cormier.

But that fight isn’t even close to materializing. No one is 100 percent sure Lesnar will ever return to fighting. He reportedly hasn’t even paid the $250,000 fine he was issued for a failed drug test over two years ago by the Nevada Athletic Commission, and he is already booked to defend his WWE title in April at Wrestlemania.

Cormier’s dream fight could end up being just that—a dream with little hope of coming to fruition. In fact, the only feasible reality for him right now is a date with a 6-foot-4, 258-pound Cameroonian nightmare. It’s the next best thing to Lesnar for his perfect sendoff.

Ngannou is well on his way to establishing himself as the scariest heavyweight knockout artist that ever lived, which adds a considerable level of intrigue when piecing together a main event for a pay-per-view card.

Fans love heavyweights that consistently deliver highlight reel knockouts, and few fighters in the history of the sport have ever done so in the gratuitously violent fashion as Ngannou.

Then there’s the Velasquez element.

Cormier spent a large chunk of his career living in the shadow of the former champion, who was once considered the baddest man on the planet. The very idea of him avenging Velasquez’ loss while defending the UFC title, would be the perfect conclusion to a Hall of Fame-worthy career. It would essentially bring everything full circle by delivering one final “I told you so” to the people that spent years looking at him as simply a lesser version of Velasquez.

As for the UFC promotional team, it would be the easiest fight to sell in the heavyweight division. Ngannou was exposed to 1.4 million viewers in the ESPN main event, which was the UFC’s highest-rated fight on cable television since the bantamweight title fight between TJ Dillashaw and Dominick Cruz back in January 2016.

Cormier even set the stage with a post-fight quote during an ESPN interview with Ariel Helwani.

“If that’s something that we decide that we want to do, then that’s what I’ll do,” said Cormier. “I won’t go fight Francis Ngannou. I would beat Francis Ngannou.”

To a lesser extent, Cormier coming after Ngannou would be like Frank Dux going after Chong Li after he knocked out Ray Jackson in “Bloodsport.” It would be like Rocky Balboa going after Ivan Drago after he defeated Apollo Creed in “Rocky IV.”

You get the picture.

Some will inevitably push back against the idea of Francis Ngannou as a No. 1 contender when former champion Stipe Miocic, who has a win over Ngannou, has yet to even receive his much-deserved rematch with Cormier. Miocic, the most successful heavyweight champion in UFC history, has every right to be upset about being overlooked in the title picture, but he also isn’t the first fighter to get passed up for more marketable fights.

Cormier hasn’t shown any real interest in a rematch since knocking out Miocic last July, and neither has the UFC, given their lack of urgency in putting the fight together. Derrick Lewis got a title fight before Miocic.

Unless Jon Jones suddenly makes the jump to heavyweight and challenges for the title, the proposed bout between Daniel Cormier and Francis Ngannou is the best title fight the UFC can make right now.

It’s the only one that makes sense.

Note: The views expressed in this text are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of BJPENN.COM or its affiliates. 

This article first appeared on BJPenn.com on 2/21/2019