Francis Ngannou, left, hits Alistair Overeem in the first round during a UFC 218 heavyweight mixed martial arts bout, Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017 in Detroit. Ngannou defeated Overeem by first-round knockout.
Francis Ngannou, left, hits Alistair Overeem in the first round during a UFC 218 heavyweight mixed martial arts bout, Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017 in Detroit. Ngannou defeated Overeem by first-round knockout. AP Photo - Jose Juarez

Warning: ‘Someone might die’

IT should be the meanest of the mean. A land filled with the most frightening men in the most violent sport in the world.

But for several years the UFC's heavyweight ranks have been the domain of far too many soft-bellied old men whose talent level doesn't compare to the elite fighters that fill pretty much every other division.

Sure there's some exceptions at the very pointy end - and champion Stipe Miocic holds his own with any belt-wearer in the promotion.

But for the most part this division has been perilously thin since the late 2000s when Brock Lesnar, Randy Couture, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Frank Mir, Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos ruled in what was seen as a golden era for heavyweights.

How thin? Alexander Volkov (don't apologise if you've never heard of him) entered the UFC after losing his last two fights in Bellator but is already ranked seventh after decision wins against Tim Johnson and Roy Nelson and a stoppage of Stefan Struve.

Without a victory against anyone currently ranked in the top 15 he's already as high as Michael Bisping is in the middleweight standings - and Bisping was the 185-pound champ only a month ago.

But there's light at the end of the tunnel. His name is Francis Ngannou. A 31-year-old Cameroonian with dynamite in his fists who is redefining terror and ready to rule the land of the giants.

THE COMING OUT PARTY

If, like Alistair Overeem, you're still waking up after the weekend, you may have missed the uppercut heard round the world Ngannou landed at UFC 218.

Pitted against one of the most well-rounded heavyweights in history, Ngannou didn't just beat Overeem, he sent him into another realm.

"His toes are locked up like he's just been electrocuted," commentator Joe Rogan said of a prone Overeem. "He's still stiff as a board. That's how scary Francis Ngannou is - it was like a scene from a movie."

Some had cracked jokes when Ngannou claimed he'd broken the world record for punching power while being tested at UFC headquarters in the lead-up to the fight.

But no one was laughing when he starched Overeem with a long, looping punch that looked similar to the neck-stretching boxing's heavyweight champ Anthony Joshua gave Wladimir Klitschko earlier this year.

Ngannou's peers were in awe of the raw brutality. "This guy is a problem," featherweight Dennis Bermudez tweeted. "I'm not sure if I've ever seen a human's head snap back like that."

"Scary, scary power," added former lightweight contender Kenny Florian. "Nobody at heavyweight wants to get hit by that cinder block fist."

Flyweight Ray Borg feared for the entire roster. "That's it, Ngannou can no longer fight humans," he said. "It's not fair and someone might die."

In his pay-per-view debut, Ngannou had not only arrived, but sent a shockwave through the division.

THE JOURNEY

 

Ngannou not only has the ferocity to connect with UFC audiences, he also has a gripping tale of survival that makes him easy to root for.

Born and raised in a broken home in a tiny village in Cameeron, the 196cm powerfully-built man was working in the central African nation's sand mines by the age of 12.

But his daily struggles never clouded his vision of one day becoming a fighting champion and after graduating to a position lifting large bags of clothing in the garment industry in Cameroon's largest city, Douala, in his 20s, Ngannou decided to risk it all.

The avid Mike Tyson fan emigrated to France, living homeless on the streets of Paris while beginning to train as a fighter.

"People told me, 'You talk about Europe like it's heaven. It's not heaven,'" Ngannou told The Bleacher Report. "I said, 'Yes, but I don't need heaven. I'm going to make my own heaven. I'm going to struggle for it. I'm going to fight to earn everything I dream about.'"

He eventually landed at the MMA Factory where trainer Fernand Lopez convinced him his best shot of glory - and riches - was not in the boxing ring but the Octagon.

Ngannou resisted at first but as he began collecting victories - and small checks - on the independent scene his dream began to transform.

Within two years of his first fight a UFC contract arrived. Within two years of his UFC debut he was fighting Overeem in a bout that would decide the next shot at Miocic's crown.

THE FINAL STEP

Stipe Miocic stands between Ngannou and UFC glory - and the Cleveland firefighter won't be put out easily.

Ngannou has won all six of his fights in the UFC by stoppage, but Miocic has a five-fight streak of his own - including a run of four first round finishes against Andrei Arlovski, Fabricio Werdum, Overeem and Junior dos Santos.

But for whatever reason, that hasn't translated into much of a profile and UFC brass will be hoping Ngannou can break Miocic - and new ground. "I think he's going to be a rock star, globally," UFC president Dana White said.

Ngannou is already looking forward to the moment. Asked at the UFC 218 post-fight press conference about his trash talk with Overeem in the build-up to their bout, he said "That is the past, man. We're talking about now. And now, it's me. I'm the present."

Asked how he'd celebrate the biggest win of his career, he said: "No, the biggest win of my career is coming."

You've been warned.



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