Photo via MMA Junkie
If you are reading this now, that means you’re probably already aware that current Heavyweight Champion Stipe Miocic (20-3) will be defending his belt at UFC 260 on March 27th. For the first time in nearly three years, he’ll be fighting somebody not named Daniel Cormier, but he will not be facing a new opponent. When Miocic returns to the UFC Apex facility in Las Vegas, he’ll be facing off against Francis “The Predator” Ngannou (15-3), a man he defeated by unanimous decision back at the beginning of 2018. While we can all agree that neither man is the same fighter they were back then, we’ve seen much more of Miocic in terms of time spent in the Octagon. Though he’s only completed the Cormier Trilogy since then, Stipe has spent a total of forty-eight minutes and forty-two seconds in the cage. In that same timeframe, Ngannou has gone on to win four of his last five fights and only saw the second round once (in a decision loss to Derrick Lewis). We know what these men bring to the table, what they are capable of, and what we hope will happen once that cage door is locked. Something you may not be thinking of, though, is what will happen once the dust has settled.
First and foremost, the Heavyweight Championship is on the line and the Challenger certainly has a fair shot at taking it away from the Champion. In the background, patiently waiting lies perhaps an even bigger prize: a fight with Jon Jones. In August of 2020, then-Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones publicly announced that he was relinquishing his belt and looking to move up to Heavyweight. If Stipe retains his belt, he will have all but cleared out the division and be sitting atop the mountain with nobody left to face but Jones. Should The Predator come in and pull off the upset, he, too, will have essentially walked through all challengers to get to this point. Is he as deserving of a Jon Jones superfight at that point? Should Stipe have a chance to reclaim his title? Regardless of who he is fighting, Jon Jones is a huge draw and either man would be a match-up that would bring in fans.
On the other hand, the loser of this fight will have a much different path. A loss would certainly seem to take away prospects of a fight with Jones but only a champion’s loss might bring hopes of a rematch. If Ngannou were to lose, he would be right back where he was after their first fight. He’s riding a huge wave of momentum due to four straight first-round knockouts but that alone wouldn’t be enough to request a trilogy of his own. A knockout loss for Stipe would surely take away from the obligatory rematch for the champion, but it would favor a need for a rubber match. There’s much more than just a belt on the line once the cage door closes.