Fantasy Fight Forecasting: Would Francis Ngannou knock out Jon Jones early?

In this installment of “Fantasy Fight Forecasting,” I take a look at a much talked-about potential matchup between Jon Jones and Francis Ngannou.

I’ll be the first to admit my pessimism toward the topic of Jones moving up to heavyweight, as I’ve long dismissed such scenarios after repeatedly getting my hopes up before. That said, I have since changed my tune and will explain why below.

As per usual, I reserve the right to change any picks or leans should these matchups actually materialize, as you can always find my official picks and breakdowns on this website come fight week.

Without further ado …

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Why it could happen

In what has been stir-crazy times for all, it’s no secret that Jones has been looking for ways to stay occupied.

Thankfully for Jones, he seems to now be channeling his energy back into positive things like his fighting career – albeit announcing intentions that have taken many by surprise.

Calling out UFC heavyweight Ngannou (15-3 MMA, 10-2 UFC) on Twitter, Jones (26-1 MMA, 20-1 UFC) has since doubled down on his proclamation by continuing to correspond on the matter as he’s yet to delete these tweets (which is big if you’ve been following Jones’ social media habits).

Regardless of the methods behind his madness, a motivated Jones is something that gets me excited, especially if the UFC does its part in making his long-awaited heavyweight debut become a reality.

Thoughts on the fight

Early line: Ngannou -150, Jones +130

Considering that Jones hasn’t been seen at underdog odds since his UFC 94 appearance opposite Stephan Bonnar, seeing a plus number in front of his name can be somewhat surreal.

Regardless of your feelings about Jones’ close fights, the man – outside one controversial disqualification loss – has remained unbeaten in the most unforgiving combat sport on the planet by either beating other fighters at their own game or by his sheer ability to do more than them down the stretch. With both supporters and critics alike probably agreeing that Jones wouldn’t exactly elect to trade with Ngannou as his Plan A, then it’s hard not to surmise that this potential tussle would come down to the light heavyweight champion’s ability to wrestle.

There are some pundits who suspect that Jones’ base of wrestling may be slowly and steadily deteriorating quietly, and it’s hard to call them crazy.

As we’ve seen across all weight classes and eras in this sport, it is not uncommon for even the best wrestlers to – for whatever reason – part ways with a lot of their wrestling sensibilities as their MMA career advances, particularly in the offensive shot department. This, of course, can be due to a multitude of reasons that range from age and injury to the old adage of “a fighter falling in love with his hands.”

If I had to guess, I doubt that age or injury is hindering the game of Jones, but it’s hard to deny anyone for questioning both his tactical and athletic executions within the takedown department in recent years when you consider that one could argue we haven’t seen a consistent, dominant game – both in the clinch and otherwise – from Jones since his first fight with Daniel Cormier in 2015.

Now, I’m not trying to die on any hills when talking about Jones’ wrestling skills or trajectories here. I do, however, wonder how Jones’ style and abilities will translate both to the heavyweight division, as well as to this matchup.

From a stylistic perspective, Jones (who officially carries a 44 percent takedown success rate opposite to Ngannou’s 71 percent rate of successful defense) scores a majority of his takedowns from either the clinch or up against the fence. Though those tactics have served him fine thus far in his career, I fear that his only shot of grounding a giant like Ngannou will be by hitting a well-timed shot in the open.

As we’ve seen throughout Ngannou’s career (even in the early going), he’s always had his best defensive success from both clinch and fence positions, as you can tell that his former head coach, Fernand Lopez, coached the Cameroonian product well in regards to cagework. Even in a hard loss to Stipe Miocic, seldom did you see Ngannou taken down from clinch or cage positions without Miocic, at the very least, initiating the attempt off of a well-timed shot that he sold out for first.

If Jones can successfully sell out to put Ngannou in compromising positions, then he can offer a lot more on paper than Miocic when it comes to capitalizing on those spots with submission threats.

The potential problem, though, is that a heavyweight version of Jones is still likely a solid 20 pounds lighter than Miocic, who readily admitted the problems that his 20-plus pound differential presented when facing Ngannou. So, if you hypothetically multiply that potential weight problem by two in this equation, then it becomes much harder for me to be confident in Jones’ ability to manipulate one of the strongest forces that heavyweight has ever seen (without prior experience in the division, no less).

Couple that stylistic conundrum with the fact that Ngannou appears to be sharpening both his mental and physical skills under the care of Eric Nicksick at Xtreme Couture MMA, and I suspect we see a patent Ngannou shovel-hook providing a perfect fit for some of the past defensive holes and tendencies we’ve seen from Jones.

Early lean: Ngannou by first-round knockout

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