Fight week and fight weekend are always exciting times for fight fans and the UFC brass. Sure, those pesky weigh-ins undoubtedly cause sleepless nights for Dana White, but outside of that and come fight weekend, there isn’t much left to do except watch, be entertained, and begin counting the oodles and oodles of dollars being made. UFC 220 is a different beast and not the norm. This particular event bears more than just the weight of making a pretty penny. UFC 220 will be memorable, impactful, and historical. It will either feature the dawning of a brand new mega star or the crowning of the greatest heavyweight in UFC history. Regardless of which direction it goes, UFC 220 will be the foundation that UFC’s 2018 success and landscape will be built upon.
UFC would never admit this, but this weekend and UFC 220 is all about Francis Ngannou. The suits are frothing at the mouth for a highlight reel knockout victory and would be grinning ear to ear while crowning him as the new UFC heavyweight champion. And why wouldn’t they be? If we’re being honest about business, Ngannou has a much higher ceiling than Stipe Miocic in terms of being a Conor McGregor level star. That is what the UFC is looking for. They spent the entirety of 2017 searching for that star and then were gifted Alistair Overeem getting knocked out in epic (and scary) fashion courtesy of Ngannou at UFC 218. That knockout was seen millions of times on sports outlets around the world and millions of more times via social media. Soon after, the UFC rocket was strapped to Ngannou’s back. With a win on Saturday night, the rocket ignites.
Francis Ngannou has the look, marketability, and skill to be a major UFC star. He knows it, the fans know it, and the UFC knows it as well. All stars need those traits. Ngannou’s unique trait is the way that his genuine personality mushes those other traits together. Outside of the octagon, Ngannou seems gentle, smart, and approachable. Inside the octagon it’s the exact opposite as he’s destructive and extremely dangerous. Ngannou balances that spectrum easily and being able to do so equals dollars for the UFC. Mike Tyson was a huge draw in the boxing world because of how dangerous he was in the ring. He never capitalized on other opportunities because of that one dimensional personality. Ngannou doesn’t have those limitations. He has the ability to be a draw for his danger and skill in the octagon while also being a draw in a different way at media appearances and corporate events. The alignment of both is something that hasn’t been seen in combat sports in a long time. In 2018, I see Ngannou on talk shows, in interviews, defending his championship, and drawing huge money for the UFC. That ride starts on Saturday night.
As the champion, Stipe Miocic is the underdog this weekend and he can’t be too happy about that. However, in classic Stipe fashion, he’s keeping his cool and is planning on showing his cards with his actions on Saturday night. Lost in the Ngannou craze is the fact that Miocic will become the greatest UFC heavyweight of all time with a win at UFC 220. A victory gives him the record for most consecutive title defenses ever within the heavyweight division. I know the record is only three, but given the company he keeps in terms of historical heavyweight star power, it’s an important record to have. Remember, the heavyweight division in the UFC used to be stocked full of great competitors including guys like Brock Lesnar, Randy Couture, and Frank Mir. For as great as those guys and others were, nobody successfully defended the championship three straight times. That could all change on Saturday.
If Miocic does what he says he’ll do and fends off Ngannou, UFC 220 will be an event that is remembered forever. It will live in the same vain as UFC 1 or UFC 205 where Conor McGregor became the first two weight world champion in UFC history. The heavyweight championship record is that significant and Stipe Miocic will be the driving force behind that significance. This historic win will elevate his star power and enhance his drawing ability as well.
No matter which way the cookie crumbles or which way the teeth fly, to use a relevant fighting term, UFC 220 is big. From a business standpoint, the UFC will have its next mainstream star or they will have a moment forever etched in their history books. Both outcomes set the ground work and lay the foundation for the year. This fight in it of itself could end up being the best performing event of 2018. Given the UFC’s trend, all other events could pale in comparison to this. Because of how big of a fight Miocic vs. Ngannou is the success of it will set the bar for all others that come after it in 2018.
Most importantly though, it comes down to star power. After the smoke has cleared on UFC 220, the UFC will have bigger stars at their disposal. Francis Ngannou for being a knockout king with a marketable look or Stipe Miocic for being the greatest heavyweight fighter in UFC history. In 2017, UFC laid the ground work and made bets to create big stars. Saturday night at UFC 220 the foundation off that ground work starts to build and those bets begin to be realized.
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