In a year of heavyweight headlines, Alistair Overeem will battle Francis Ngannou at UFC 218 to see who will get the final word in the heavyweight division in 2018.
In all the talk of super fights and cross-over events, it is perhaps lost exactly how exciting the heavyweight division has been in 2018. There has been an influx of new talent and exciting bouts between the elite of the division. UFC 218 will feature the final marquee heavyweight fight of 2017 as Alistair Overeem meets Francis Ngannou in a bout expected to be a title eliminator.
Alistair Overeem rebounded from his devastating loss to champion Stipe Miocic last year with back-to-back wins over Mark Hunt and Fabrício Werdum. Most fighters would be on the cusp of title contention after that run, but the loss to Miocic was so decisive that it has left Overeem to enter a high-risk bout with “The Predator” if he wants another crack at UFC gold.
At 37 years old and 12 UFC fights to his credit, it’s already been long established that the UFC belt is the only thing missing Overeem’s staggering trophy case. He has fought the elite of the heavyweight division for the better part of the decade and built a reputation as one of the most feared fighters in the world in the process.
That said, there is speculation that Overeem’s best days are already behind him. He has been a professional since 1999 and his UFC run has been marred by a doping violation and a 1-3 run early into his time in the world’s largest promotion.
With new contenders like Alexander Volkov, Derrick Lewis, and of course Ngannou, it is a difficult sell to put Overeem in the cage with Miocic a second time when it feels as if we have already seen everything that he has to offer against the best in the world. A win over Ngannou on Saturday, however, would all but solidify him as the number one contender in the world. He carries a recent win over Fabrício Werdum and Volkov, Lewis, and others are still considered steps away from the championship level.
Francis Ngannou has quickly become a fan favorite in the heavyweight division, having stopped all of his UFC opponents within the first or second round. He was supposed to have his most high profile bout to date against former champion Junior dos Santos in September. Unfortunately, circumstances outside the cage pulled “Cigano” from the event and no replacement would take a fight with “The Predator” on short notice.
However, it would appear his preparedness has been rewarded and the UFC 218 bout with Overeem looks to be a number one contender bout. “The Demolition Man” is a huge step up in competition from his last outing against Andrei Arlovski, but there has never been a better time for Ngannou to pull off the upset. He has looked more dangerous every time he’s competed and he has been ready for a fight for the better part of the year.
Stylistically, both men are very similar. They have a lot of confidence in their punching power and look to create openings for a clean shot rather than try to bulldoze their opponent from the opening bell. Overeem’s experience and diversity of strikes could look to pose issues for Ngannou, if at the very least because he will not be shocked by anything Ngannou tries on the feet.
The second factor is the grappling, Overeem is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu blue belt who has 19 submissions to his resume. While he prefers to keep the fight standing up, the threat of the takedown could make Ngannou hesitant and that could work in the Dutchman’s favor.
Recently, a rumor has begun to circulate that heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic could return to face Cain Velasquez as early as January. If that is the case, the assumption is that the UFC 218 winner would face the winner of that bout late next spring or possibly in the summer. A victory for Alistair Overeem would mean he has worked his way back to title contention after being stopped decisively, a feat that should be commended considering it came in the ultra-dangerous heavyweight division. For Francis Ngannou, his meteoric rise could be punctuated with a victory over the world-renowned veteran and solidify his place as the next big thing in the heavyweight division. Considering the guarantee of fireworks, the fight meets all the criteria for a potential classic.