UFC Minneapolis: Ngannou vs. Dos Santos Preview

A preview of Saturday’s UFC Fight Night card, set to take place in Minneapolis.

Updated: June 27, 2019 • 8:46 PM ET


Francis Ngannou is looking to keep his winning streak alive.

The UFC will treat Minneapolis with a heavyweight showdown this Saturday, as No. 2 ranked Francis Ngannou will face former champion and No. 3 ranked Junior Dos Santos at the Target Center. The winner of Saturday’s showdown will have made a legitimate case for being next in line to challenge for the heavyweight title.

This isn’t the first time the UFC has attempted to put Ngannou and Dos Santos against one another in the Octagon, as the two were previously scheduled to fight at UFC 215 in 2017. Dos Santos, though, was removed from the card after being flagged by USADA for a potential anti-doping violation. Ngannou soon followed after a replacement opponent could not be found.

Ngannou will ride two straight victories into Saturday’s fight, the first coming against Curtis Blaydes via first-round TKO, while the most recent came against former champion Cain Velasquez via a quick first-round knockout in February.

Ngannou challenged Stipe Miocic for the title at UFC 220 in 2018, but lost a lopsided five-round decision. He followed that performance with a lackluster showing against Derrick Lewis at UFC 226 last July, but Ngannou believes he’s back on track for another title shot.

“After the last fight, I thought I would get the title fight back, but it didn’t happen,” Ngannou said at a UFC seasonal press conference in April. “I don’t know why, but I’m so happy to have the fight against Junior. He doesn’t have the belt, but we all know he’s a champ. We have seen him since he came back, he looks like a champ.”

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As Ngannou looks to continue his streak of defeating former champions, he wants to be prepared for any type of fight against Dos Santos, even if he doesn’t believe the fight will be anything more than a standup battle.

“First of all, I don’t believe that jiu-jitsu black belt,” Ngannou told MMA Junkie during a media scrum at the UFC Performance Institute. “I don’t believe Dos Santos is a jiu-jitsu black belt. I don’t know where he’s from, but I don’t believe that and I don’t mind that at all.

“But you never know what some fighter is going to come out with. I always keep thinking, maybe he’ll try some wrestling to takedown, but it’s not his comfort zone. I don’t know. He might try everything, but the most important is I’m prepared for every little [thing].”

Ngannou’s biggest win was his last against Velasquez, but he also has a victory over former title challenger Alistair Overeem with one of the best knockouts of 2017, former champion Andrei Arlovski and two wins over the highly-ranked Blaydes with the first coming in 2016. The 32-year-old Cameroonian is still learning on the job, but his striking power poses a dangerous threat to any fighter and any heavyweight champion.

The heavyweight belt will be on the line at UFC 241 in August, as Daniel Cormier will face Stipe Miocic in a rematch.

Dos Santos is riding three straight wins with victories over Blagoy Ivanov, Tai Tuivasa and most recently a TKO victory over Derrick Lewis in March. The winning streak comes after a first-round TKO loss to then champion Miocic in 2017, a rematch from 2014.

Dos Santos won the heavyweight title by defeating Velasquez in 2011 and successfully defended the belt once against Frank Mir. However, Dos Santos then lost the title to Velasquez in a rematch at UFC 155 in 2012. He challenged Velasquez a third time for the title at UFC 166 in 2013, but Velasquez defeated Dos Santos by fifth-round TKO.

Including those previously mentioned, the 35-year-old Brazilian has key victories over Ben Rothwell, Mark Hunt, Shane Carwin, Roy Nelson, Gabriel Gonzaga, Mirko Cro Cop, Stefan Struve and Fabricio Werdum. He believed a win over Lewis in his last fight would have earned him another title shot, but he’ll have to defeat Ngannou to be considered again.

Should Dos Santos defeat Ngannou, he would have a more realistic shot at the title if Miocic were champion again and not Cormier. As long as Cormier is champion, the talks of him defending against light heavyweight champion Jon Jones will control the championship narrative at heavyweight. A rematch for the title and a third fight with Miocic would be an easier sell for Dos Santos.


Co-main event

Saturday’s co-main event will be in the flyweight division, as No. 1 Jussier Formiga and No. 2 Joseph Benavidez will collide. The winner could be the next to challenge champion Henry Cejudo for the title.

Formiga (9-4 in UFC) is on a four-fight winning streak and most recently defeated rising prospect Deiveson Figueiredo by unanimous decision in March. His losses came to former title challenger Ray Borg, Cejudo, Benavidez and former title challenger John Dodson. Benavidez defeated Formiga by first-round TKO in 2013, but Formiga believes things will be different this time around.

“This is not going to be a rematch,” Formiga explained via UFC.com. “It’s going to be a different fight. It’s going to be a new fight.

“The combination of being at American Top Team, with all the coaches, the strategy and the training, everything has a part in that. It’s definitely going to be a different Jussier showing up on June 29.”

The 34-year-old Formiga has key victories over Sergio Pettis, Ben Nguyen, Dustin Ortiz, Wilson Reis, Zach Makovsky and Scott Jorgensen. Should the Brazilian avenge his loss against Benavidez and win a fifth straight fight, it would be difficult to deny him a title shot.

Benavidez has won two straight bouts since losing a split-decision to Pettis at UFC 225 last June. It was only his second loss in his previous 10 fights, the other coming at the hands of arguably the greatest mixed martial arts fighter of all time, Demetrious Johnson. Additionally, one of the eight wins in his last 10 was a decision victory over current champion Cejudo.

Benavidez has fought for the flyweight title twice, the first being the inaugural championship fight with Johnson in 2012, which he lost by a close split decision. Benavidez received a rematch with Johnson in 2013, but was knocked out in the first round. Since then, the 34-year-old Benavidez has been on the championship hunt with his only setback coming against Pettis.

Including Cejudo and Formiga, Benavidez has a long list of key victories over fighters such as Dustin Ortiz (twice), Makovsky, Ali Bagautinov, John Moraga, Ian McCall, Eddie Wineland, Miguel Torres and Rani Yahya. He believes a win over Formiga will earn him a third title shot and second fight with Cejudo.

“You look at the No. 1 guy at bantamweight, which would be Aljamain Sterling, and you look at the number one guy in flyweight, which would be the winner of me and Formiga,” Benavidez recently told Submission Radio. “And having me come out of that, I make more sense than anybody right now…Nobody else has history with Cejudo, and not only history, a win over him.

“So that’s what makes the most sense, is no one can say they have a win over him. That last win, he has to avenge that loss.”


The rest of the main card on ESPN

Welterweight bout - No. 12 Demian Maia vs. Rocco Martin

Lightweight bout - Roosevelt Roberts vs. Vinc Pichel

Lightweight bout - Drew Dober vs. Marco Polo Reyes

Light heavyweight bout - Alonzo Menifield vs. Paul Craig


ESPN Prelims

Bantamweight bout - Ricardo Ramos vs. Journey Newson

Light heavyweight bout - Eryk Anders vs. Vinicius Castro

Featherweight bout - Jordan Griffin vs. Vince Murdock

Lightweight bout - Jared Gordon vs. Dan Moret

Light heavyweight bout - Dalcha Lungiambula vs. Justin Ledet

Women's strawweight bout - Emily Whitmire vs. Amanda Ribas

Heavyweight bout - Maurice Greene vs. Junior Albini