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Francis Ngannou administers pain like few others.
The resurgent heavyweight contender will put his three-fight winning streak on the line when he meets the unbeaten Jairzinho Rozenstruik under the UFC 249 marquee on Saturday at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida. Ngannou outside of a few hiccups has thus far delivered on the promise with which he entered the Ultimate Fighting Championship four-plus years ago. The 33-year-old Xtreme Couture representative last appeared at UFC on ESPN 3, where he needed just 71 seconds to bring down Junior dos Santos with punches on June 29.
As Ngannou makes final preparations for his showdown with Rozenstruik, here are five of the moments that have come to define him:
1. Rousing Introduction
Ngannou made his under-the-radar promotional debut on the UFC on Fox 17 undercard, as he knocked out Luis Henrique Barbosa de Oliveira with a brutal left uppercut in the second round of their Dec. 19, 2015 encounter at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida. Working behind a nine-inch reach advantage, the physically imposing newcomer brought it to a close 2:53 into Round 2. Oliveira committed to a takedown- and clinch-heavy approach his gas tank could not support, and his pace slowed to a crawl after a successful first round. Ngannou maintained a safe distance in the middle stanza and tore into the Brazilian with a sustained multi-punch burst capped by the fight-ending uppercut. An unconscious Oliveira collapsed to the canvas, as referee John Hosegood arrived to rope off the scene.
2. Secret Weapon
Blunt force trauma may be his preferred method of operation, but Ngannou has other instruments of torture in his tool bag. The Cameroon-born Frenchman submitted Jackson-Wink MMA export Anthony Hamilton with a first-round kimura in the UFC Fight Night 102 co-feature on Dec. 9, 2016 at the Times Union Center in Albany, New York. Hamilton conceded defeat 1:57 into Round 1. Ngannou stayed calm and composed while he waited for an opportunity to present itself. Hamilton advanced to a rear-waistlock clinch against the cage and unknowingly wandered into danger. Ngannou framed the kimura, ripped the former Maximum Fighting Championship titleholder’s arm away from his body and maintained control when the two men hit the mat. He then moved to a knee-on-belly position, torqued the shoulder lock and coaxed the tapout.
3. Lightning Bolt
Jaws across the globe hit the floor when Ngannou melted former Dream and Strikeforce champion Alistair Overeem with a terrifying left uppercut in the first round of their UFC 218 co-main event on Dec. 2, 2017 at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit. Overeem met his end in a most violent fashion 1:42 into Round 1, as “The Predator” asserted himself as the No. 1 contender for the heavyweight crown. The two behemoths stalled along the fence for a time before referee Dan Miragliotta saw fit to separate them, their encounter building toward its crescendo. A blindingly fast and powerful left uppercut from Ngannou snapped back the 2010 K-1 World Grand Prix winner’s head, lifted him off his feet and separated him from his senses. He followed with a crushing toe-curling hammerfist on the prone and defenseless Overeem, authoring one of the most memorable knockouts in UFC history.
4. Rude Awakening
Stipe Miocic retained the undisputed heavyweight title with a five-round unanimous decision over Ngannou in the UFC 220 headliner on Jan. 20, 2018 at the TD Garden in Boston. Miocic was awarded all five rounds by all three judges, sweeping the scorecards with 50-44 marks across the board. The 6-foot-4, 263-pound Ngannou’s body betrayed him. Miocic weathered his attacks in the first round, where he absorbed a few jarring punches while forcing the challenger to swing and miss wildly with others. Fatigue had overtaken Ngannou by the start of Round 2, and it showed in a precipitous drop in his output. He uncorked 65 strikes in the first round alone but managed to attempt only 61 in the next four rounds combined. Worse yet, his increasing exhaustion left him more and more susceptible to the takedowns and clinches Miocic employed. By the time it was over, the champion had outlanded Ngannou by an astounding 200-33 margin, doing the vast majority of his damage in close quarters.
5. Razor’s Edge
Whatever plans Curtis Blaydes had formulated in his head were put on hold, at least temporarily, as Ngannou wiped out the Elevation Fight Team export with first-round punches in the UFC Fight Night 141 main event on Nov. 24, 2018 at the Cadillac Arena in Beijing. “The Predator” sealed the deal 45 seconds into Round 1, re-establishing himself as a key player in the heavyweight division by rebounding from back-to-back losses to the aforementioned Miocic and Derrick Lewis. Blaydes made a pass at two takedown attempts, only to have both of them denied. Ngannou connected with an overhand right to the temple that dropped the Naperville, Illinois, native to all fours and left him vulnerable to subsequent attacks. His equilibrium shaken by the impact, Blaydes tried to right himself in the face of an oncoming freight train. It was no use. Ngannou let both hands fly and drilled his counterpart with repeated punches to the head until referee Marc Goddard had seen enough. Blaydes—who suffered a second-round technical knockout defeat to Ngannou when they were first paired together in 2016—protested the stoppage, but his fate appeared to be all but sealed.