It says a lot when the biggest setback of your UFC career is not a loss on your record but the loss of a fight. That's the situation in which rising heavyweight prospect Francis Ngannou found himself when former champion Junior dos Santos was pulled from their scheduled UFC 215 bout last month because of a flagged drug test.
There wasn't much time for Ngannou to feel sorry for himself, though, as the hard-hitting "Predator" was matched up in what should be an even bigger bout: a Dec. 2 showdown with fellow striker Alistair Overeem at UFC 218 in Detroit.
"I was very frustrated because my last fight was in January," Ngannou told FloCombat. "I hoped to fight in September, but they pulled my opponent out."
With Overeem, who knocked out dos Santos in December 2015, riding a better streak than the Brazilian right now, Ngannou looks forward to the matchup as a massive opportunity for his budding career.
"It's a good matchup, definitely," Ngannou said. "I knew that I would fight Alistair Overeem one day, so I've been ready for this fight since a long time ago."
And if everything goes well, Ngannou's next scrap will be even bigger.
"I think after this fight, there is no way to not give me [the] title shot," he said.
Ngannou, who debuted at the same December 2015 event that saw Overeem knock out dos Santos, has won all of his five UFC bouts to date via finish. While a kimura against Anthony Hamilton was a nice touch for Ngannou's record, the big danger comes from his powerful strikes on the feet, which blasted out Andrei Arlovski the last time Ngannou stepped into the Octagon.
And despite only being four years and 11 fights deep into his MMA career, Ngannou feels he's ready to take on someone of Overeem's caliber. The Dutchman has been fighting professionally since 1999 and accumulated almost 60 MMA fights next to a storied career in kickboxing.
"Overeem now is a bigger challenge than Junior dos Santos because he is on a good [run]," Ngannou said. "He's doing a good job right now and he keeps winning.
"Alistair Overeem is a huge opponent. He's a very good fighter with a K-1 background, and I think he's [a] brown belt in jiu-jitsu. Two years ago, he changed his game plan and became a very, very good fighter. He's very smart as a fighter, with a game plan and everything. He's able to bring everything."
Still, the 31-year-old Ngannou believes he has some key advantages over his opponent and thinks he can use those to close the show and fight for the title in 2018.
"I have [more] speed than Alistair," Ngannou said. "I'm stronger than [him], for sure (laughs). I have [a] knockout punch, and that's what's going to happen. I'm sure that I will get a title shot, because I'm the No. 4-ranked [heavyweight], so there's no way to not give me the title shot after that."
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