Just how much was it possible for Francis Ngannou to have improved since his first heavyweight title loss against Stipe Miocic in 2018 entering last Saturday's rematch? It turns out the answer was a lot.
In fact, it turned out to be a frightening amount.
Ngannou (16-3) mopped up on Miocic at UFC 260 to emphatically corral the UFC's heavyweight title while capping off an incredible rags-to-riches story for the Cameroon-born fighter who only picked up the sport for the first time some eight years ago.
The manner in which Ngannou had knocked out his previous four opponents with such ease entering the Miocic rematch couldn't have prepared anyone for how good he could actually be should an opponent survive the opening minutes of the fight.
Like their first fight, the almost superhuman Miocic was able to absorb enough damage for Ngannou to showcase his skill set. Unlike their 2018 meeting, however, Ngannou showed tremendous improvement in everything from takedown defense, offensive wrestling, cardio and poise that it makes it difficult not to rank him high among the best pound-for-pound fighters on the planet.
Ngannou's default intangibles were already insane. He's the most devastating puncher the sport has ever known and he proved against Miocic the first time that his chin and willingness to persevere through heavy duress are of a championship-level mold.
Now, the rapid improvement of Ngannou's technical game and the addition of functional skills like high kicks and body punching might make it so he will open as an overwhelming betting favorite against just about anyone in the world.
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It's not hyperbole to say that Ngannou could be on the verge of creating his own era within heavyweight history should the rapid levels of his improvement continue at this pace.
If opponents are unable to knock him out or expose his gas tank by taking him down, how are they going to beat him, especially when the threat of his power forces his foes into a naturally defensive posture? That's a question that will be fun finding out the answer as the future unfolds.
For CBS Sports' updated divisional rankings,.
Men's pound-for-pound rankings
| 1. Jon Jones||Heavyweight||26-1 (1 NC)||--|
|It wouldn't be incorrect to consider the former light heavyweight champion as MMA's G.O.A.T. That doesn't mean his current hold on the P4P throne isn't a tenuous one. The competition has slowly caught up to Jones, which makes his move up to heavyweight at age 33 an interesting one. One can only expect "Bones" to have his hands full with new champion Francis Ngannou. |
|2. Kamaru Usman||Welterweight champion||18-1||--|
|It's time to put some legitimate respect on this man's name. A dominant title defense over Gilbert Burns showcased Usman's constantly evolving striking. His streak of 13 consecutive UFC wins is second best in company history, so it's not hyperbole to make a case that he's the best fighter in the world right now given his overwhelmingly dominant wrestling strength. |
|3. Israel Adesanya||Middleweight champion||20-1||--|
|Still the best 185-pound fighter in the world, Adesanya's stock was brought back down to earth just a bit in a somewhat humanizing light heavyweight title loss to Jan Blachowicz. While Adesanya certainly had his moments, he was out maneuvered by a bigger champion, slowing any designs he might have had on moving up even higher in weight to fight Jon Jones.|
|4. Francis Ngannou||Heavyweight champion||16-3|
|How do you properly frame just how scary and dangerous "The Predator" really is? If his knockout streak hasn't fully convinced you, the evolution shown in his game during his rematch with Stipe Miocic to capture the heavyweight title should be enough. At 34 and still somewhat new to the sport, Ngannou is improving at a terrifying rate. |
|5. Deiveson Figueiredo||Flyweight champion||20-1-1|
|Despite being fresh off of an all-action draw against Brandon Moreno, the reigning 125-pound champion capped off a breakout 2020 by winning Fighter of the Year honors. This force of nature also injected much-needed life into the 125-pound division following the exits of Demetrious Johnson and Henry Cejudo. Up next is a rematch with Moreno in June.|
|6. Dustin Poirier||Lightweight||27-6 (1 NC)|
|Although UFC president Dana White wasn't willing to crown Poirier as the new lightweight king following his TKO of Conor McGregor in their January rematch, there simply isn't a better 155-pound fighter in the world not named Khabib Nurmagomedov. Expect Poirier to return in a July trilogy with McGregor.|
|7. Alexander Volkanovski||Featherweight champion||22-1||--|
|Volkanovski was expected to return in March only to see his scheduled title defense against Brian Ortega postponed due to a positive COVID test. The native Australian is riding a 19-bout win streak following his first title defense in 2020 when he edged Max Holloway by disputed split decision. |
|8. Max Holloway||Featherweight||22-6||--|
|A shutout of Calvin Kattar in January might just be the most dynamic performance of the future Hall of Famer's career. Holloway set countless records for attempts and strikes landed over the five rounds. He also likely secured a shot at the winner of Volkanovski-Ortega. |
|9. Justin Gaethje||Lightweight||22-3||--|
|"The Highlight" has become the odd man out in the 155-pound title picture now that Poirier-McGregor III is nearly set set and a vacant title bout appears close between Michael Chandler and Charles Oliveira. Tough break for a fighter who appeared one more leg kick away from putting Nurmagomedov in trouble during their 2020 title bout.|
|10. Jan Blachowicz||Light heavyweight champion||28-8||--|
|Often lost within his Cinderella story of securing an unlikely UFC title as he pushes closer to 40 is just how intelligent a fighter Blachowicz has evolved into. The Polish powerhouse never over commits and can adapt well under pressure as his victory over Adesanya displayed. |
Dropped out: Stipe Miocic
Just missed: Petr Yan, Charles Oliveira, Robert Whittaker, Miocic, Brian Ortega, Aljamain Sterling
Women's pound-for-pound rankings
|1. Amanda Nunes||Bantamweight/Featherweight champion||20-4||--|
First-time parenthood did nothing to slow "The Lioness" in her dominant finish of Megan Anderson in March to defend her 145-pound title. Unless a trilogy against flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko can be made, Nunes will continue to be an overwhelming favorite against any fighter across two divisions.
|2. Valentina Shevchenko||Flyweight champion||20-3||--|
|Shevchenko displayed her well-rounded attack in a wide decision win over a game Jennifer Maia at UFC 255. Although her preference is a trilogy at 135 pounds against Nunes, her next title defense should be an interesting one when she faces hard-hitting former strawweight champion Jessica Andrade at UFC 261.|
|3. Weili Zhang||Strawweight champion||21-1||--|
|More than a full year after co-authoring the greatest fight in women's MMA history in a close win over Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Zhang will return on April 24 against another former champion in Rose Namajunas. China's first UFC champion has a complete game featuring toughness, technique and cardio for days. |
|4. Rose Namajunas||Strawweight||9-4||--|
|"Thug Rose" returned in 2020 to avenge her title loss to Jessica Andrade in their three-round thriller. The victory secured Namajunas a shot at regaining her title at UFC 261 against new champion Weili Zhang in one of the best fights on paper the UFC could make. |
|5. Joanna Jedrzejczyk||Strawweight||16-4||--|
|The former champion proved she's still got a ton left in the tank by pushing Zhang to the limit in a split-decision loss in March 2020. Jedrzejczyk's return, however, remains uncertain one year later as the 33-year-old said a 2021 appearance would only come once fans were allowed to pack arenas. |
Dropped out: None
Just missed: Jessica Andrade, Germaine de Randamie, Holly Holm, Aspen Ladd, Yan Xiaonan