Is climbing the mountain harder the first time or on subsequent attempts?
That is the question currently being answered by both UFC heavyweight Francis Ngannou and the man he will face in the main event of Fight Night Minneapolis this Saturday, Junior dos Santos.
Ngannou punched his way through some of the best heavyweight contenders to earn a title shot against then champion Stipe Miocic at UFC 220, including a highlight reel KO victory over Alistair Overeem.
That title shot did not go the way of the 32-year-old and neither did his following bout, a drab unanimous decision loss to Derrick Lewis at UFC 226.
Since then, Ngannou has rebounded with first round (T)KO victories over Curtis Blaydes and Cain Velasquez, silencing those that thought the losses were the beginning of the end for the Cameroonian. Not that he cares what those people had to say in the first place.
“What people think does not matter to me,” Ngannou told the TSN MMA Show. “What I know is going to happen is that I’m going to be there, even though I was struggling, I knew I was going to find my way up and it seems like I’m getting close.”
He can get even closer with a victory over dos Santos, a man that knows all about making that climb multiple times. Not only is JDS a former heavyweight champion, since losing the belt, he’s fought for the chance to reclaim it twice.
Since his most recent unsuccessful title challenge, a first round TKO loss to Miocic at UFC 211, dos Santos has also had a resurgence with victories over Blagoy Ivanov, Tai Tuivasa and Derrick Lewis.
Many were surprised to see dos Santos’ most recent return to form, but Ngannou is not among those people.
“For someone that knows Junior, you would not be surprised because he’s good and anytime he can TKO people,” said Ngannou. “Basically how he fights and who he is, there are no surprises.”
Ngannou also believes that the winner of this fight between a former champion and a former title challenger should determine who is next in line for a shot at the gold.
“Nothing less, that’s the only option right now,” said Ngannou. “Otherwise, what would be next for the winner of this fight?”
Ngannou did not work with coach Fernand Lopez for this camp, instead spending his time in Las Vegas with Dewey Cooper, Vinny Magalhael and Xtreme Couture as well as working at the UFC’s Performance Institute.
As far as how the main event bout will go, Ngannou is only worried about getting the win and not about earning another highlight reel stoppage.
“I’m not concerned about how the fight is going to happen because I’m prepared for however it happens,” said Ngannou. “What really matters to me is getting my hand raised. Before I would say that I’m going to go there and knock him out and that would get me out of my game plan, because I’m looking for the knockout. I’ve done that once and it didn’t work, so I will not make that kind of mistake again.”