Francis Ngannou pulled off a historic victory at UFC 260 to become the new heavyweight champion, outclassing one of the best heavyweight fighters in the world, Stipe Miocic.
The 263-pounder showed massive improvements in his game, which included a better striking IQ and superior grappling. Ngannou worked his way around the defending champion before finally putting him to sleep within six minutes of the fight. He also ended Stipe Miocic's impressive title-defending streak in the process.
By becoming the new UFC heavyweight champion, Francis Ngannou has opened up a huge lineup of contenders in the heavyweight division ready to challenge him for the title.
Who are these challengers and can they pose a legit threat to Francis Ngannou's new-found glory? Let's take a look at five potential opponents for the newly-crowned UFC Heavyweight Champion Francis Ngannou.
5. Brock Lesnar
Brock Lesnar is, till date, the biggest UFC heavyweight star in terms of promotion. Having conquered the heavyweight title against Randy Couture back in 2008, Lesnar's fan following was unparalleled.
However, newly-crowned UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou is someone who could certainly transcend the standards set by Brock Lesnar.
According to former heavyweight champion and UFC analyst Daniel Cormier, Francis Ngannou is on the cusp of reaching "global superstardom" not seen since Brock Lesnar was the heavyweight champ. But what if the two were to meet in a professional bout at the big stage?
While the Francis Ngannou vs Brock Lesnar bout has little to zero chance of happening, it is a big deal in fantasy booking. If worked out, the fight between two of the baddest athletic freaks could be the biggest event to ever take place in combat sports history.
Ngannou has always had his eye on Brock Lesnar, too. Back in 2017, he had revealed that he wanted to fight Lesnar, saying that he was stronger than the former UFC champ.
On being asked who he wanted to fight, Francis Ngannou had said, "I’d always like to see the match between me and Brock Lesnar. Two big dudes. I’m excited for that kind of match as a fan. I’m stronger than him. I’m the best striker in the heavyweight division and the more powerful guy. I’m also a talented guy and I will deal with that very easy."
About a year later, speaking in an interview with Ariel Helwani, Francis Ngannou again rekindled the idea of him fighting Brock Lesnar. He said, "Please Brock, come back, come back my friend. We need you here. We need you to put the fun in this division. I need you to give me that f--king fight I've been waiting for for a long time, I've been dreaming for."
It is highly unlikely that Brock Lesnar will return to the octagon, but if he does, there would be no better option than Francis Ngannou to welcome him back.
4. Alexander Volkov
Francis Ngannou and Alexander Volkov's (33-8-0) rivalry has been brewing for too long but hasn't yet led to an actual fight.
Ngannou started calling out Volkov on Twitter after the Russian's win over Greg Hardy in 2019. Asking Volkov's schedule for UFC 246, Francis Ngannou had invited him for a fight in Las Vegas to which Volkov had replied with a counter-offer for a bout in Paris. As the verbal war had gotten a little heated, Ngannou had accepted the offer saying he would fight Volkov even in a phone booth.
However, Francis Ngannou had soon opted to fight Jairzinho Rozenstruik at UFC 249 instead, after Rozenstruik's knockout win against Alistair Overseem.
As the news broke, Alexander Volkov accused Francis Ngannou of purposely dodging their fight, not once but twice. Volkov tweeted: "..you are the one who is too scared to fight me. Now twice."
Volkov moved on to subsequent fights against Walt Harris and Curtis Blaydes in 2020. However, his recent KO win over Alistair Overseem in February 2021 forced Francis Ngannou to laud the Russian, albeit with a warning.
Alexander Volkov has certainly earned some respect after scoring three knockout wins in his last five fights. Sitting in fifth position in the UFC heavyweight division, he can definitely be considered a legit threat to newly-crowned UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou.
3. Cyril Gane
Cyril Gane (8-0-0) is another interesting potential rival who has catapulted himself to the top tier of the UFC heavyweight division. The French MMA fighter has scored two impressive wins in the last four months, a KO over former heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos, and a decision win over Jairzinho Rozenstruik.
Nicknamed as 'Bon Gamin', Cyril Gane is famous for his phrase, "anyone, anywhere". However, when presented with an opportunity to face Francis Ngannou, his former sparring partner Cyril Gane said he had one condition to meet the champ.
Cyril Gane responded to the prospects of fighting Francis Ngannou, saying, "I think if the UFC does this, please do this for the belt. That’s it. Because, you understand, we’re from the same gym, the same coach."
So with Cyril Gane on the verge of reaching title contention in the heavyweight division and Francis Ngannou being crowned the new UFC Heavyweight Champion, the path is clear for the former training partners to lock horns inside the UFC octagon.
It would be thrilling to see two fighters from the same gym, having trained under the same coach (Ferdnand Lopez), go against each other on the big stage.
2. Derrick Lewis
If the negotiations for the fight between newly crowned UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou and Jon Jones stall, then Derrick Lewis (25-7, 1 NC) is the number one prospect to take on Ngannou.
Giving secondary importance to a possible Ngannou vs Jones bout, UFC President Dana White said at the UFC 260 post-fight press conference that going by the division's prospects, "Derrick Lewis is the fight to make".
"I promise you we can call Derrick Lewis or one of these other heavyweights and they want the fight (against Francis Ngannou)," added Dana White.
In the UFC heavyweight division's deadliest knockout specialists, Derrick Lewis is the name that crops up beside Francis Ngannou.
What makes Derrick Lewis the best fighter to challenge Francis Ngannou is the fact that he had defeated the Cameroonian back in 2018, at UFC 226. Lewis is also riding on a four-match winning streak and had stated recently that he wanted a rematch against Ngannou.
The fight between Francis Ngannou and Derrick Lewis at UFC 226 was infamously lacklustrous, with Lewis winning by a unanimous decision.
Speaking at Joe Rogan's podcast in March 2021, Derrick Lewis said, "I started getting tagged in the fight (on social media), because they were saying that (Gane vs. Rozenstruik) still wasn’t worse than Francis and Lewis fight.. I’m like, ‘Damn. OK. Sh*t.’"
With a rematch against Ngannou, Derrick Lewis could silence his doubters and also make a ton of money. The 36-year-old had told Joe Rogan that he didn't have much time to earn more money and didn't want to wait around too long for a fight.
"I know my window of time is closing ... to make money.. I don’t have that much time left, so I just want to make money, not just sit around and wait," said Derrick Lewis.
Going by the current circumstances, Derrick Lewis does seem like the best option to battle Francis Ngannou before the latter moves on to other opponents in the heavyweight division.
1. Jon Jones
The number one UFC pound-for-pound fighter against the newly crowned UFC heavyweight champion? Jon Jones vs Francis Ngannou is officially the next big thing in the MMA world.
Francis Ngannou's KO of Stipe Miocic at UFC 260 is by far the Cameroonian's biggest achievement. The only way he could top that would be by handing the former UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones (26-1-0), who is moving up to the heavyweight division, his first defeat ever.
Just as Francis Ngannou defeated Stipe Miocic for the heavyweight title at UFC 260, Jon Jones sent out a series of tweets sparking the the strong possibility of a super-fight between the two. The main concern for Jones, however, was the amount of money he would get paid for the fight.
UFC President Dana White laughed off Jon Jones' comments, saying that if he really wanted the fight, he could just call the UFC and get it booked.
White said, "If Jon Jones really wants the fight, Jon Jones knows he can get the fight. All he’s got to do is call and do it. It’s easy to say you want the fight, but if you really want the fight, Francis Ngannou is the heavyweight champion of the world right now. All he’s got to do is pick up the phone and call (UFC's Chief Business Officer) Hunter and we can get the deal done.”
Francis Ngannou, on the other hand, also acknowledged the possibility of a title defense against Jon Jones and seemed more than ready.
Speaking at the post-fight press conference, Ngannou told Joe Rogan, "For my opinion, Jon Jones is the greatest of all time for mixed martial arts. Him moving up is going to be a good thing. He's a challenge I will take and will be very good on my resume. But this time he will be the challenger, I'm the champ. He's coming up looking for me. I will be here ready to fight in July or August."
While it remains to be seen how the finances of the possible Ngannou vs Jones bout will play out between the UFC and the fighters, the idea is already a blockbuster.
If Francis Ngannou beats Jones, he will cement his place in heavyweight history as not just a knock-out specialist but a highly skilled MMA fighter.
On the other hand, Jon Jones will be classified as untouchable if he defeats Ngannou for the heavyweight title. He will etch his name at the top of the UFC Hall of Fame, way ahead of the greats like Georges St. Pierre, Khabib Nurmagomedov, and even Stipe Miocic.