On paper, it’s a brilliant matchup. The No. 4 ranked heavyweight versus No. 5, a former champion trying to remain relevant against a fast-rising, ambitious prospect, both of whom are athletic and aggressive power punchers.
But something worries me — greatly — about the match between Junior dos Santos and Francis Ngannou that the UFC announced on Wednesday for UFC 215 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Canada, on Sept. 9.
Dos Santos, a former heavyweight champion, gets hit.
And there may be no harder puncher in the sport than Ngannou, who is 5-0 with five finishes and is coming off a 92-second destruction of Andrei Arlovski, another former heavyweight champion.
Dos Santos is a boxer and he’s spoken frequently of his desire to face former boxing heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko. That was never a good idea, and it’s a worse one now as dos Santos’ defense appears to have almost completely abandoned him.
According to Fight Metric, dos Santos was hit by 26 of 56 significant strikes thrown by Stipe Miocic at UFC 211 when they rematched for the title, including 23 of 50 to the head.
The numbers are frightening when you go through the list of his fights. Ben Rothwell landed 77 of 212. Alistair Overeem connected on 32 of 43 punches. Miocic was 89 of 193 in their first fight. Cain Velasquez was 123 of 201 in their last fight.
When these punches are coming from heavyweights, it makes it even worse. It’s a problem dos Santos has to fix, and immediately. Getting hit by 32 of 43 punches by someone like Ngannou seems to be inviting a hospital stay.
Dos Santos is a great athlete and has more aspects to his game than simply his hands. But he’s become one dimensional and hasn’t significantly improved his defense.
If his coaches aren’t drilling the necessity of improving his defense at every workout, then he needs to look for new coaches.
Fighters take risks in every bout, but the risks are getting much higher for dos Santos as he’s being hit cleanly in the head far too frequently. Something needs to change, and quick.