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Sports Illustrated
Sports Illustrated
Justin Barrasso

Heavyweight Sprint Between Dana White and Francis Ngannou

SI’s MMA Notes, Quotes and Anecdotes runs every week.

The race to announce this fall’s super fight came down to two bouts: Jon Jones vs. Stipe Miocic for the UFC heavyweight championship and the crossover boxing bout pitting former UFC champ Francis Ngannou against WBC heavyweight champ Tyson Fury.

White made his announcement on Friday, July 7, a day ahead of UFC 290, while the Ngannou-Fury announcement was made last Tuesday.

Both are significant, but there is a stark contrast between the two bouts. One moves the sport forward, while the other is more of a one-off spectacle.

Jones and Miocic will provide clarity for the future of the heavyweight division. That should then open the door for Sergei Pavlovich, Serghei Spivac, Jailton Almeida or perhaps Tom Aspinall to emerge as the next force in the division. But first, Jones and Miocic need to determine heavyweight superiority.

Fury was supposed to fight Oleksandr Usyk, who is the the IBF, IBO, WBO and WBA champion. That would have been a unification fight to determine the first undisputed champion in boxing’s bellwether division in more than two decades, a major moment for the sport. But negotiations dissolved in March, opening the door for this far different matchup.

There are positives for Ngannou. His manager, Marquel Martin, says this fight will net more than his UFC purses combined. And he successfully got the fight with Fury, who was briefly on White’s radar, no doubt complicating the negotiations.

During an appearance last week on Sirius XM’s Unlocking the Cage show, Ngannou was prompted to say, “For some reason, I always prove Dana White wrong—even when he’s on my side. I always prove him wrong, every single time. This is just our story.”

Fury will also receive more mainstream recognition. The look from afar is positive when a star boxer defeats a star mixed martial artist (though make no mistake, the result would end in Ngannou’s favor if this were held in an MMA cage instead of a boxing ring), and it is a tremendous payday for him, too.

Credit to Ngannou for keeping himself relevant outside of the UFC. It will be fascinating to see how the feud between White and Ngannou continues to unfold—and White is bound to discuss it at an upcoming press conference. Though White was first on the announcement, Ngannou continues to make headlines away from the UFC.

Flaws exposed for Jack Della Maddalena

The first crack in Jack Della Maddalena’s armor was exposed Saturday night in his UFC Fight Night bout against Bassil Hafez.

A largely unknown entity to the UFC, Hafez earned his place in the promotion with an outstanding performance against Della Maddalena. Hafez did everything except win the bout, which was awarded to Della Maddalena by split decision.

There were some legitimate flaws exposed in this bout for the previously unstoppable Della Maddalena (15–2). As advertised, Della Maddalena was able to land his strikes with consistency. He was also able to showcase strong takedown defense as the fight progressed into the second and third rounds, which was also impressive, especially against an opponent as strong as Hafez (8-4-1). And there are plenty of ways to excuse Della Maddalena for barely escaping here, primarily because this was his third opponent and second weight cut in the last two weeks, and he was facing a new opponent in Hafez on only five days’ notice.

But it is impossible to ignore the poor decision-making. Della Maddalena, who had finished his first four UFC bouts in the first round, repeatedly made bad decisions in the second and third. After struggling in the opening round, when Hafez landed three takedowns, it appeared Della Maddalena could finish the fight on his feet in the second. But that notion vanished when he went for a guillotine on a tired Hafez, who was able to hold Della Maddalena down on the ground for the final two minutes of the round.

That same problem emerged in the third. Della Maddalena hurt Hafez with a left hook, and his body shots were winning the fight. Yet he attempted to end the fight with a submission in the closing minutes, and going to the ground again nearly cost him the victory.

Perhaps the split decision victory will force Della Maddalena into better decision making in the cage. Up until now, he had not been tested in the UFC. But as he starts to fight welterweights that also reside in the top-15, he is in for a rude awakening if he attempts to win with the same inept execution from Saturday night.

Holly Holm taps out in second round, removing her from title contention

Holly Holm entered this past weekend’s fight having won three of her last four, with a tightly contested split decision serving as the lone loss. She appeared on track to challenge for the newly vacated women’s bantamweight championship, until she was overwhelmed Saturday by Mayra Bueno Silva.

Bueno Silva (11-2-1) won her fourth straight bout at bantamweight, applying a dynamic ninja choke in the second round that forced Holm to tap. It is the type of win that elevates Bueno Silva into the thick of the title picture and the caliber of defeat that is a significant setback for Holm (15–7).

That was likely the last chance for Holm to main event a card, even in the Apex. She is only one victory above .500 in the UFC, with eight victories in her 15 Octagon bouts. She will have turned 42 by her next fight, and, while she should still remain in the top five of the division, she will drop to fifth. That is problematic because both Bueno Silva and Ketlen Vieira, both of whom defeated her, now sit in front of her. Vieira will fight Pannie Kianzad on Saturday, and the winner of that bout could also jump ahead of Holm.

It is hard to write off Holm, but Saturday’s loss appears to be the end for her in any sort of meaningful title picture.

Justin Barrasso can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.

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