UFC 218 Betting Preview: Ngannou vs. Overeem
Prior to each UFC fight card, Jay Primetown takes a look at some of the key contests at each event. In the latest installment, we look at the co-main event of UFC 218 as Alistair Overeem takes on surging prospect Francis Ngannou in a heavyweight tilt.
Francis Ngannou (Record: 10-1, -270 Favorite, Power Ranking: A-)
On a five-fight winning streak to start his UFC career, Francis Ngannou has quickly risen into the division’s top five. He’s finished all five of his UFC opponents with his last three victories all coming within the opening two minutes of those bouts.
The Cameroon-born heavyweight began training in boxing in his native Cameroon before moving to France at the age of 22. He was homeless for a period of time living in the streets of Paris as he picked up odd jobs here and there before he joined up at MMA Factory and learned MMA. He started fighting professionally in 2013 and never turned back. The 6’4” heavyweight has one of the longest reaches in MMA at 83” inches. His output is modest for a heavyweight at 3.40 significant strikes per minute. He has heavy power in his hands (6 career knockouts), but he’s not a fighter who looks to brawl. He is fairly patient timing his opportunities. When he senses a finish, he’ll go for it. From an athletic standpoint, he’s about as good as there is in the UFC. He’s muscular, extremely strong, and agile. He’s a fighter that can do things that other fighters cannot do inside the Octagon. While most of his finishes have come early in fights, he’s proven to be pretty well conditioned fighting at a consistent pace throughout his bouts. His takedown defense is decent, but it’s not elite so he can be taken down to the mat by wrestling focused fighters. On the feet, his chin has rarely been tested. His striking defense is very good absorbing just 1.53 significant strikes per minute with 59% striking defense. He was staggered by Curtis Blaydes early in his UFC stint, but recovered well. That’s the only time he has been challenged. Perhaps that was a rare moment of weakness or a fluke. Until he is tested again, it will be hard to tell how he deals with adversity.
Alistair Overeem (Record: 43-15, +230 Underdog, Power Ranking: B+)
A winner of six of his past seven fights, the 37 year old England-born heavyweight has had a tremendous career resurgence. In his recent run, he’s finished the likes of Mark Hunt and Junior dos Santos while also nearly winning the heavyweight championship when he clipped champion Stipe Miocic in their title fight in 2016.
The former kickboxer turned MMA fighter is the best technical striker in the heavyweight division. He’s as accurate a striker as there is in MMA with 61% of his significant strikes landing. As he’s gotten older, he’s become even more calculated waiting for his opportunity to pounce when he sees an opportunity. He still lands with decent volume (3.69 significant strikes per minute), but now his game plan is landing in combination as opposed to a constant forward pressure. Overeem is physically imposing for the weight class standing at 6’4” with an 80 inch reach. He’s more than capable of landing kicks from the outside and timing punches to hurt his opponent. He did this perfectly in his knockout win over Junior dos Santos. What has been the biggest change for Overeem has been his distance. As he’s gotten older, he has needed to be much more careful. He holds his hands much higher to protect himself once he is hit and is willing to take some body strikes as opposed to opening himself up to head strikes to protect his chin so he can go back on the offensive. Overeem absorbs just 1.87 strikes per minute; ranking in the top ten all time in the heavyweight division. Overeem rarely seems himself in grappling exchanges. Even when Fabricio Werdum had top position for the final couple minutes of their bout, Overeem was able to cover well and avoid submission attempts. It’s clear where Overeem is most vulnerable is in the standup against strikers with real speed and power.
In a highly anticipated heavyweight bout, Alistair Overeem takes on Francis Ngannou in a pivotal matchup in the division. The stakes are really high in this bout as the winner is likely to get an opportunity at the championship in 2018. This is by the far the most technical and skilled opponent Ngannou has ever faced and it will be a real test for him. In this fight, I expect both fighters to begin with some caution. A feeling out process is likely as Overeem certainly will want to keep his head hidden to avoid any big shots from Ngannou. In just about all of Ngannou’s fights he typically takes a minute to see his opponents’ movements before pouncing. With the stakes even higher in this bout, I could see a longer period of caution. Once the fighters begin to engage, the advantage will go to Ngannou. He’s much quicker than Overeem and he should be able to utilize his length to effect. While Ngannou’s chin is still rather untested, it’s not a clear liability like it is Overeem. The kickboxer will need to fight a near perfect bout if he is going to win. His technical ability gives him a chance to win this bout, but it’s very hard to see him being able to avoid Ngannou’s power punches for all fifteen minutes. The UFC is desperate to develop a new heavyweight star and if Ngannou is able to win in this bout, he’ll be well on his way to doing that. Look for Ngannou to land and stagger Overeem towards the end of the first round or early in the second round. At that point, he’ll swarm and be able to finish the legendary kickboxer. Ngannou inside the distance is currently -185 and is a bit out of range as I'm looking for -150. I will be looking at Ngannou by TKO / KO once it’s released to see if that's closer to target. This is about Ngannou should win, but the fact that he's been rather untested is a cause for concern.