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Why Francis Ngannou, Mirko Cro Cop, and Kron Gracie Are The Weekend’s Biggest Winners

February 20, 2019 | Posted by Dan Plunkett

It was a busy weekend of MMA with the UFC’s first big fight on ESPN, two Bellator shows, a ONE Championship card, and an Invicta event. Mostly, it was a strange weekend. There was a nut shot finish, two exciting strikers decided to give the fans a show with some subpar grappling, an eye-poke helped crown a new champion, and that’s all before we got to Sunday.

Sure, there were a lot of losers this weekend, but this is a positive column, and therefore let’s go through the biggest winners of the weekend.

Francis Ngannou
Francis Ngannou’s uppercuts are so devastating that one blew out Cain Velasquez’s knee. Or maybe Cain Velasquez’s knees are so worn that one was blown out by a Francis Ngannou uppercut. Either way, Ngannou scored by far the biggest win of his career Sunday night by stopping Velasquez in 26 seconds. A year ago, Ngannou was the guy whose hype train crashed. He was on the cusp of something special when he challenged Stipe Miocic for the heavyweight title, but he didn’t have the skill or cardio to get it done. Then last summer, he was ridiculed for a flat performance against Derrick Lewis in which he never pulled the trigger. It’s safe to say Ngnanou has rebounded from that fight.

First came the 45 second destruction of Curtis Blaydes in November. Now, after cutting through Velasquez, Ngannou is firmly back in the heavyweight title mix.

The top of the heavyweight division is in a wait-and-see situation. Champion Daniel Cormier is injured and doesn’t plan to fight much longer. Considering Ngannou just defeated Cormier’s friend and training partner, he could now figure into Cormier’s plans. Even if he doesn’t, Ngannou is no more than one win away from another chance at the title.

Mirko Cro Cop
What year is it? I’m pretty sure I wrote a Mirko Cro Cop retirement column in 2011 after he lost to Roy Nelson. Since that fight, he’s 11-1, won the 2012 K-1 World Grand Prix, won the Rizin Open-Weight Grand Prix, and now he’s gotten his win back from Roy Nelson. Sure, there was a USADA violation thrown somewhere in there, but he’s a 44-year-old man, give the guy a break.

It’s 2019, Bellator has an active heavyweight championship again, and Mirko Cro Cop is one of its top contenders. We can’t pretend that Cro Cop’s performance on Saturday put the division on notice, or even that Nelson has been on a strong run lately (he’s now lost four of his last five, although one of those losses was a good performance against Matt Mitrione).

Some have brought up the idea of a rematch between Cro Cop and Fedor Emelianenko, but I’d sooner agree to watch a fifth fight between Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski than that. It might be the right fight for Cro Cop, but it’s not for Fedor, and we don’t need to run back every classic fight ran back when the combatants are long past their prime and the magic is recognizable in name only.

Since Bellator likes to pit big names against each other, a fight between Cro Cop and Rampage Jackson seems to make sense. That’s a fight that can headline a show and puts the winner in a good position to keep their career going.

Kron Gracie
The UFC had been missing a Gracie for far too long, and then along came Kron.

The Gracies have had a rough go of it in the UFC since Royce first left the promotion in 1995. When he returned in 2006, Matt Hughes bulldozed him in a predictable fight. Rolles Jr. was one-and-done with the company in 2009, as was Renzo in 2010 and Roger in 2013. Kron is different.

Kron didn’t enter his UFC debut on Sunday night as much of a mystery. He’s a good fighter, as he showed in back-to-back submission wins over Hideo Tokoro and Tatsuya Kawajiri, and a good athlete. On Sunday, most expected him to grab hold of Alex Cacares, get him to the ground, and submit him. That’s exactly what he did.

It’s difficult to say what Kron’s ceiling is. He’s had few fights and hasn’t had a chance to react to many different looks. But it’s been too long since a Gracie was competitive at the top of the sport. That name means something. Besides Cain Velasquez, Kron was the only fighter from the UFC card to crack Google’s top searches on Sunday (50,000+ searches in the United States). If Kron keeps rolling, he can be a real star.

Dan Plunkett has covered MMA for 411Mania since 2008. You can reach him by email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @Dan_Plunkett.