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“I have changed a lot because the time between my first fight and my second fight is almost the time that I had been doing the sport before my first fight,” said Ngannou, who had been a professional for a little over four years when he first fought Miocic four years ago in Boston. “If you think about it, I’m almost twice what I was back then skill-wise, experience-wise; even more because there were a lot of things that I had never been through before that fight that I didn’t understand how it works.”

“I think his Fight IQ has grown to the point now where he’s starting to like the other elements of MMA, including the wrestling, the grappling, and the jiu-jitsu, and that helps a lot because it’s like you’re giving an artist more paint to paint with,” offered Nicksick. “It’s also helped because he understood what some of his weaknesses were and instead of just doubling down on what his strengths are, we talk to him a lot about focusing on the things that you think you’re not good at yet.

“He feels like a different animal now that he has these other tools that he can work with, play with.”

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In a sport where nearly all of the greatest competitors of all-time have dealt with setbacks inside the cage, the way Ngannou was quickly dismissed following a pair of losses after being christened “The Next Big Thing” has always felt like a gross overreaction.

Now, as he readies to face Miocic for a second time and potentially fulfill the destiny many forecasted for him several years ago, the challenger has proven himself to be much more adept at handling the sundry secondary and tertiary obligations and expectations that come with being in his position, just like many who followed a comparable path before him.

And when it comes to Saturday night, he’s not worried about answering lingering philosophical thought experiments about his takedown defense — his sole focus is on exiting the Octagon with the heavyweight title draped over his shoulder.

“As long as my hand is raised, that will be a good fight for me. The only thing I want to see is my hand raised.

“On March 27, I’m going to become the heavyweight champion.”


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