There is a new UFC heavyweight champion and a new combat sports superstar. Francis Ngannou is possibly on his way to owning one of the greatest years in combat sports, and it began Saturday with a brutal knockout of Stipe Miocic, the greatest heavyweight of all time. So what's next for Ngannou? Millions? Endorsements? UFC events in Paris or Africa? The sky is the limit.
As for Miocic, the heavyweight GOAT is far from out of the conversation. Is a trilogy fight with Ngannou part of his plans? Or will he temporarily step aside and wait to see how the division plays out?
Prior to the main event, Vicente Luque made a statement with a submission victory over former welterweight champion Tyron Woodley, and Sean O'Malley got back into the win column with a new addition to his highlight reel.
Let's take a look at what's ahead for the standouts from UFC 260.
Francis Ngannou, heavyweight (defeated Stipe Miocic by knockout)
Who should be next: Jon Jones
Oh, baby. This is gonna be some fight. It's cliché, but it's the truth: Ngannou is the scariest, baddest -- whatever you want to call it -- man on the planet right now. He is the ultimate challenge in MMA. He had that setback in 2018 against Miocic, but he has clearly learned from it and now is realizing the immense potential we all recognized from the first time we saw him.
We haven't seen this much obvious potential in a fighter since ... Jon Jones. I think it's safe to say we're seeing Ngannou enter his peak. Meanwhile, Jones, with Khabib Nurmagomedov retiring, is pretty much the consensus pick for No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter on the planet. This is what you call a superfight.
Wild card: Stipe Miocic
If negotiations between the UFC and Jones hit a snag -- and there hasn't been evidence that's happening, but it's always a possibility -- then we could see a different opponent for Ngannou.
At that point, it really comes down to timing. After being relatively inactive in recent years, one gets the sense Ngannou is ready to go. If he wants to fight again and Miocic isn't ready, it could be Derrick Lewis or even Ciryl Gane. The favorite non-Jones opponent to get the fight, though, has to be Miocic, who, despite this loss, is still the greatest heavyweight of all time.
Stipe Miocic, heavyweight (lost to Francis Ngannou by knockout)
Who's next: Winner of Ngannou vs. Jones
Miocic and Ngannou are now tied 1-1. Of course, this man deserves an immediate rematch against Ngannou. The problem is, the UFC has already made it clear it wants to head in the direction of Jones, which I'm not against.
Jones finally moving up to heavyweight is a really big deal. He hasn't fought since February 2020. I don't want to see Jones sit out for two years, and I don't think anyone wants to see that. Miocic, in his later 30s, doesn't love fighting at a high frequency anyway, so just let him wait. Book Ngannou vs. Jones in the fall, bring Miocic out, sit him front row, build a whole thing around it.
The sport gets Jones as a heavyweight -- a narrative it has waited a long time to see -- and Miocic gets time to rest and a shot at reclaiming his belt in early 2022.
Wild card: Retirement
I don't know why the idea of retirement has followed Miocic around in recent years. Maybe it's because he has accomplished everything you could ask of him. Maybe it's because he has been in some tough fights, and his activity has slowed down a bit. He has also admitted he contemplates retirement after just about every fight.
But from a competitive standpoint, obviously he hasn't lost a step and doesn't need to retire at all. If he goes home to his family and decides to call it a day, hat's off to the heavyweight GOAT. If he wants to still compete, his next fight needs to be for the title. It's the only right thing to do.
Vicente Luque, welterweight (defeated Tyron Woodley by submission)
Who's next: Nate Diaz
Let's go! I mean, why not? Diaz wants to fight, but he's selective in whom he fights. He wants upside. He wants one of those old-school fighters -- the ones who come for blood and not points. Luque is that guy. Will Diaz take it? Who knows? He has earned the right to pick his fights, and he exercises that right.
When I look at the welterweight rankings, there's not an obvious matchup for Luque to move on to. Perhaps that's also where this callout comes from. The one that makes the most sense from a rankings perspective is Stephen Thompson, but Thompson beat Luque via decision in November 2019. I probably should have seen this callout coming, but I didn't. And now I love it.
Wild card: Demian Maia
I don't love this answer, honestly. Maia has made it pretty widely known that his next fight will likely be his last. And if that's the case, I don't know if Luque is the ideal opponent. It's a good, interesting fight, but if Maia is on his way out of the sport, Luque is on his way up. These kinds of fights happen, but I don't know if this one we need to see.
Now, that said, Maia is still ranked highly, and there just aren't a ton of other options for Luque. Colby Covington and Leon Edwards might be on a collision course. Gilbert Burns and Luque are teammates. It might have to be Maia.
Sean O'Malley, bantamweight (defeated Thomas Almeida by KO)
Who's next: Randy Costa
All right, so let's put a bow on one topic before moving on to the next one. Marlon Vera deserves credit for beating O'Malley in August, but to treat that loss like it was some one-sided, three-round defeat in which we found out O'Malley isn't the guy we thought he was is just absurd.
The talent is there, it's always been there and it looks like he's getting better. O'Malley is actually a hard one to matchmake for me, because there's definitely a part of me who wants to elevate him. He looked so much better than Almeida (who, granted, is not a proven world-beater), I want to see a step up in competition. That said, I don't know if a ranked opponent is appropriate just yet. After one more.
Costa is good, young and talented. He's got a great style to match up with O'Malley.
Wild card: Davey Grant
Grant is not ranked in the top 15, but he's on a three-fight win streak -- and he's coming off an absolutely sensational knockout of Jonathan Martinez. Had Martinez won that fight, he's actually a name I might have thrown out for O'Malley. So how about the guy who just beat him?