I’d ‘destroy Francis Ngannou’ in my prime, says ex-UFC champ

Is Francis Ngannou really that good? At least one former UFC champion doesn't think so.

By: Zane Simon | 3 months ago

There’s a saying that goes ‘Nostalgia is the most toxic emotion.’ It seems counterintuitive, considering that when most people think of the concept of nostalgia it’s all one of love and warmth; a calling to a simpler place and time when people really took care of one another. The music was better, the gas was cheaper, and the movies had soul and meaning.

Of course, there’s the rub. Idealizing the past only creates more bitterness about the present. A yearning for times gone by can so easily turn people away from caring for, dealing with, or interacting with the world around them as it really is. Not to mention, as any good history book will tell you, the good old days weren’t really all that good. Still, that doesn’t stop people from falling for the trap of romanticizing what used to be, or could have been.

Tim Sylvia remembers when the UFC had real champs… like him

Anyone who’s watched the UFC for more than just the past few years can see how the heavyweight division has changed over time. The boys have gotten beefier, faster, and stronger, no question. But, have they also become less technical as a result? Could it really be that yesteryear’s heavyweight champs like Josh Barnett, Ricco Rodriguez, and Tim Sylvia would have a serious challenge to offer guys like Ciryl Gane and Francis Ngannou?

On a recent episode of Submission Radio, former two-time UFC heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia gave his thoughts on the modern heavyweight landscape. Most notably, he feels that, were he still in his prime he’d be a serious problem for recent PFL signing Francis Ngannou.

“I don’t think Francis is that good,” Sylvia explained. “He’s a monster with heavy hands but his punches come from his hips and he swings wild and crazy. He hits you, you’re going to sleep but a technical fighter like [Jon] Jones and Stipe, they beat him again. You saw what he did to Gane. He wouldn’t even stand up with him. He took him down. It was an ugly fight. He talks a lot for only winning a fight then defending against Ciryl Gane.

“I’d destroy him in my prime. If we fought right now he beats me. But in my prime? If we could go back in time and I’m in my prime, he’s in his prime, I destroy him. He’s too wild. I was more of a technical striker than he is.”

Sylvia still has praise for Francis Ngannou’s PFL deal

Despite not being terribly impressed by the Cameroonian-born Frenchman’s skills in the cage, the ‘Maine-iac’ had a lot of praise for the ‘Predator”s skill as a negotiator. It’s a page out of the book Sylvia himself wrote. In 2008, shortly after losing an interim UFC title bid to Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Sylvia negotiated his exit from the then-Zuffa-owned promotion.

Upstart competitor Affliction was looking for big-name opponents to create PPV cards and jumpstart their entry into the combat sports landscape. As the right man in the right place at the right time, Sylvia made out like a bandit, grabbing a $800,000 payday for his bout with Fedor Emelianenko at Affliction: Banned. It was his only fight for the promotion, which closed a few months later following its second PPV event.

“It’s impressive. It’s awesome. I’m glad he did it. I’m glad he stood up for himself, but I don’t know if it was a mistake for him or not, because I know they offered him a really, really, really good deal in the UFC. And some of the stuff he was asking for, I don’t understand why it was necessary to be part of the board and all that stuff. I mean, I don’t know.

“I mean, I’m glad he did, it’s cool he had the balls to do it. It would’ve been better if they got like five of the five top champions to do it all at once. Cause I thought he was pretty good friends with Izzy and with – I don’t think Usman is still the champ. But yeah, you know, those three were pretty tight, and it would’ve been awesome if they just stepped aside and said, hey, look, this is the way it is. I don’t know.”

“I mean, I don’t know if he made the right choice or not. If he gets one big fight in a boxing ring, he’s taken care of for the rest of his life. That’s the big if. I think if he would’ve stayed with the UFC he might have had that opportunity, because the UFC did it for Conor McGregor. But Francis’ not a big draw. He did well, but he’s not the greatest heavyweight of all time [like] he thinks he is.”

SlapFight Sylvia

Even in his prime, Sylvia was something of a surprise as a heavyweight title contender and especially as a champion. Matt Hughes detailed in his own book how he would bully Sylvia because he thought Sylvia was soft and not a team player. Despite the seemingly toxic environment of Team Miletich, however, Sylvia became yet another major championship holder from one of MMA’s first supercamps.

After exiting the UFC in 2008, Sylvia knocked around the international MMA scene as a feature talent for numerous promotions. He fought Mariusz Pudzianowski in Moosin, Andrei Arlovski in ONE, and Satoshi Ishii in IGF. He retired in 2013, on the back of a 3-fight losing streak. These days he works for Innovative Home Concepts roofing.

In 2023, Sylvia returned to the combat sports world from retirement with a bout against a man known only as ‘The Bouncer’ at SlapFight Championship 25. Sylvia won the contest after several rounds of slaps and numerous fouls from both men. After the bout former UFC heavyweight champion Mark Coleman teased himself as a future opponent for Sylvia. Coleman was working as a body catcher for the SlapFight event. Fortunately Sylvia was quick to scrap the idea.

“Lol why you got to let people think we are slapping each other man,” Sylvia responded to a Coleman Instagram post. “That is not happening, you are a good buddy man. And you are a excellent catcher. Let’s keep it that way.”

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About the author
Zane Simon
Zane Simon

Zane Simon is a senior editor, writer, and podcaster for Bloody Elbow. He has worked with the website since 2013, taking on a wide variety of roles. A lifelong combat sports fan, Zane has trained off & on in both boxing and Muay Thai. He currently hosts the long-running MMA Vivisection podcast, which he took over from Nate Wilcox & Dallas Winston in 2015, as well as the 6th Round podcast, started in 2014. Zane is also responsible for developing and maintaining the ‘List of current UFC fighters’ on Bloody Elbow, a resource he originally developed for Wikipedia in 2010.

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