The fight the MMA world now wants to see is Ngannou vs. Jones - but is it really a fascinating match-up, or a total mismatch?
The talk of the (MMA) town since UFC 260 has been a potential match-up between newly crowned heavyweight king Francis Ngannou and former longtime light heavyweight champ Jon Jones following his recent push for a heavyweight debut.
With Jones clamouring for more money (and not being particularly good at it - his frequent tweet-and-deletes on Twitter don't exactly earn him any fans) but seemingly still wanting the heavyweight title shot he had been teasing for years, it seems like only a matter of time before we eventually see the massive showdown.
But is it really the "superfight" it's being billed as?
One can easily argue it should be considered as such given Jones' dominant run at 205 pounds, the fact that he vacated his title and never lost it in the Octagon, and his considerable frame easily befits a heavyweight - on the other side of the coin, while Francis may have only just captured gold, he is perhaps the most terrifying knockout artist in MMA history and has already cleared out much of the heavyweight division, boasting brutal knockouts over the likes of Alistair Overeem, Curtis Blaydes, Cain Velasquez, Junior Dos Santos, Jairzinho Rozenstruik, and now the most accomplished heavyweight in UFC history, Stipe Miocic.
Though the next top contender (who also has a win over Ngannou, albeit in one of the worst fights in UFC history) Derrick Lewis arguably deserves the first crack at heavyweight's new king, with Jones' long tenure as the light heavyweight champion and the years of teases from Jones and his camp on his inevitable move up to heavyweight, it's understandable that the UFC would opt for the financially lucrative "superfight" and leave Lewis on the sidelines without a dance partner for the time being.
With most "superfights", fan hype often revolves around the uncertainty of the outcome. This is particularly true when it pits fighters that normally compete in different weight classes against one another, as it can be so difficult to compare their runs and how much weight factors in to the comparisons.
Certainly, we've seen this same phenomenon occur regarding this potential match-up immediately after Francis sent Stipe's chin into orbit last Saturday night; but is this really a tough fight to call?
Why don't we take a look at each fighter and see how they match up, shall we?
16-3 (12 KOs, 4 Submissions)
6'4, 263 pounds, 83" reach
Let's start with the newly crowned "Baddest Man on the Planet", Francis Ngannou.
The most obvious standout attributes of the heavyweight knockout artist are his freakish punching power and the absurd strength his intimidating physique grants him.
These characteristics have been clear throughout his time in the UFC, from his stunning UFC debut against an unknown to his near-decapitation of MMA legend Alistair Overeem to his latest bone-crunching knockout against poor Stipe Miocic.
Unfortunately, because of his incredible power and strength, many people (including great analysts and commentators) seem to miss some of the other qualities that make him so dangerous to anyone standing across from him inside the Octagon.
Though men with the type of size and strength of Ngannou may be rare, hard hitting punchers capable of knocking out virtually anyone standing in front of them are a dime a dozen at heavyweight - fighters without knockout power in that weight class are few and far between. What truly sets Francis apart from other heavyweight behemoths isn't just his impressive athleticism; it's his keen eye for openings and his sense of timing that turn a scary puncher into a downright horrifying knockout artist.
Ngannou may charge in and successfully perform the duties of a heavyweight freight train on occasion, such as in his 20-second starching of Jairzinho Rozenstruik, the vast majority of the time we've seen him in the cage, we see Ngannou patiently waiting for his opponent to make the mistake of presenting a target for him to hit.
It's in his countering ability that Francis' skills become most apparent - while he may not always throw with perfect technique, his ability to seize opportunities and punish opponents for any openings they present him is second to none in the heavyweight division.
This isn't a heavyweight that simply swings haymakers with his eyes closed and hopes for the best - just look at his quick knockout win over former champ Andrei Arlovski. Francis can be seen lying in wait for Arlovski to attempt his famous right hand, then merely backs away from it while throwing a left hook in its wake, priming his victim for the thunderous right which proceeds to floor him.
His ability to stay calm and composed under fire is a rare trait for a heavyweight and it allows him to finish his opponents with disturbing ease.
Thanks to the brutal nature of the finishes themselves, people often miss this fact, not even realizing that many of Francis' knockouts come as he is backing up or is standing in the pocket and actively evading his opponent's own blows.
Take his most famous knockout prior to last Saturday, against Alistair Overeem; as Alistair attacks, Ngannou opts to stay in the pocket, completely focused on his target and rolling with Alistair's strikes as them come in all the while, allowing him not only to stay in the "danger zone" without getting hurt, but to land the kill shot when his opponent puts himself into a compromised position.
His knockout of Junior Dos Santos? Another finish that came off the counter as he effortlessly avoided Junior's loaded up right hand and swarmed on his out-of-position prey.
Even his title-winning demolition was capped off by a counter-strike.
Though Miocic was already significantly hurt from prior shots, Stipe still had the wherewithal to stop his retreat and plant his feet for his counter right hand straight down the middle, arguably his best and most powerful weapon, which he managed to land clean on Francis as he moved in for the kill. Unfortunately for Stipe, the punch didn't even phase Ngannou and merely reminded him not to chase his victim and reset; in return, it was Stipe who then proceeded to make the mistake of chasing and thus ran into a short left hook that sent him crashing to the canvas in dramatic fashion.
Ngannou's ability to remain composed in the middle of exchanges even when famed strikers like Junior Dos Santos and Alistair Overeem are chucking leather at him is what truly transforms Francis Ngannou from a scary heavyweight powerhouse into a true knockout artist on par with the best finishers in the sport's history.
Unlike many other counter strikers that become hesitant on offense thanks to their own success with countering, as we all know Ngannou isn't afraid to lead the dance should his opponent be timid or looking to fight defensively.
Even a glancing or partially blocked blow from Ngannou is enough to send his opponents reeling, and when he does choose to go on the offensive, his control of distance has become perhaps the most overlooked aspect of his game.
Just look at how he closed the distance on Stipe with a double jab, followed by a jab to the body to bring Miocic's hands down in order to land a clubbing right; as Stipe decided to stand firm he caused the advancing Ngannou to run into clinch range, but instead of falling into said clinch like he did in their first meeting, Ngannou immediately recognizes the collapse in space and pushes off to safety, throwing a sweeping left hook that narrowly misses as he retreats to "close the door" on his combination and discourage Stipe from following up.
The sequence beautifully encapsulates the improvements Francis has made in the last few years and show that he is far more than simply a heavy handed slugger.
What is perhaps the most terrifying thing for his opponents to deal with is his ability to keep his fights on the feet - even early in his career when he quite clearly had little to no wrestling technique, he was still remarkably difficult to take down simply because of his athleticism and unreal strength.
Even Curtis Blaydes in their first fight, one of if not the best offensive wrestlers in the division currently, struggled mightily to take down an unseasoned Francis and when he did, he couldn't keep him down despite having virtually no trouble doing so against everyone else he's managed to drag to the mat.
In Ngannou's first title fight, most pointed to his lack of wrestling and grappling ability, combined with his early exhaustion, as his downfall - in reality, Ngannou was able to negate Stipe's wrestling early on before he grew tired, and even as he became increasingly exhausted, Stipe still was unable to get him flattened out on the mat, instead forced to accept less effective positions against the cage in order to make sure he could continue controlling Francis.
In spite of his clear lack of grappling technique, it was more his reckless aggression early on that cost Ngannou his first crack at the title, something that he had not shown before and was attributed to his inexperience and the hype he carried into the fight. He may very well have captured the title years ago even without much in the ways of grappling training or skill - but in doing so, he likely wouldn't have evolved as a fighter.
His next outing, against Derrick Lewis, was essentially like watching the fight version of growing pains - thanks to his bad experience in his first title fight and the lopsided loss he suffered as a result of his aggression, Ngannou overcorrected to the point of outright refusal to engage. Lewis smartly avoided waking the sleeping giant and scored some leg kicks en route to a decision victory in what many regard as the most disappointing and one of the worst (non-)fights in UFC history.
With people then writing off Ngannou as just another failed heavyweight prospect, Francis continued toiling away at his new elite camp, improving his grappling and fixing the problems that had been exposed, refusing to let his prior successes be the peak of his career.
From that loss came the latest run for the Predator, his pacing issues a thing of the past as he slaughtered Curtis Blaydes, Cain Velasquez, Junior Dos Santos, Jairzinho Rozenstruik, and Stipe Miocic in less than two full rounds total.
He continues to sharpen his skills and show his dominance in every facet of the game, and now that he is with an elite camp and actually trains in the grappling department, he is an especially scary prospect for those seeking to take the champion down - particularly since eating even an extremely short shot on the way in is enough to crumple former champions.
Though he has been hit on occasion, his focus and vision in the cage makes him surprisingly difficult to hit for such a big man, and the few times he has been hit clean, he has appeared completely unphased. Even Stipe Miocic's best punch, which he landed as Ngannou was coming forward and adding weight to the collision, didn't phase the Predator - it'll likely take one hell of a shot to actually hurt Francis, let alone knock him out.
26-1, 1 NC (10 KOs, 6 Submissions, 10 Decisions)
6'4, 240? pounds, 84.5" reach
Now to take a look at one of the most controversial figures in the sport's history.
Like Francis Ngannou, Jones' physique is one that immediately presents a ton of advantages obvious to viewers, albeit in very different ways; while Ngannou's body screams "monstrous power and strength", Jones' frame presents a variety of attributes that prove extremely useful in a fight.
Standing at 6'4 with a ridiculous 84.5" reach (for reference, Jones' shares the UFC's record for longest reach with Stefan Struve, who stands nearly 7' tall), Jones' long legs and arms present obvious advantages when it comes to being able to keep opponents on the outside and in being able to land strikes at a range where his opponents can't land anything in return.
He is somehow incredibly strong despite his gangly physique (how much performance enhancing drugs feature into that is a topic of discussion for another time, given his lengthy history of failed drug tests including for anabolic steroids) and it allows him to particularly excel on the ground, where his nasty elbows and dominant top control make him a force to be reckoned with.
It should be noted that it isn't purely size that makes a good fighter, and all of these things can be overcome - for instance, the afforementioned Stefan Struve has Jones' reach and a massive height advantage over everyone he's fought, yet can't keep an opponent away from him to save his life and is nowhere near championship level - but it certainly helps, particularly in extreme cases like Ngannou and Jones.
Just how much it makes a difference can be seen in fights where Jones' height and reach advantages are limited (at least compared to what he's used to in other match-ups).
As noted in The GOAT Report, Jones enjoyed an average reach advantage of nearly 9 inches over his opponents thoughout his championship run - such a massive advantage is pretty much unheard of outside of a Jones fight, given that he has a reach longer than virtually any heavyweight yet can still easily make 205 pounds.
The earliest and easiest example of Jones having issues with someone more of his own size was in his fight against Alex Gustafsson back in 2013. While most counted the Swede out, the UFC repeatedly made note of Gustafsson's size since he was the first of Jones' opponents that was really comparable in frame - while his reach of 79" was still a whopping 5.5" behind Jones, he stood at the same height and had a smaller reach disadvantage than any of Jon's opponents to that point.
Jones struggled mightily in the fight, and while he and his fans played it off as the result of his lack of training for who he didn't see as a threat, in truth Gustafsson exposed many of the flaws Jones always presented - his lack of proper boxing defense, his focus on straight-line offense and retreats, and his reliance on his frame for wrestling offense.
Despite looking rather average up until that point when it comes to wrestling, Gustafsson was able to stuff nearly all of Jones' takedown attempts and even scored a takedown of his own, something even an NCAA Division I All American like Ryan Bader couldn't manage to even come close to.
His lateral movement and varied boxing gave Jones fits as he struggled to get a bead on his opponent; Jones is great at fighting on a straight line, which back then was how most fighters in the heavier classes fought, where his length gives him great advantages and where he can gauge distance well. As soon as his opponents move side to side, much of his offense is limited and he goes from looking like an excellent striker to a rather mediocre one.
Similarly, his retreats from exchanges almost always consist of backing straight up, often stiff-arming to keep his attacker far enough away before he hits the fence and then circles out to reset in the middle of the Octagon. Such a tactic doesn't work nearly as well with someone that doesn't have such a massive reach and/or height disadvantage, or against someone who is much faster, like Lyoto Machida.
The next fight Jones had against a man similar in stature wasn't until he fought Ovince St. Preux in 2016 after having been stripped of his title and sidelined by the UFC following his hit and run incident in 2015.
Many blamed Jon's rather lackluster performance on "ring rust" given that he had been out of action for a bit over a year, however he's had multiple such layoffs and never looked so mediocre, including in his very next fight since he tested positive for estrogen blockers and was suspended for one year right before his originally planned title unification bout.
Now, I'm not saying that OSP is terrible - he is very athletic, strong, has a lot of power, and is capable of beating most light heavyweights in the UFC on any given night thanks to his finishing ability - but he is not a championship caliber opponent and is not exactly a technical fighter by any means. What he does have however, is size, being an extremely muscular 6'3 with an 80" reach.
That was enough to keep Jones at bay despite his lack of meaningful output and his clear strategy of fighting just to "survive" and go the full five rounds against his technically superior foe.
To his credit, Jones did manage to score three of his five takedown attempts against the non-wrestler, yet the successful attempts all came in the fourth and fifth rounds when OSP (who is known for gassing) had slowed down and even had a broken arm courtesy of a blocked kick. The few times OSP did remember that he could come forward and throw more than one strike at a time, he was able to land clean on Jones without issue, making it a particularly frustrating performance to watch from St. Preux.
Jon's problems with men closer in stature to himself have still not been rectified years later - in his last outing, which most viewers had Jones losing three rounds to two, the similarly 6'4 Dominick Reyes (who only has a 77" reach to Jones 84.5") gave Jones fits by once again outboxing Jones through plenty of lateral movement and having superior hands while stuffing his takedown attempts.
The fight before that, Jones struggled mightily against someone who, despite not having the size, was able to give Jones fits with tons of lateral movement and attacking Jon's legs. Thiago Santos, like Reyes after him, arguably should have left the Octagon with the title in hand, even after having completely blown out both of his knees early in the fight.
While not being of the same stature (6'2 and 76" reach), he was able to fluster Jones merely through extensive lateral movement and chopping away at Jones' legs as he tried to apply pressure. Many pointed to Jones' struggles in the fight being because of his "choice" to stand up with Santos, given that Jones only officially attempted one takedown throughout the five round affair.
The problem is, he did attempt to close the distance and get into the clinch on multiple occasions (as a Greco-Roman wrestler, his best takedowns all stem from the clinch and have from the start of his career) but was dissuaded from doing so by his opponent.
Rather than being able to stuff Jon's takedown attempts like many of the bigger men Jones has fought, Santos instead discouraged any attempts altogether by merely standing his ground any time Jones got too close and swinging wild haymakers to get Jones to back off and retreat to safety.
As much as people like to claim Jones has "genius level" fight IQ, the fact that he was dissuaded so easily from taking down a man who had clearly compromised legs (completely torn ligaments in both knees that had him limping and on unsteady legs throughout the fight) and a rather lackluster grappling game, and instead nearly lost his title in a razor close split decision, lends some credibility to the fact that perhaps Jones' conservative approach in recent years isn't the most intelligent approach.
It's also another sign that while his striking has improved, his wrestling offense has arguably regressed over the years, not just in how often he attempts to take his opposition down, but the quality of the attempts themselves.
Statistically, this can be seen quite easily - while his takedown defense remains a stellar 95% (his wrestling defense has always been quite remarkable, even stuffing attempts from an Olympian like Daniel Cormier throughout both of their fights), his takedown success rate sits at 44% - a solid if unremarkable number.
His recent output however, has been far less effective, and now when he does score takedowns, it's typically only late in fights when his opponents are tired and no longer putting the same effort into defending them - against Dominick Reyes, he attempted far more than normal as he was getting outstruck throughout (and likely saw his mistakes in the Santos fight), yet went just 22% and both of his successful attempts came in the championship rounds after going 0 for 4 in the first 15 minutes.
Against Anthony Smith, who is not a championship caliber fighter but once again at least stood at the same height as Jones, Jon's rate was just 37%, with his successful takedowns coming in rounds 3 and 4 in a lopsided fight against an opponent that didn't even look like he wanted to be there. To put that in perspective, Smith's overall takedown defense rate in the UFC stands at just 51%, meaning Jones was far less successful than Smith's other competition on average.
In his long overdue rematch with Alexander Gustafsson, Jones did much better in the standup, as much a sign of his improvement half a decade later as it was Gustafsson's bizarre decision to eschew everything he had success with in the first fight (he loaded up on looping shots, cut down on his lateral movement, and generally looked like he had forgotten all of his boxing skills besides a telegraphed uppercut and overhand shot), but again went just 1 for 5 in takedowns, with the first successful takedown coming in the third round which led to an easy finish as the fighter who had publically been talking about retirement wilted (something he did in his very next fight against the afforementioned Anthony Smith too).
Some of this lapse in success could be attributed to the rise of his level of competition (although that's kind of hard to argue in his recent years, other than with Reyes for his last fight), but looking at the tape of his contests, it's hard not to notice his entries are simply not set up as well as they used to be and he appears to be easily discouraged from seeking the takedowns he would once aggressively pursue.
The last glaring flaw in Jones' game is his susceptibility to leg kicks.
Jon likes to fight in a wide stance to generate power for his strikes and avoid being taken down easily, a problem for many tall fighters who stand more upright. The problem with this stance is that it makes it much harder for a fighter to easily check low kicks, and particularly with the lead leg, his length is actually a hindrance in that it's often well within his opponent's kicking range even if the rest of his body isn't.
Thanks to the threat of being taken down by Jones, most of his opponents are reluctant to throw many leg kicks and risk being taken down, but this vulnerability that has long been talked about was finally capitalized on by Thiago Santos in their fight in 2019.
Despite being compromised by a knee injury going into the fight, the fearsome slugger showed off a brilliant gameplan in his attempt to capture light heavyweight gold at UFC 239, capitalizing on many of Jones' weaknesses even without coming close to matching him in frame.
Santos circled the entire time, forcing Jones to constantly reset and in the process taking away many of his favourite tools - while doing so, he chopped away at Jones' legs with powerful low kicks, flustering Jon and combined with creating a sense of fear in the champion whenever he attempted to get inside Thiago's range by throwing wild flurries, he effectively trapped Jones in a technical kickboxing match.
Unfortunately for Santos, he blew out his leg (ACL, MCL, meniscus, basically everything in his knee) in the very first round while throwing a kick, taking a torn ligament heading into the bout and turning it into a complete destruction of his joint. He then blew out his other knee in the second round, yet he refused to let it deter him - not only did he make it all 25 minutes fighting on two bad knees, he arguably won three of the five rounds, scoring the most significant strikes of the fight in the process.
In this case however, it was probably for the best Santos didn't leave the cage with the belt and force an immediate rematch - since his lengthy time off due to surgery and his recovery, he has lost much of his mobility in the cage and looked a shell of himself in the two performances he's had recently.
Now, having focused so much on his weaknesses, Jones is still a great fighter with plenty of great attributes - he has incredible takedown defense, great kicks, creative and powerful elbow strikes he looks to land anywhere he can, an underrated clinch game, amazing cardio (even though he famously isn't a hard worker in the gym), and some of the most brutal ground and pound you can find in the sport. But when you have accumulated as much footage inside the cage as he has, and has largely ceased improvement for the last several years, it becomes very easy to notice holes in his game that haven't been rectified despite being present throughout his career.
The Jon Jones puzzle so-to-speak, has already largely been figured out - while he hasn't been toppled yet on paper, in the eyes of the vast majority of viewers of his fight with Reyes, as well as other fighters and media members, he should have lost against Dominick Reyes (who he then refused to fight again) and many argue he also lost the fight before that against Santos.
It also doesn't seem like a coincidence that Jones opted to finally commit to moving up in weight after years of talking about it, right as the light heavyweight division was beginning to see truly elite, bigger athletes start filling the ranks - from the afforementioned Reyes who Jones denied a rematch, to Aleksandar Rakic and Jiri Prochazka.
With talks of the "superfight" heating up since UFC 260 ended, there's a contingent of fans that believe Jones matches up well with Ngannou - truth be told, it's hard to see where they're coming from, other than hinging their argument on the fact that he hasn't lost (barring a disqualification of course).
Jones' shortcomings and flaws may be something he can get away with at 205, but at heavyweight where he doesn't have a size advantage over his opponents, those flaws become much more glaring.
Jones is used to having a lengthy reach advantage against his opponents, and his defense quite literally relies on it - this has been capitalized on by men of similar height to Jones, but even they still faced a discrepancy in reach of least five inches - against Ngannou, that reach advantage is just 1.5", and there isn't a height gap to make up for it either.
His lack of a strong jab, or power in his hands (though a move to heavyweight may help with his power, it's highly unlikely he'll turn into a heavy hitter with his hands, and only time will tell if the additional weight hinders the speed advantage he should have up at heavyweight) will make it very difficult for him to discourage a powerhouse like Ngannou from simply charging in and bulldozing him.
Though he is good at discouraging straight-on attacks through his use of kicks, the only effective means he has of discouraging his opponent's offense are his intercepting elbows and his fingers.
The way he folds over to land elbows while in what is normally a fighter's punching range is an excellent use of his length and he's landed plenty of solid elbows as opponents attack him on the feet, but against Ngannou, a man with nearly the same reach, he would be putting himself well within the "danger zone" in attempting these kinds of counters and it's unlikely to be very effective given that Ngannou doesn't need to get that close in order to hit him.
His second method of keeping opponents away is part of what makes Jones so hated - his constant threat of eye pokes.
Eye pokes are of course a hot topic in MMA but without going too far down the rabbit hole, they're illegal for a reason - not only can they cause serious damage to someone's eye with little to no effort, they can even cause a fighter to go blind or lose their eye entirely. And with the UFC's gloves allowing fighters to fully extend their fingers with ease, it's a matter that continues to affect fights - just weeks ago a main event was stopped courtesy of a grotesque eye poke.
For Jon, since he doesn't have an effective jab he instead likes to simply stiff arm his opponents, placing his lead hand on their head and since they have all had much shorter reaches than him, this keeps him out of danger of being punched. Frankly it isn't a bad tactic, but its his execution of said tactic that makes him a notoriously dirty fighter.
When a fighter is just outside his reach, he will keep his fingers pointed directly toward his opponent's eyes, stopping them from coming forward due to a sense of fear that they will run themselves into an eye poke. When they're close enough to touch, Jon will make good on that fear by continuously raking his hands over his opponent's face, often "accidentally" poking or grazing their eyes with his fingers.
Despite it being a highly publicized problem and long been an issue in Jones' fights specifically, referees remain extremely hesitant to take points away (looking at you Herb Dean, who is most often the one reffing in big fights such as Jon's) particularly when a title is on the line, giving plenty of warnings even after multiple pokes. Jones is smart enough to tone down this tactic if he's caused a poke or two and will avoid doing so for a few rounds to make sure the ref has forgotten about it, but by then the damage is done and he's typically succeeded in making his opponents hesitate to close the gap.
Unfortunately for Jon, stiff arming isn't going to be effective when there's so little a discrepancy in length - if he tries putting his hand on Ngannou's head, he's still within Francis' punching range and is just asking to eat a right cross over his outstretched arm. He can still certainly get an eye poke or two in, but his typical fear tactics to get opponents not to rush him are unlikely to bear fruit at heavyweight.
His struggles taking men of similar stature down, combined with his reluctance to get to the clinch against someone throwing shots at him, does not bode well for his chances of getting a takedown on someone like Francis. His height makes getting in on a surprise double and timing-based takedowns much harder for him, and where he excels is in the clinch - but with such a size and power advantage for Ngannou, getting him down or even holding him in the clinch is unlikely, especially early in the fight.
Far more credentialled wrestlers, like Stipe Miocic and Curtis Blaydes, who are used to throwing around and even ragdolling massive 265 pound men, were unable to do so against Ngannou - unless he can tire Francis out and take him down late, he isn't getting the fight down to the ground unless Francis knocks him down and follows him there.
It's also notable how prone Jones appears to be in getting discouraged from going for takedowns when he's punished for doing so; Francis is perhaps the most brutal punisher of takedown attempts there is. Not only does he look to land as his opponents try to clinch or change levels, but immediately after stuffing them he pounces, peppering them at every opportunity and regularly hurting his opponents in the process. Just ask Stipe Miocic, who after getting sprawled on, was then thrown down himself and battered as he tried to get away.
Francis' distance control and avoidance of the clinch following that first loss to Stipe also serves him particularly well in a match-up with Jones, and makes him truly a horrifying puzzle for Jones to attempt to solve. He presents incredible danger to Jones at any distance the fight takes place, not only matching his range but basically eliminating Jones clinch game thanks to his strength and power advantage.
His best chance at victory then appears to be playing the role of matador, a classic "stick and move" strategy that relies on him constantly moving and avoiding the power shots of the heavyweight king while scoring points wherever he can on the outside.
The problem with this method is that he simply does not suit that style nor does he have the defensive skills to pull something like that off, not for any extended period against a man like Ngannou - backing away and trying to stiffarm your way out of trouble will simply not work against someone with his own frame, let alone a much stronger version of it.
This would also leave his long legs extremely susceptible to the low kick, something he's struggled with before and Ngannou has shown a willingness to throw, especially in his last fight, where the Predator rifled off several heavy low kicks in order to slow down Miocic and stifle his lateral movement.
Instead, the most conceivable way for Jones to earn a victory is to somehow push the pace against Ngannou and force him to work early in order to tire him out and take over later in the fight. To do so however, requires putting himself in a ton of danger and will require him to be able to survive eating some shots from the scariest knockout artist on the planet.
Not eating a good shot for 25 minutes against Ngannou is virtually impossible - Francis is not a man who makes the same mistake twice, so the likelihood of his non-fight with Lewis reoccurring here is virtually zero - and even in his loss to Stipe where he recklessly put himself into the clinch where Jones may be able to tire him, he cracked Stipe with plenty of shots that would have felled most men.
Here's where Jones most underrated aspect would have to shine - his durability.
For a time, Jones pretty much avoided getting hit clean in the chin entirely thanks to his reach advantage, but over recent years his chin has been tested by many of his opponents, from Alexander Gustafsson to Daniel Cormier to Dominick Reyes. His chin has continued to hold up extremely well, with Jones having never suffered a knockdown and though he has been stunned for a moment here and there, he's never even been noticeably rocked.
In order to actually beat Francis Ngannou, given his skill set, not only is he going to have to put himself in harms way repeatedly during the fight, he is going to have to absorb shots from the heaviest hitter in a weight class above the one he has been fighting for his entire career, from a man who will likely outweigh him by at least twenty pounds - and somehow not only survive, but implement his gameplan to a tee.
No matter how you slice it, if the fight does get made, it's Ngannou's fight to lose and more than likely Jones will end his unbeaten streak with a knockout loss.
Given how talks seem to currently be going between him and the UFC, Jones may be (very smartly) pricing himself out of such a fight and saving some brain cells in the process - here's hoping it does get signed and the fans get to see the "superfight" they've been waiting for.