By Stephen Kihn
Francis Ngannou has tipped Kamaru Usman to beat him to the punch and become the first African UFC champion.
Cameroonian Ngannou (12-3) had the chance to make history when he fought Stipe Miocic (18-3) for the heavyweight belt in January 2018, but lost via unanimous decision to the American.
While Ngannou returned to title contention with a 45-second TKO of Curtis Blaydes (10-2) in November – and could enhance his championship ambitions by beating former two-time champ Cain Velasquez (14-2) in Arizona, USA on Sunday – he backs Usman (14-1) to win gold next month.
Nigeria’s Usman will fight welterweight king Tyron Woodley (19-3-1) for the strap at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on March 2.
“It’s very important for me to carry my flag, to carry my people behind me,” Ngannou told mmaengage.com.
“But I had a chance to be the first one to get the belt in Africa, I missed it. But I’m really for Usman coming up to fight for the title on March 2nd.
“I’m pretty sure he’s going to win this fight.”
Ngannou, however, still hopes to spearhead efforts to bring the first UFC event to Africa.
“Being the first to bring it [the title] back in Africa, I’m not in the line anymore. But being part of bringing the UFC to Africa, I’m really expecting [it] in 2020. Even maybe by the end of 2019, because we are just in February.”
Usman’s compatriot and UFC middleweight star Israel Adesanya (16-0) last week predicted the promotion will stage a card on the continent in 2020.