Francis Ngannou has his first title defense lined up, but it’s not with the name he was originally hoping for.
It’s no secret that Ngannou has long sought a megafight with UFC star Jon Jones, with a discussion around the two brewing for the past two years and coming to a boil with Ngannou claiming the heavyweight title and Jones, a three-time light heavyweight titleholder, announcing his plans to jump up a division.
Ngannou is scheduled to meet interim heavyweight champion Ciryl Gane in a unification bout at UFC 270 on Jan. 22, and while he looks forward to that fight, he stopped short of saying it was as exciting as a matchup with Jones when asked about it on The MMA Hour.
“Not particularly,” Ngannou said. “But it’s a good fight. You have to be aware of the danger of any fight, so it’s a fight, he’s a good opponent, but not on the level of a Jon Jones fight for example if that’s what you’re asking. It’s not the same thing.”
Having recently claimed the UFC title with a second-round knockout of Stipe Miocic, Ngannou has been pegged by many as the next great heavyweight champion. Unsurprisingly, there is massive interest in how Ngannou would fare against Jones, one of the most dominant fighters in MMA history.
Any talk of Jones fighting anyone is moot at the moment given his recent legal troubles. Last month, Jones was arrested and charged with misdemeanor battery domestic after an incident involving his fiancee on the night of the UFC Hall of Fame ceremony in Las Vegas. It was revealed Wednesday on The MMA Hour that Jones is not currently welcome at the Jackson Wink MMA gym, which is where he has trained for the majority of his career.
Suffice to say, it’s unlikely that the UFC attempts to book a fight for Jones until his legal issues are resolved.
“At this point, I don’t know much about what will happen in the future,” Ngannou said of a fight with Jones. “I don’t stress about that. What will happen will happen. I wish that fight will happen, but I’m not sure about it anymore. It will be okay.
“There are so many good fights out there if everything goes right, there’s so many fights that you can do and would be a good fight, so let everything go.”
One point of intrigue going into the Ngannou-Gane fight is their shared history with coach Fernand Lopez. It was Lopez who first pushed Ngannou to pursue a career in MMA, and the two found much success in the UFC before they later parted ways. Ngannou now trains primarily with coach Eric Nicksick at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas.
Lopez has since coached Gane to the interim title, and in interviews both Ngannou and Lopez have mentioned their partnership ending on acrimonious terms. The crux of the disagreement appears to be that Ngannou did not show enough appreciation for Lopez’s work. Lopez claimed he’d give $10,000 to anyone who could find footage of Ngannou thanking Lopez and his former team MMA Factory, a challenge that Ngannou said was met but never rewarded.
“That’s exactly what I want to know, is to see where I did something wrong?” Ngannou said. “Like I didn’t give credit? What did I do wrong? Last year, there was a campaign [for] a video of me saying ‘thank you’ and they found the video, [Lopez] promises $10,000 for whoever find the video, I don’t know if he give them the $10,000.
“It seems like there’s some campaign against Francis Ngannou, but I don’t care about that. I just do my thing. I have to evolve, and evolving, you have to do what’s necessary for you. Because at the end of the day, it’s about you. When you lose, it’s all on you, you’re the only one here putting everything on the line. When you lose the fight, it takes you month to deal with your feelings, avoid depression, but the next day other people they are running their business as normal. It’s your problem.”
Ngannou also downplayed the closeness of his relationship with Gane, explaining that they briefly trained together in January 2019 ahead of Ngannou’s fight with Cain Velasquez, and that that was the extent of their working relationship.
Even though they’re not close friends, Ngannou doesn’t expect there to be any bad blood outside of what’s spilled in the cage.
“That will not be awkward,” Ngannou said. “Fighting for me is my job first of all. I take it as a job. Maybe some people take it as a personal issue, but it’s just a job.”