MMA fighting

Francis Ngannou’s coach takes stock of a targeted return, still wants Jon Jones: “This is the fight to be fought”

The UFC pay-per-view schedule for the remainder of 2021 is filling up quickly, but the end-of-year roster is still missing a gigantic presence: Heavyweight King Francis Ngannou.

Ngannou has been out of action since knocking out Stipe Miocic just 52 seconds into the second round of his March rematch to win the UFC heavyweight crown. A title unification fight against former Ngannou teammate Ciryl Gane, who won an interim belt with a knockout of Derrick Lewis at UFC 265, is expected to be next. And while nothing is official yet, Ngnnou coach Eric Nicksick said MMA time Ariel Helwani on Wednesday that a date in early 2022 is what the team is currently anticipating.

“I hope, and that’s what we did. We heard January, ”Nicksick said on MMA time. “But you never know, man. Like, the UFC is always ready to throw a curve ball at you and then, “Oh, guess what? You are fighting Jon Jones now.

Ngannou’s road from UFC 260 has been odd. UFC President Dana White spent preparing for Ngannou’s rematch with Miocic, claiming the winner would fight former UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones in a blockbuster super fight heavy weights. The match between Ngannou and Jones would have done big business, but UFC officials pivoted almost immediately after failing to reconcile with Jones and instead targeted a rematch between Lewis and Ngannou for UFC 265. Once that Ngannou was unable to make an appointment, the UFC brought in Gane as a replacement and put on a provisional belt in the match despite it happening less than five months after Ngannou’s victory.

Now it’s unclear when or if Jones will fight again.

Nicksick is still hoping that the showdown between the two titans can reunite before it is lost forever.

“I still think there’s a chance, and you’re absolutely right – I think that’s the fight to go,” Nicksick said. “And I would hate to miss this opportunity between Francis and Jon. It kinda reminds me of when [Manny] Pacquiao and Floyd [Mayweather] were supposed to fight the first time around and then Pacquiao went to get starched or something happened, right? And then the chandelier disappeared. So I hope that’s the fight that happens, because honestly in my mind I think Jon Jones is the GOAT pound for pound. And as a coach and as a competitor, I want to compete with the best.

“I have the utmost respect for Jon and Brandon Gibson and this team at JacksonWink, but that’s what we want to do – we want to compete and we will compete with the best available. And I think Ciryl put her name in that hat, but that’s the fight that I think the fans, the media and everyone want to do, it’s Jon and Francis.

For now, Jones’ fight remains a long shot. White has repeatedly insisted that a title unification fight between Ngannou and Gane is the UFC’s new priority for the division.

Gane is a perfect 10-0 in his MMA career and has won all of his seven UFC appearances in a dominant fashion. After Lewis’s vicious UFC 265 victory, Gane was even made a betting favorite to defeat Ngannou through multiple online sports betting. And while Lewis’ fight was impressive for Gane in its thoroughness, Nicksick actually felt that an earlier performance was the Frenchman’s real “exit party”.

“For me, I was actually more impressed with what he did with [Alexander] Volkov, ”Nicksick said. “I thought this fight was going to be more revealing, in my opinion, just because of the reach and the length and what Volkov is capable of as a forward.”

The relationship between Ngannou and the UFC has been tenuous in recent months. Ngannou told GQ after UFC 265 that “sometimes I’m not even sure I’m really the champion or not. It is really confusing. He added that there was “a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes” and that he didn’t think the UFC was happy with him after turning down a contract offer that “wasn’t fair” to him before. Miocic’s rematch.

But eventually, Ngannou and his team rolled with the punches, and Nicksick said they would continue to do so until the 34-year-old champion’s next step was fully defined.

“It’s a business, they have to do what’s best for them,” Nicksick said. “The thing I’m most happy about is the fact that Francis has just worked out in the gym since then. The moment we found out we were fighting Derrick Lewis, he started camp. So it almost reminds me of the pandemic days when we had Jairzinho [Rozenstruik]. We ended up having a camp of almost 14 or 15 weeks, and that helped us a lot. It reduced his weight, it kept him active. We were able to develop our skills and do a lot of things behind the scenes.

“So he’s hungry. He is motivated. I don’t want to put words in his mouth and say he’s disrespectful, but the narrative I think is inherent that that’s how he’s going to feel. But for us boy all the politics and stuff you really can’t control [them], so I just wanna put your ass in the gym and work hard and good things are going to happen.