Francis Ngannou’s head coach believes the UFC heavyweight contender spending his entire fight camp at home was a partial key to success in his rematch against Curtis Blaydes last month.
This time last year, Cameroonian-born fighter was riding high off a knockout win over Alistair Overeem, which earned him a shot at then-heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic. Ngannou met Miocic this past January, and was favored to beat the Ohio native. But, the ‘Predator’ dramatically fell short, losing a lopsided decision. Ngannou then lost to Derrick Lewis in a fight widely criticized for its lack of action.
Ngannou faced Blaydes in the main event of UFC Beijing on Nov. 24 and stopped his opponent in 45 seconds, getting back on track for the first time in nearly a year. Heading into 2018, the heavyweight top contender was expected to have a massive year, instead the upset of Blaydes saved him from going 0-3 in the past 12 months.
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“The Predator” trained at the UFC Performance Institute in Las Vegas for the Miocic and Lewis fights, but returned to his roots at MMA Factory in Paris, France for the Blaydes rematch. Fernand Lopez, the gym’s head coach, said that was what made the difference and ultimately got Ngannou back to his winning ways.
“Francis Ngannou did all his camps in Paris; he was winning all the fights,” Lopez told Bloody Elbow. “When he went to Vegas in PI, then he had the problem losing to Stipe. Then he had the second fight in the PI and he lost [to Lewis].
“We worked a lot to have this victory. We really did have a good camp. Two months of hard camp. We tried to work on everything on the mental side, on the conditioning, on the skills. The work paid off. He showed that he’s still there for a long time. He’s not going anywhere.”
Earlier this year, after the Lewis loss, Lopez commented that Ngannou’s ego got bigger and bigger as he continued to pick up marquee wins in the Octagon, and that that’s what led to his downfall. He shared the same sentiment as UFC president Dana White, who was very critical of Ngannou after the Lewis loss at UFC 226 in July.
“He went through a very bad spot,” Lopez said of Ngannou. “When you’re in the UFC and you keep winning and everyone is saying to how good you are, how strong you are... And as soon as you lose, they start doubting you, they start saying bad things about you. It was a hard moment for him.
“It’s not easy when the loss starts to play with your mind. That’s something very hard.”
Lopez said sometimes having an ego can make you a better fighter, but in the case of Ngannou, it was the opposite.
“It’s very smart and clever to accept that you have an ego and work on that, so you can make your ego to help you be better, the No. 1,” Lopez said. “But not block your evolution, your improvement — when your ego starts to play against you, then you have a problem. And that was my point of view.”
Happy that Ngannou is back training at MMA Factory, Lopez said when he publicly talked about Ngannou’s ego, he was simply looking out for his fighter.
“A team is like a family,” Lopez said. “Sometimes, people fight in the family. You’re sometimes not OK with your dad or your brother. In my point of view, I think it is my duty to say what I feel like is true, so I can help.”
As far as what’s next for Ngannou, Lopez said he’d like to see him in there with former champ Junior dos Santos. Ngannou and dos Santos were supposed to fight in September 2017, but the Brazilian was pulled from the fight due to a potential USADA violation.
“I think JDS owes Francis a fight, because they were supposed to meet and that didn’t happen,” Lopez said. “I think this is the time to see the fight.”
But, Lopez said, the opponent doesn’t matter as long as it is one who gets Ngannou closer to another shot at the title, which is currently held by Daniel Cormier.
“I’m pretty sure next year he will be fighting for the title,” Lopez said.