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Francis Ngannou eyes potential December return, still focused on Tyson Fury in 2023

It’s sounding more and more likely that the next fight the heavyweight champ takes will be inside the Octagon.

Following Francis Ngannou’s first defense of his heavyweight title, back in January at UFC 270, it seemed likely that Ngannou was set for a prolonged contract battle with the UFC. Already involved in a dispute with the promotion over their decision to create an interim belt in 2021, the ‘Predator’ only needed to sit out until early 2023 for the ‘champion’s clause’ on his contract to expire before he could potentially enter free agency.

Given that he needed knee surgery—and the lengthy recovery that entails, anyway—the idea that fans wouldn’t see the Frenchman until sometime next year seemed like a safe prediction. However, it may just be that things between the Xtreme Couture talent and the world’s largest MMA promotion aren’t so dire as all that after all.

TMZ caught up with Ngannou to get an update on his recovery. According to the champ, he’s three months into rehab, and things are going well. Although he revealed that he and the UFC still haven’t come to any new deal, he hopes to be ready to fight by December.

“If everything goes well, I will be ready by the end of the year because it is going to be nine months,” Ngannou explained, speaking of his rehab (transcript via MMA Junkie). “(I want to be back in) late December, or early next year.”

Backing up the idea that Ngannou and the UFC may find some common ground is a recent interview with Dana White on the Jim Rome Show. While speaking of former light heavyweight champion Jon Jones and his potential return to the Octagon, White cited Ngannou as a potential opponent for ‘Bones’—dependent on Ngannou’s rehab progress.

“Jon Jones is ready to go,” White said of the longtime Jackson-Wink fighter (transcript via MMA Fighting). “We’re just waiting for an opponent. It’s either going to be Francis [Ngannou], depending on how long his knee is going to take to recover, or Stipe Miocic.”

While all that sounds like good news for fans hoping to see Ngannou keep his MMA career on track, it doesn’t mean the 35-year-old has pushed his boxing ambitions entirely aside. Tyson Fury prodded the Cameroonian-born fighter on Twitter, likely in response to the TMZ interview, and Ngannou was quick to clarify that he still wants to see the ‘Gypsy King’ inside a boxing ring, sometime in 2023.

Whether or not he and the UFC can come to terms and still make a major boxing exhibition happen? That remains to be seen.