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Francis Ngannou: Power & Progress

The UFC heavyweight champion speaks with Boardroom about his first title defense — UFC 270’s main event against Ciryl Gane — and his evolving mindset as a competitor.

Francis Ngannou wears a belt that imbues him with the mystical energy that is the exclusive privilege of the UFC heavyweight champion. But he’s not a superhero out of a Marvel trade paperback — he’s a man whose punishing exploits inside an MMA cage belie his soft-spoken nature.

And now, another opportunity to add to his remarkable run has arrived in the form of Saturday’s UFC 270 main event against Ciryl Gane — Ngannou’s first chance to defend his title.

As 2021 wound itself down, the heavyweight champ sat down with Boardroom to discuss the differences in preparation for a fighter like Gane, how his mental approach has evolved over the years, and more.

Securing the Gold

“You’re not a real champion until you defend the belt. Yes, it’s a platitude — but it also remains one of the most highly debated subjects among UFC fans. Regardless of whether you agree with the statement or not, the heavyweight champion will embark on his first title defense Saturday night.

After beating belt-holder Stipe Miocic last year, Ngannou told UFC President Dana White he wanted to be active — but that’s not what actually ended up transpiring. Saturday marks two months short of a full year since “The Predator” took over as the Baddest Man on the Planet. And when he walks into the octagon for the first time with UFC gold over his shoulder, he’ll do so before a familiar face: Ciryl Gane.

Francis and “Bon Gamin” don’t consider each other former teammates, but have trained together under Fernand Lopez — former coach to Ngannou and current coach to Gane. Ngannou left Lopez after losing to Miocic in their first bout four years ago at UFC 220; since then, the two sides have not had the warmest relationship.

But should Ngannou defeat Gane, any inklings that Lopez has about his fighter being the superior of the two will be put to rest.

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“He can change levels pretty quick because he’s also a good wrestler and his striking is great,” Ngannou said of Miocic, whose win four years ago by decision was more than reciprocated by the Predator with a thunderous knockout last spring. “I’m safer with [Ciryl Gane] on the level change than with Stipe. That gives me room to be able to focus on his striking, because I know that is his best game. With Stipe, his striking is good, but he can come at you with his wrestling.”

The Predator Profile

Born: Sept. 5, 1986 (age 35)
Home town: Batié, Cameroon
Height: 6-foot-4
Last weigh-in: 257 lbs.
Reach: 83 in.
Record: 19-3 (12 KOs)

Team: Xtreme Couture
Coaches: Eric Nicksick, Dewey Cooper
Represented by: Marquel Martin (CAA)
Key endorsements: Dodge, Cash App, NOCCO energy drink, Fitness Coach app, Gymshark, CBD Research Labs, Stake.com, Cryo Pain Relief

Francis & The Future

While Ngannou hasn’t fought since first winning the title, he has made headlines on multiple occasions advocating for higher pay for MMA fighters. “I will not fight for $500,000 [or] $600,000 anymore. It’s over, I just did this,” he said in an interview with ESPN.

This isn’t just about his career in the cage, however. Ngannou has been not-so-quietly flirting with the idea of getting into a boxing ring. Both he and WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury have even teased a future fight with one another in recent months.

“You want to come in to my world calling me and [Deontay] Wilder out to a boxing match — what I can guarantee, you would be knocked out and also paid your highest purse to be so! So have a think,” Fury said.

As the Predator responded: “After I handle business on Jan. 22, I’ll fight you under any special rule set you want. In a ring, an octagon or a phone booth.”

It would be quite an anomaly should the UFC sanction an under-contract Ngannou to box Fury; the only other instance in which they have ever engaged in a co-promotion with any another entity was when Conor McGregor boxed Floyd Mayweather in 2016. Every other time fighters have asked, the UFC has not obliged. But in boxing (and beating) retired UFC fighters Ben Askren and Tyron Woodley, Jake Paul has turned the heads of an increasing number of athletes on the roster who can’t ignore the serious dollar signs.

Last week, Forbes reported that Paul made $40 million in boxing income in 2021.

Ngannou would like to make similar money, and it appears Fury is willing to aid him in getting it. “When the UFC is involved, it’s just going to make it bigger. So yes, if I want to box, I would like the UFC to be involved,” Ngannou said.

Of course, that doesn’t mean MMA fans should forget about the possibility of Ngannou running it back for a Miocic trilogy — or being the man to welcome all-timer Jon Jones into the heavyweight ranks at long last.

For what it’s worth, Gane has already hinted at Jones being his next target if he manages to win Saturday.

Naturally, MMA fans love getting ahead of themselves and matchmaking months and months in advance. But there’s a reason they fight these things out in the cage rather than on paper.

Let’s enjoy this one. Because they don’t get bigger — literally, physically bigger — than this UFC 270 main event.

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