Francis Ngannou hasn’t had the best 2018.
The rising heavyweight prospect, whom many believed was destined for stardom, lost to UFC champion Stipe Miocic in a one-sided unanimous decision at UFC 220 back in January. In his return bout, Ngannou fell to Derrick Lewis by unanimous decision in a listless — historically inactive — performance at UFC 226 in July.
Last December, Ngannou’s stock could not have been higher after a wicked, Knockout of the Year against Alistair Overeem. Nine months later, the Cameroon native by way of France is ice cold. Especially after UFC president Dana White slammed him following UFC 226 for having “ego” issues.
Ngannou will get back into the Octagon against Curtis Blaydes in the main event of UFC Beijing on Nov. 25 in China. “The Predator” spent his UFC 226 training camp in Las Vegas at the UFC Performance Institute and Syndicate MMA under coach John Wood. Wood told MMA Fighting that he believes Ngannou will return to Syndicate for his rematch with Blaydes. Ngannou won the first time around by second-round TKO in 2016.
Wood said that he did not see any kind of problems with Ngannou with regards to ego. Just the opposite, the longtime MMA coach said.
“Francis is always a pleasure,” Wood said. “Nicest guy, funny dude, always enjoyed having him around. Great to have him in the gym, always playing with the kids. Just a good dude, man. I never had any experience like that with him at all.”
When White said what he had to say about Ngannou — that his “ego ran away with him big time” — Wood said he wasn’t shocked. Not because he saw a problem with Ngannou’s demeanor, but because White is always going to be White.
“You can’t ever really be taken by surprise by what Dana says,” Ngannou said. “It’s one of those things, you never know what Dana is gonna say. That’s his thing, to make headlines. He feels a certain way about certain things and he spoke about it. I don’t know what their personal interactions were or had been to that point, but Francis has always been a pleasure for me to be around and never been different toward me. But different people have different interactions. Sometimes people say things that they don’t exactly mean in the moment and they’re pissed off. Everybody was kind of pissed off after that fight. But yeah, nothing is ever shocking with Dana.”
After the hapless outing against Lewis, Ngannou admitted to having carried “fear” from his loss to Miocic into the fight with Lewi. It was a very open and honest statement from someone in his position. Wood said the admittance could be therapeutic, though it came as a surprise to the coach.
“I really had no idea about any of that stuff,” Wood said. “That’s getting to know somebody and getting comfortable in camps and working with each other more. Every time you work with a fighter, you learn and grow. That’s something with him I look forward to doing. He took a big step and admitted to his faults in that fight. I think that’s gonna set him in the right direction. I think he’s only gonna come back stronger for it.”
Ngannou (11-3) had won 10 straight before being thrust into the heavyweight title fight with Miocic earlier this year. Wood has a hard time saying it was too soon, despite Ngannou’s relative lack of experience. Because, in reality, Ngannou still had a chance to finish Miocic with one punch, such is his devastating power.
“If he lands one punch and knocks him out, it’s not too soon and we’re not having this conversation,” Wood said. “We’re still talking about how amazing Francis is. That’s MMA. It’s hard to say. … Is it maybe too soon? It’s a little early in his career. Is it too soon for him to handle it? Eh, he’ll keep growing and get better and I think eventually he’ll end up with that title.”
Ngannou is still just 31 years old, which is very young for a heavyweight. With what he has seen in the gym, Wood said he’s bullish about how far Ngannou can still go.
“He’s still learning, he’s still growing,” Ngannou said. “And yes, he’s still green. That dude is a freak. It’s a freak how fast he learns, how strong. In another year or two, if he keeps moving the way he is, yeah he’s gonna be an unstoppable force. But some people take to it quicker. There’s just little pieces that need to click. But if he goes out there and starches Stipe with one punch, then … we’d be thing he’s the best fighter there’s ever been, that kind of thing.”