The UFC Heavyweight Championship is one of the most coveted prizes in all of combat sports, and the moniker of ‘Baddest Man on the Planet’ has more often than not been linked to current champion since the title’s creation. There are outliers of course, but Francis Ngannou fits the bill — he’s an athletic freak that nearly decapitates his opponents if even a single one of his sloppy punches penetrates their defense.
He’s shown the ability to be patient for rounds at a time, stalking his opponent, utilizing titanic defense while he waits for his chance to land that single fight ending blow; It only takes one. Ngannou (16-3) has knocked out 10 UFC heavyweights to date with an 11-2 record in the promotion.
4 years ago today @francis_ngannou delivered one of the greatest knockouts in UFC history. This is hands down the best KO I've witnessed in person. 💪 💥pic.twitter.com/ld7cLll248
— Chamatkar Sandhu (@SandhuMMA) December 2, 2021
One is the key number here. It takes just one punch for Francis to knock anybody in the division out, one sour contract negotiation to get on the wrong side of Dana White, one loss for the UFC to rid themselves of Francis if they so choose, one big night that can change Ciryl Gane’s future. And one day after UFC 270, we may very well see things very differently than we do right now.
They don't hate me. They're afraid of what they don't understand 😉. People have always doubted me my whole life but here I am 🤷🏾♂️.#UNDISPUTED #CHAMPION ➡️➡️➡️ https://t.co/qj28yJ7vfC
— Francis Ngannou (@francis_ngannou) November 22, 2021
Francis Ngannou is the Baddest Man on the Planet
Francis Ngannou had the best performance of his career in his last fight, a knockout win over Stipe Miocic, and avenged his most embarrassing career loss in the process. It seemed like it was smooth sailing from there — a fight with a yet-to-debut at heavyweight Jon Jones was on everyone’s mind — but all of that was just talk. Whether Jon Jones’ demons kept the fight from coming to fruition or Jon’s plan was always to delay his return to mid 2022, Francis needed a new dance partner for his first title defense.
That’s when fight negotiations stalled, which led to Ngannou’s former training partner, Ciryl Gane, facing off against the last man to beat Ngannou, Derrick Lewis, for an interim UFC Heavyweight Championship. All while Dana White insinuated that Ngannou wanted to do anything but fight.
Enter Ciryl Gane
With three wins in the heavyweight division in 2021 and a perfect 10-0 start to his mixed martial arts career, Gane has proven that he is worthy of being granted a championship opportunity. Gane’s a smart, big, fast, agile, vicious Muay Thai specialist who has what it takes to win the
title shot title unification bout.
After controlling Jairzinho Rozenstruik and Alexander Volkov for five rounds each with back-to-back unanimous decisions, Gane found himself across from Derrick Lewis at UFC 265 – and it took him less than three full rounds to secure the interim UFC Heavyweight Championship. Over the course of the fight Gane blasted Lewis with 112 strikes, 98 of them significant, and finished ‘The Black Beast’ by TKO in the third. That’s no easy feat.
Official stats for Ciryl Gane vs. Derrick Lewis. Gane finished with 80% sig strike accuracy, while Lewis landed only 16 sig strikes in 14+ minute fight #UFC265 pic.twitter.com/3YEdeGpXt3
— Richard Mann (@RichardAMann) August 8, 2021
“…He’s a big, powerful, badass heavyweight who moves like a middleweight,” UFC President Dana White told the media at the UFC 265 post-fight press conference. “His fight IQ is through the roof.”
The Francis Ngannou Problem
Striking coach Fernando Lopez alleged on The MMA Hour recently that in the past Ngannou didn’t want to pay the gym’s membership fees, had trouble repaying a gym that had taken him in and let him train for free, routinely snubbed his coaches during victory speeches, and even made it harder for ex-teammates to get into the UFC.
There were talks after his January 2018 loss to Stipe Miocic that Francis Ngannou had an attitude problem which may have led to his poor performance at UFC 220. Dana White had publicly stated that Ngannou had ‘lost his mind.’ Now again at the end of 2021 and start of this new year, the Dana White vs. Francis Ngannou feud is burning.
Ngannou’s manager, Marquel Martin, shed some light on situation last month on The Lucas Grandshire Podcast:
The UFC Heavyweight Belt was supposed to be the bargaining chip that Ngannou needed to command the respect of the UFC. Now things have gotten so out of hand that Ngannou has openly talked to TMZ about boxing Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder if he completes his UFC contract or signs a new UFC deal that allows him to do so.
That is not to suggest that anything that Fernando Lopez, Dana White, or Francis Ngannou says in true or that any of this anything other than a he said/he said game of advanced contract negotiation tactics — but it just highlights that there is indeed a problem. The UFC Heavyweight Champion is not content, the UFC boss is not content, and Ciryl Gane will likely play third wheel in the ongoing Francis Ngannou vs. Dana White feud.
When will we know what happens with Ngannou?
If Francis Ngannou wins on January 22 and he doesn’t sign a new deal beforehand, as unlikely as that is, we could see him away from the UFC with a loss, or worse, take the lineal UFC Heavyweight Championship with him with a win should contract negotiations stall further (though it’s likely a championship clause could complicate matters). If Ciryl Gane wins at UFC 270, he will likely be an afterthought regardless of his performance because of all the drama surrounding the current champion.
With a win, we might find ourselves in the same situation we are currently in, but Francis will theoretically have more leverage in negotiations. An agreement could be made at any time beforehand, but in any case the proverbial 11th hour nears.
There is no winner in all of this until a deal is reached — except maybe Ciryl Gane, who was pushed into this title fight. It’s not that he wouldn’t have gotten there anyway, it’s that the interim UFC Heavyweight Championship wouldn’t have been on the line if Francis and the UFC weren’t feuding at the time. In a way that’s what’s wrong with all of this — the build-up to this fight hasn’t been about Francis Ngannou decapitating Alistair Overeem and besting his boogeyman Stipe Miocic and how Ciryl Gane is expected to deal with all of those problems inside the octagon. The narrative has been Dana White vs. Francis Ngannou and just how the UFC will rein ‘The Baddest Man on the Planet’ back under their control.