Francis Ngannou’s UFC career may be over


ANAHEIM, Calif. — What Francis Ngannou did on Saturday by beating Ciryl Gane with his grappling would be like Usain Bolt setting a world record in the 100 yards by running on his hands, or Tom Brady rushing 250 yards to lead the Buccaneers to a another Super Bowl title.

Exactly no one saw it coming, even though it shows the growth of Ngannou’s game and the brilliant work of trainers Eric Nicksick and Dewey Cooper that the most formidable fighter in the sport could win a fight by attacking.

He was a +115 underdog for Gane at BetMGM, but he’s established beyond doubt that he’s the elite heavyweight in the world right now. He won by scores of 48-47 twice and 49-46 to retain his belt in the main event of UFC 270 at Honda Center.

Where he goes from here is even more of a mystery than if he actually came up with a game plan to fight Gane. Ngannou had a Nurmagomedov-like approach over the last three laps. He took down Gane on the third and Nicksick knew they were onto something.

“I was looking and saw how Ciryl was trying to get up, and I realized we had something there,” Nicksick said. “When he came back in the corner, I put the stool down and said, ‘We’ve got something ourselves, huh? He says, ‘We’re bringing it down.’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’

The strategy led Ngannou to perhaps the most impressive win of his career. But that puts him in an underworld, as his relationship with the UFC is poor and it is unclear even for Ngannou if he will fight for the promotion again. He struggled with an ACL and MCL injury in his right knee that was so bad his coaches were begging him to retire.

Worse still, his relationship with the UFC, and President Dana White in particular, is not good. White did not put the belt around Ngannou after the decision was announced. Matchmaker Mick Maynard did. And then the UFC PR team announced that White would not be attending the post-fight press conference. Ngannou said he had nothing to do with White not putting the belt on him and was surprised White didn’t attend the post-fight press conference.

In the ring, he told Joe Rogan after the win that he wanted to box at least once before retiring. When he left Cameroon and first traveled to France, he did so with the aim of following Mike Tyson’s path and winning the heavyweight boxing title.

Francis Ngannou may have had his last fight in the UFC on Saturday. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

He battled online with WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury before the fight, but said he wasn’t sure that fight would be next. He said he was likely going to have knee surgery and said he believed if he didn’t fight the rest of the year he would become a free agent.

White may have something to say about it, but Ngannou is one of the few UFC fighters to have taken a public stand against the company’s business tactics.

His advertised purse was $600,000, but with pay-per-view proceeds, he is expected to raise over $1 million.

Still, he is unhappy with his salary, but that is not the core of his dissatisfaction.

“Money is part of it, but the type of contract, I don’t think is fair,” Ngannou said. “I don’t feel like I was treated well. It’s unfortunate that I’m in this position, but everyone should have the right to claim what’s best for them.

What’s best for Ngannou is his pulverizing power, but with his recalcitrant knee and Gane’s movement, that wasn’t the factor he normally would be. He said he was afraid to move too much for fear that his knee would give way. A doctor told him before the fight not to compete and said he could suffer irreversible damage.

He had the fight to fall back on because Nicksick made it a point to work with him diligently to make him a more complete fighter.

“He works so hard in the gym to develop all of his skills,” Nicksick said. “When something comes up, it can [take advantage]. This has been our idea for years. We don’t just want to rely on the power of a punch. So if something comes up, take advantage of it. It’s MMA.”

But Ngannou overcame incredible odds to escape poverty and make it to the United States, where his hard work took him to the top of the sport. He said he didn’t feel respected by the UFC and said the company continued to assume what he called “a position of power” in contract extension talks.

While he’s on his way to becoming a big star, his time in the business may be over.

But Ngannou is a proud man who gives every indication of being ready to take a stand and accept the consequences.

Have we seen the last of Francis Ngannou in the UFC?

May be.

One way or another, though, I think we’ll see him back on a big stage, whether he’s with the UFC or not.

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