Less than a year ago, Francis Ngannou was close to the top of the world. Now, he’s fighting to maintain his reputation.
Ngannou was living the dream of every MMA fighter. He was defeating everyone the UFC put in front of him in dominant fashion. He was coming off a legendary highlight-reel knockout of perennial contender Alistair Overeem. He was next in line for a shot at Stipe Miocic’s UFC Heavyweight Championship.
Ngannou was one of the UFC’s blossoming stars until he wasn’t. The title fight at UFC 220 brought him crashing down to earth. The man who looked like he was unstoppable was exposed on a grand stage.
At the time it was surprising to many, but a loss to one of the best heavyweights to ever step in the cage isn’t a career ender. Ngannou still had a lot to learn, but his raw talent was evident.
The real issue came in his next fight.
Ngannou was matched up with Derrick Lewis in a fight that was expected to blow the roof off the T-Mobile Arena. Both fighters possess fantastic knockout power and love to stand and trade leather.
What actually unfolded stunned everyone. Through 15 minutes of fighting, barely any strikes were thrown. There was no action to watch. Neither fighter attempted to engage for more than a moment. Lewis ultimately earned the unanimous decision victory.
The fight disappointed everyone. UFC President Dana White described it as an “abomination,” and said that Ngannou “let his ego [run] away with him,” according to Steven Marrocco and Mike Bohn of MMAJunkie.
After the event, Ngannou went to Instagram to explain just what went wrong in the fight.
“I have carried my fear from the last fight to this one,” Ngannou said in his post. “I completely understand the frustration & anger that it has caused to my fans, coaches, teammates, family and friends and I am truly sorry for that.”
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I am not proud of my last performance. I have carried my fear from the last fight to this one. I completely understand the frustration & anger that it has caused to my fans, coaches, teammates, family and friends and I am truly sorry for that. I won't let everyone down again. All I can do now is prove myself and make you proud again. #UFC226
For months, Ngannou seemingly fell off the map. His stock took a huge tumble. He was no longer on commercials. The UFC wasn’t promoting him on Instagram. Nothing.
On Aug. 16, Ariel Helwani of ESPN reported that Ngannou would be headlining UFC Fight Night Beijing on November 24 in a bout with third-ranked heavyweight contender Curtis Blaydes.
Ngannou is well aware that this is likely his last shot at saving his career. That’s why he’s returning to his old routine for this training camp.
Ngannou was one of the first fighters to start utilizing the newly-created UFC Performance Institute in Las Vegas, Nevada. In the past, he trained in Paris, France, but when the UFC opened its own gym, the company wanted its top fighters to use it. Ngannou made that switch before his title fight against Miocic.
Now, Ngannou has decided to change his routine once again.
“I decided to have my training camp in Paris so I can go back to my roots,” Ngannou told Helwani on Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show.
Ngannou hopes to recapture the early days of his career during his time in France. He hopes that working with familiar coaches in his original gym will provide the spark he needs to reignite his fire.
Everything wasn’t perfect at his gym either. After the loss to Lewis, Ngannou’s coach Fernand Lopez said he agreed with White’s assessment that Ngannou developed an inflated ego during his quick rise through the rankings, according to Jim Edwards of MMANytt.
Ngannou wasn’t happy with this drama. He criticized his coach for publicizing his issues in the media, but he reaffirmed that the issues are over.
“When you’re winning the fights, you’re the good guy; the best ever,” Ngannou said to Helwani. “When you [lose] everyone stumbles a little bit.”
Despite all the drama, Ngannou is focused on making his return to the cage and proving doubters wrong. He feels like his “confidence is coming back,” and come Nov. 24, he’ll be ready to get his career back on track against an opponent he has beaten before.
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