Francis Ngannou just wants to fight.
Less than two weeks away from his expected main event showdown against Jairzinho Rozenstruik at UFC on ESPN 8, the ferocious heavyweight knockout artist has seen his fight move from Columbus, Ohio to Las Vegas to parts unknown amidst the ongoing crisis caused by the coronavirus outbreak.
On Saturday night, UFC president Dana White announced that the promotion would move forward with upcoming events, although locations for the cards were still to be determined. Even the company’s home base in Las Vegas was deemed unviable after the Nevada State Athletic Commission decided to cancel all combat sports events held in the state through March 25 with a longer ban possible for the future.
While numerous sports organizations across the world have halted seasons or cancelled events as COVID-19 infects more and more people on a daily basis, the UFC is determined to soldier on even if that means moving entire events or holding the shows behind closed doors without an audience in attendance.
Count Ngannou among the athletes supporting the UFC’s decision to move forward with upcoming fight cards.
“It’s good that it gets moved rather than gets cancelled,” Ngannou told MMA Fighting. “I’m pretty happy with that. I’m sure that I’m still going to fight. Yes, I’m very happy about that decision.”
According to Ngannou, unlike other sports where athletes are in the middle of a season with an entire slate of games yet to be played, fighters don’t have that same luxury.
Beyond the financial incentive to fight on, Ngannou says mixed martial artists are all preparing for one specific day and when that gets moved or cancelled it throws everything else into upheaval as well.
“As a fighter, I also think about how we get prepared for the fight,” Ngannou explained. “I’ve been in training camp for like two months, let’s say they cancel the fight — when would it be [rescheduled]?
“I’m very happy to find a way to put [on] the fight, to still make us fight and I’m sure they are doing everything to keep us safe as well.”
Immediately after the UFC on ESPN 8 card was shifted from Columbus to Las Vegas, Ngannou says the promotion reached out to the fighters to let them know all the precautions that were being taken ahead of upcoming events.
While the promotion hasn’t announced plans to action test the fighters for COVID-19, Ngannou is confident the UFC will do everything possible to keep them safe.
“I got a call from (UFC Chief Business Officer) Hunter Campbell yesterday and he was telling me the precautions,” Ngannou said. “Before that, I got an email from the UFC with all the precautions that we have to take to stay safe. I got a call from Hunter Campbell telling me if ever I feel like something is wrong, just call. Because they have a medical team set up for us. I don’t have to go to a random hospital out there or whatever.
“I mean in this case, you feel very safe and you know that they care about your health. As well as they’re going to be there. They’re not sending you somewhere. They’re going to be there, everything together to make sure everything is OK for your health. They’ll put everything together to keep you guys performing no matter what, which is in my opinion a good thing.”
Because governors across the United States have issued orders banning mass gatherings, it’s almost certain that any UFC show taking place will happen behind closed doors without fans in attendance.
Ngannou knows it will likely be odd to perform in the Octagon without fans but he also understands that his fight will entertain millions of people around the world watching at home on television during the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.
“It’s definitely going to be strange,” Ngannou said. “Because I am still thinking about it. Like OK, how is it going to look? At the end of the day, they might not have a crowd there but there’s going to be a lot of people watching that on TV.
“It’s probably the only sport going on for the next two weeks on the sports channels.”