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Francis Ngannou reacts to fighting on the UFC 249 prelims: ‘It was my call’

There was a common question from MMA fans when the UFC 249 fight card was released: Why is Francis Ngannou vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik on the prelims, and Greg Hardy vs. Yorgan De Castro on the main card?

The placement of the pivotal heavyweight matchup has repeatedly been called into question since its announcement on Monday night. But Ngannou is more than satisfied with his spot – the broadcast home is the same.

“I was very happy because I asked for that,” Ngannou told MMA Fighting on the What the Heck show. “The prelims, the ESPN card, it’s the one that I wanted. The main card is a pay-per-view. I think the ESPN one, it was (the network I was supposed to fight on March 28). My contract was on ESPN.

“It will have more audience, and it’s free. I wanted to fight on ESPN. We asked the UFC to put us on ESPN. I’m happy...that was my call.”

Like Hardy vs. De Castro, the pivotal heavyweight bout is set to take place on April 18 at an undisclosed location, according to Dana White. Reports have surfaced that Tachi Palace Resort Casino in Lemoore, Calif., will host the pay-per-view event and weekly fight cards over the next two months.

Ngannou has been on a tear as of late, finishing Curtis Blaydes as well as former champions Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos in just over two minutes combined. “The Predator” previously competed in June and has been waiting for a chance to cement his place as the division’s top contender.

The fight between Ngannou and Rozenstruik was originally scheduled to take place March 28 in Columbus, Ohio, before the event was cancelled due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Now that its officially been rescheduled, Ngannou is breathing a sigh of relief.

“I’m feeling really good,” Ngannou said. “It’s been a very tough process, so we didn’t know exactly what was gonna happen. But at the end, we finally made it. I know where the fight is going to be, so I’m very happy about that.”

Unsurprisingly, Ngannou didn’t confirm the reports of the event being hosted at Tachi Palace, though said it will take place “somewhere in California.”

Much of the scrutiny over the UFC 249 has been directed at UFC President Dana White, who’s insisted on moving forward the promotion’s schedule in the middle of a global pandemic. In a recent interview with Submission Radio, Ngannou revealed that he took a UFC organized COVID-19 test.

MMA Fighting has since learned that fighters on the UFC 249 card will have to take and pass a COVID-19 test before they can make the trip. White remains adamant that the organization will “go above and beyond” to make sure all involved with the event will be safe and healthy.

While specifics have yet to be revealed on how the UFC 249 fight week will be handled from a health and safety perspective, Ngannou is confident the UFC president will follow through.

“The most important thing is they’re not just throwing us out there – they’re going to be out there with us,” Ngannou said. “I’m pretty sure they don’t want to get sick, either. Everyone wants to be safe, so it’s good for everyone to have that safe environment to be at.”

In this unprecedented time, UFC events will be held behind closed doors as another measur of protection against the spread of the virus. Ngannou is excited to play his part on taking people’s minds away from negatives and helping to restore some semblance of normalcy.

“I’m very excited about it,” Ngannou stated. “Now that the whole world has stopped doing events and the UFC is finding a way, we’re going to be the only one out there performing and doing a show. It’s kind of exciting, but at the same time, it’s weird a little bit thinking about being in an empty arena fight. It’s kind of a weird feeling, but it will get me excited by event time.

“I’ve never experienced anything like that. Even my first fight was in an arena with 2,000 people in there.”

It has been a long road to get to UFC 249 for Ngannou. By the time he makes the walk to the Octagon in an empty arena, he will put an end to the longest stretch of time between fights in his career. With all of the hurdles he had to leap over to finally land his next opportunity, Ngannou plans on another short night at the office.

“I see this fight is going to end in the first or second round,” Ngannou stated. “I see me doing what I usually do. I’m going to take time to set up and read through his game, feel good, and then strike him.”

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