Francis Ngannou spends a lot of time in the gym even when he’s not preparing for a fight. But he’s currently in the midst of one of the longest training camps of his entire career.
Originally scheduled to face Jairzinho Rozenstruik in the main event at UFC on ESPN 8 on March 28, Ngannou put in a lot of work to prepare for the five-round fight. Then the card was postponed in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The heavyweight clash was pushed to UFC 249 on April 18, but just one week beforehand, the show was also postponed.
Now, Ngannou is expected to meet Rozenstruik on May 9, six weeks after he was originally supposed to compete.
Through it all, the one-time heavyweight title challenger has continued to train and prepare. It’s a fight he really hopes will happen, but the process hasn’t been easy.
“It’s been very exhausting, very frustrating, [mentally],” Ngannou told MMA Fighting. “It’s been very hard to keep motivation and go out there everyday. Go out there and train without knowing if the fight is going to happen. [You’re] always suspicious – maybe it’s going to happen or not, and to keep the same intensity for the fight.
“When you train for a fight it’s different than just training to stay in shape. So even when you don’t have that target, that goal, you still have to be motivated to go. That’s the hard part of it.”
The rollercoaster ride from fight bookings to event cancellations would take a toll on anybody, and Ngannou was no different.
“Between every cancellation and the new schedule, there’s always a day where you’re kind of like the fight is postponed, so you drop everything, and in your mind, you don’t know what’s next,” Ngannou explained. “Then a few days after that, it gets rescheduled for that date, and you have put your sh*t together and go out there.
“Cause once again, that won’t be an excuse if you don’t perform out there.”
This time around, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Florida State Boxing Commission, Jacksonville mayor and UFC broadcast partner ESPN have signed off on the event. All signs point to UFC 249 moving ahead as scheduled on May 9.
But Ngannou also saw similar promises made when he was supposed to fight on April 18, and the card didn’t happen. That’s why it’s hard for him to speak in absolutes when addressing the latest date for the Rozenstruik fight on May 9.
“Right now, after three cancellations, it’s very tough to be confident about something,” Ngannou said. “You just hope, cross your fingers and hopefully that happens. But you don’t know exactly.”
As disappointing as the past couple of months have been, Ngannou has stayed the course, and he refuses to make any excuses about the obstacles that have faced him. He knows Rozenstruik is dealing with the same issue. Ultimately, he understands he’s going to be judged based on his performance in the fight, and not the extenuating circumstances surrounding the event.
“There’s nothing normal about this time – we just adapt and try to adjust everything,” Ngannou said. “Honestly, there’s nothing normal about this kind of training camp. It’s all awkward and weird.
“The reality is that things are not what they were before. You just have to make it work somehow. I think we are all going through this. This is not especially for you. So all the fighters are dealing with this. Maybe someone has a better way of dealing with this, or they adjusted very fast, everyone has to go through this. It’s awkward, it’s weird, it’s not the best conditions that you would like to be in, but at the end of the day, it’s still some sort of challenge that you can take, so you take it.”
The payoff will come on May 9 when Ngannou finally returns to action after nearly 11 months away. He’s visualized a knockout against Rozenstruik in his head hundreds of times by now, and he’s more than ready to turn fantasy into reality.
“Every time that I think about it,” Ngannou said. “That’s the only way that it could end.”