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Francis Ngannou’s head coach addresses wrestling, conditioning concerns ahead of Stipe Miocic rematch

UFC 249 Ngannou v Rozenstruik Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

Even Eric Nicksick would probably say he’s gone a little bit overboard when it comes breaking down and analyzing the first fight between UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic and his fighter Francis Ngannou.

The Xtreme Couture head coach wasn’t working with Ngannou for that fight so he didn’t have the inside knowledge about the training camp that led to that night but he’s obsessively watched the footage in order to prepare for the rematch at UFC 260.

In fact, Nicksick revealed that he’s pored over the 25-minute fight from UFC 220 at least once a day since Ngannou’s second chance to become champion was confirmed by the promotion.

“Every night. I watch it,” Nicksick told MMA Fighting ahead of UFC 260. “It’s creepy as can be but I watch it every night. When I was on Fight Island, and the fight got announced, I started watching the tape and I’ve watched it numerous times prior to that but I just made it a nightly regimen for me. Just as far as mannerisms and watching movements and patterns.

“It’s definitely overdoing it. It’s not healthy. I should turn it off, I will definitely admit but it’s just something that it’s almost been a valued tradition now. My wife is going to be over that pretty soon, too. I plug it on and watch it quite a bit. I just think it’s important to put the time in, especially giving the guy I consider the greatest to ever do it in Stipe Miocic, the respect that he deserves.”

Nicksick’s dedication to Ngannou’s fight preparation has been a focus ever since they started working together on a full-time basis just under two years ago.

Four consecutive knockout victories without a single opponent making it to the two-minute mark of the opening round has helped Ngannou earn his rematch with Miocic, but that’s when the real work began.

Regardless of the recent success, Nicksick says that Ngannou will be the first to point out his shortcomings in the initial showdown against Miocic, which is part of the reason why he’s spent hours upon hours in the gym to eliminate those weaknesses ahead of the rematch.

“I think he understands at this level, the title level, you’re not going to just cut through everybody like they’re soft butter,” Nicksick explained. “There are guys out there who are going to look to outsmart you. They’re going to have a better fight IQ. His approach to that fight [against Stipe], in a lot of ways and he’ll tell you this by his own admission, he thought he was going to just walk in there, knock him out and take the belt.

“Unfortunately, you’re fighting Stipe Miocic, arguably the greatest to ever do it, he’s not going to make it that easy on you. It’s not like that at this level.”

On that night just over three years ago, Ngannou caught Miocic with a couple of good shots in the opening round, but the Ohio native avoided his best power punches and then chased takedown after takedown to negate the knockout all together.

Over five rounds, Miocic continuously planted Ngannou on the canvas where he absolutely battered him with punches, nearly earning a stoppage on a few different occasions. Ngannou’s takedown defense was no match for Miocic and his wrestling not to mention the Cameroonian struggling mightily with his conditioning after never going past the second round in any of his previous fights.

When it was over, Miocic was riding high as champion while Ngannou was still trying to catch his breath after he was made to look human for the first time since coming to the UFC.

As devastating as that loss was for him, Nicksick believes ultimately it’s made Ngannou a better fighter.

“Sometimes you need those Stipe Miocic ass whoopings and the Derrick Lewis fights to really make you understand who and what you are but also to make you understand what you’re capable of overcoming,” Nicksick said. “So all those things are the maturations of this man’s career but when you boil it down and look at everything this guy’s been through, this is kind of one of those parallel storylines for what he’s gone through in his life.

“The rejections, how long it’s taken to actually get here, to get to Europe, to travel across Africa, he was told no or rejected many times but it’s his perseverance or his resiliency that kind of makes him who he is. It wouldn’t have right if he didn’t have a hiccup to get there. A little push back. It shouldn’t be that easy for him. I’m glad we have the rematch. I’m glad we have the time and he really had to right the ship to get back in there and do it again.”

In terms of the physical preparation to get ready for the rematch, Nicksick has been incredibly impressed not only with Ngannou’s work ethic but with his own willingness to address the perceived weaknesses in his game.

When it came to Ngannou’s conditioning, Nicksick started attacking that issue as soon as they began working together and he earned the trust of the ferocious knockout striker with a philosophy that appealed to his eventual goal of becoming UFC champion.

“We sat and talked about that after [Junior Dos Santos], just kind of conquering those demons if you will of the areas of our game that I wouldn’t necessarily say we weren’t good at — I like the use the term that we weren’t good at yet,” Nicksick said. “Those are the things we really wanted to center our focus on and make sure we checked all the boxes.

“The exact analogy I told him was look if for some reason we didn’t throw one punch for an entire camp, you’re still going to hit hard but if you really double down on all these things you’re not really comfortable with yet and center our focus on those improvements, how do you think that’s going to make you? He said ‘that’s going to make me unstoppable.’ So I said let’s start doubling down on those areas of improvement and to his own admission, what aren’t you comfortable with? Cardio and this and this and this. OK, let’s start doubling down on that.”

It was much the same when it came to Ngannou’s wrestling, which just wasn’t up to par when compared to Miocic in their first fight.

Now just days away from the rematch, Nicksick has full confidence in Ngannou’s wrestling and he might even have a few surprises up his sleeve if he engages in any grappling exchanges with Miocic at UFC 260.

“We had to implement [wrestling] in every practice that we do,” Nicksick revealed. “So it’s not like one practice you’re sparring or hitting pads. It’s MMA. So every practice you have to focus on defending a takedown. Furthermore, you have to focus on taking guys down yourself. You have to have offensive wrestling just as important as your defensive wrestling.

“Those are some of the things, as scary as it sounds, this dude is blowing through guys on takedowns, putting guys on their backs and beating them up from the top. This guy is now enjoying the elements of wrestling offensively and defensively and understanding there is another path he can find a victory and not shy away from wrestling. You need to implement it one way or another.”

Of course, Nicksick understands that his words about Ngannou’s improvements will undoubtedly be met with skepticism because the No. 1 ranked heavyweight contender hasn’t been forced to show any of that over his recent four-fight win streak.

That’s why Nicksick is so anxious to see Ngannou perform on Saturday night where he can show everything he’s learned because without a doubt Miocic will force him to be at his absolute best.

“We can talk about it we’re blue in the face but you have to prove it,” Nicksick said. “You have to show people. Everybody is going to have their doubts until you’re able to implement it.”

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