By all accounts, Francis Ngannou probably shouldn’t have been fighting at UFC 270.
According to the reigning UFC heavyweight champion, he suffered an almost catastrophic knee injury in the weeks leading up to the event. His doctor advised it would be better for him to bow out of his matchup with Ciryl Gane rather than compete on a badly compromised leg.
“It was pretty bad,” Ngannou said about his knee at the UFC 270 post-fight press conference. “I had a grade 3 MCL [tear], I have a damaged ACL. That was 25 days ago. I think so, [I’ll need surgery].”
Despite the debilitating injury that prevented him from moving around the octagon with any fluidity, Ngannou refused to pull out of the fight. Even with so much on the line, including his heavyweight title while competing on the final fight of his UFC contract, he rejected what was probably was the logical decision to make.
“My team was by my side regardless of whatever I decided to do, that’s what they said,” Ngannou told MMA Fighting. “But the doctor said he wouldn’t recommend me [to fight] because I could have irreversible damage if I got kicked on that knee. That’s why I couldn’t switch my stance.
“I could have withdrawn from this fight, but then get in another fight and get [injured] even worse. We are doing this sport, it’s very dangerous, you can hurt yourself all the time. So if you feel like there’s a chance you can do it, you have to do it. I believe in myself. I’ve been through a lot of stuff in my life. That must be a dumb decision, but I didn’t want to withdraw from this fight. I was very confident about my skills to win this fight.”
Ngannou, who wore sleeves on both of his knees during the fight, nearly paid for that decision after struggling in the first two rounds against Gane, who was able to stay away from his fight-ending power while picking and choosing shots from the outside.
Ngannou was worried as he returned to his corner before the third round, but he said once he landed his first takedown — a huge slam that brought Gane crashing down to the canvas — the tide started to turn.
“Something came to my mind,” Ngannou said. “I remembered all the support I’ve been receiving from my country, and I’m like, ‘I’m not letting them down.’ Then my coaches, they were there motivating me, telling me and then we went to the third round, and I got this takedown and then at the end of the third round, I kind of saw him desperate.
“At that moment, I knew he was going to lose this fight. He was losing the fight. I could tell that he wasn’t himself anymore.”
As bad as his knees were during the fight, Ngannou never even contemplated calling a stop to the contest, but he knows there were more than a few moments when the injury came back to bite him.
“I was very [unstable] trying to hold position, [I couldn’t] move too much,” Ngannou said. “I didn’t want to slip or something. Just the idea of slipping or getting kicked on that knee was so scary.
“Basically, I saw the doctor on Tuesday to clear me and he wasn’t very optimistic about it but I still decided to move on.”
Even if his knee had actually buckled underneath him and he was left unable to stand, Ngannou had no intention of giving up and leaving the cage with a loss on his record.
“I don’t care about how [my knee] feels,” Ngannou said. “I know what I was putting myself into and if I needed to leave that leg in the octagon to get the win, I would have done it.”
Depending on the severity of his injuries, Ngannou could potentially be sidelined for several months, especially if doctors are required to do any kind of ACL surgery on him.
Ngannou has already fought out his UFC contract, which already leaves him in limbo for the time being. And in any event, he’s not really thinking about any future fights just yet.
“I don’t believe in anything – I don’t know yet,” Ngannou said about what’s next. “At this point I really don’t know what’s possible. I don’t know what’s off the table. Kind of like, lay down and see.”