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Francis Ngannou’s coach: Dana White’s absence after UFC 270 win was ‘a weak move’

Amid the fanfare of Francis Ngannou’s victory over Ciryl Gane after UFC 270’s main event, there was one notable absence that stood out: UFC president Dana White.

UFC matchmaker Mick Maynard, not White, was the person who wrapped the heavyweight title around Ngannou’s waist, a role usually reserved for the UFC boss. White also skipped the event’s post-fight press conference and did not do any of his customary interviews with the UFC’s broadcast partners following the promotion’s first pay-per-view of 2022.

White’s absence was particularly noteworthy considering the rocky relationship between the UFC and Ngannou. The UFC heavyweight champion has used his platform to speak out against the promotion’s restrictive contracts, and much of the lead-up and conversation around UFC 270 focused on Ngannou’s ongoing battle to secure greater freedom with his career and challenge some of the promotion’s longstanding business practices.

Ngannou’s head coach, Eric Nicksick, was in the cage alongside Maynard at UFC 270, and he was candid when asked for his thoughts on White’s nonattendance after the win.

“Honestly, I didn’t really think too much about it until afterwards. The moment I saw Mick in there, I just wanted to stay present in the moment and not think about much other than how happy I was and proud I was of Francis,” Nicksick said Monday on The MMA Hour.

“But as the night went on, I wish [White] would’ve taken the high road and just went in and done it, and just been a part of that. Because the last couple weeks, I felt like Dana and Francis had been mending things. I felt like those two had been trying to become better and heal that relationship. So for him to not be there — again, I don’t know his reasons why, I don’t know if he got, all of a sudden he had a stomach issue, something — but for him not to be there, I just thought it was kind of a weak move.”

The biggest question now is what will happen with Ngannou. In an eye-opening and wide-ranging interview on Monday’s episode of The MMA Hour, the UFC heavyweight champion dove into greater detail than ever before about his struggles with the promotion and his frustration over how his career has been handled. Ngannou said that he was still open to staying with the UFC if the issues could be resolved, although he also acknowledged that he has made peace with the idea of his UFC journey coming to an end.

Ngannou is currently still the UFC heavyweight champion, however, due to specific language in his contract, he would become a free agent if the UFC stripped him of his title. Ngannou’s team has also repeatedly stated their belief that Ngannou will become a free agent at the end of 2022 regardless of whether or not he still holds the belt.

At the moment, Ngannou’s future is a total uncertainty. Nicksick said he will support his fighter however this goes, although he is hopeful for one outcome in particular.

“I want to stay with the UFC,” Nicksick said. “I do, because I want to compete against the best. And I don’t agree with a lot of the things the promotion has done, but I understand that they’re a business as well and they’re trying to do what’s right for them. But at the end of the day, I think that we as a team — UFC and Team Ngannou — can do a lot of great things together. I really do. But I think that with the competition they have [at heavyweight] and the promotion that they are, I want to say there, to be quite fair.”

A knee injury the champ suffered three weeks before UFC 270 only further complicates matters in regards to how 2022 will play out. Ngannou told MMA Fighting on Monday that he expects to require surgery to repair a torn MCL and partially torn ACL in his right knee.

But if things do ultimately work out and Ngannou remains under the UFC umbrella, Nicksick hopes that means a much-discussed mega-fight with former UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones would be next. Jones certainly had plenty to say on Saturday night.

“I don’t know. I hope so,” Nicksick said when asked if he thinks Jones really wants to fight Ngannou. “I really do, I hope so. And I definitely want a crack at him, you know? So I think for us, too, we spent so much time thinking that that was the fight we were going to make — and when it didn’t happen, it was just like, ‘Why are we wasting our time with this guy?’”

For Nicksick, the Jones fight would “100 percent” be his top priority if the UFC and Ngannou can make amends, though he also knows Ngannou has his eyes on a boxing match against heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, so he wouldn’t mind that going down that road either.

“If they want to go the boxing route first, definitely go secure the bag and then we’ll come back,” Nicksick said. “But that’s kind of been the thought process, is like, hey, you know what? Jon Jones is on our timetable now. So if we decide to go box or do something else in between, obviously there has to be some things worked out between the UFC and Francis, but I’m down for whatever the hell they want to do, man.

“I’m a competitor, so I want to try to get at the best.”