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Francis Ngannou targeting 2023 for return, says boxing goals aren’t dependent on Tyson Fury

UFC 270: Ngannou v Gane Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC

Francis Ngannou echoed the words of coach Eric Nicksick on Friday, revealing that a return in late 2022 is likely not an option as the UFC heavyweight champion continues to recover from March surgery to repair his right ACL and MCL following his latest title defense.

“I would think more like the beginning of next year [to return], because I’m five-and-a-half months post-surgery, and I’m not very strong on that knee yet,” Ngannou told ESPN ahead of UFC Paris. “And see how heavy I am, that’s something I really have to consider — my weight and this division and how it is. When I go back to Vegas in the U.S., I think I’m seeing the doctor next week or something like that, so I’m going to have his opinion and I just need to keep [doing] the physical therapy.

“They both have to be in [agreement] to when I should at least start training just to get in shape, then we’ll be [able] to consider a fight.”

Ngannou, 35, has been sidelined since January’s UFC 270 event, which saw him defeat UFC Paris headliner Ciryl Gane via unanimous decision in a title unification match.

“The Predator” said Friday that he is currently unable to train and has a lengthy road still ahead of him in order to get back into fighting shape.

“In the past seven months I haven’t really done anything, so I’m kind of very out of shape — very out of shape, the most that I’ve ever been,” Ngannou said.

Nicksick, Ngannou’s head coach, recently told MMA Fighting that the team believes early 2023 to be the most likely target for Ngannou’s return, and they still covet a potential fight against Jon Jones, the former UFC light heavyweight champion who is expected to make his heavyweight debut before the end of 2022.

“The fight that makes the most sense is obviously Jon Jones,” Nicksick said. “That’s the fight we all want.”

But Ngannou’s future continues to be up in the air.

He has been in a much-publicized standoff with the UFC since his victory over Gane, and his management team at CAA have maintained their belief that Ngannou could enter into free agency at the start of 2023, regardless of whether he fights in the UFC again.

Ngannou has spoken openly of his desire to box and even made a surprise appearance in the ring following Tyson Fury’s victory over Dillian Whyte in April.

Fury’s status is still a question mark as well — the heavyweight champion has alternated between retiring and calling out opponents in recent months — but Ngannou reiterated on Friday that his goals in boxing will stay the same regardless of whether Fury is involved.

“My career doesn’t depend on Tyson Fury or anyone else,” Ngannou said. “My desire of boxing doesn’t depend on Tyson Fury. So whether he’s retired or not, I’m still going to do that. I still want a boxing match in my career, a few boxing matches, and that’s something I’m going to engage in conversations [about] when it comes the moment.

“I don’t know [if that’ll be in the UFC], it depends. We haven’t had a real talk, but if boxing can happen in the UFC as well — we haven’t had the real talk, let’s see how it plays. I’m open to any option. But what I do know for sure is that I’m going to do that damn boxing.”

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