Francis Ngannou’s head coach Eric Nicksick is hopeful the UFC can get the massive fight between Ngannou and Jon Jones done for the UFC heavyweight title, but there are still hurdles that need to be cleared for that to happen.
From multiple reports and conversations, the UFC is targeting the fight to take place at UFC 285 on March 4 in Las Vegas. Ngannou is recovering from knee surgery after suffering a torn ACL and MCL prior to his UFC 270 win over Ciryl Gane in January 2022, as well as a public contract dispute with the UFC throughout this past year.
When asked where things are at for the fight between Ngannou and Jones for UFC 285, Nicksick took his best guess.
“I think it’s 50-50, to be honest with you, when you’re talking business and timeline,” Nicksick told MMA Fighting. “I’m confident from what I saw from Francis a couple of weeks ago that if we had to be ready for March, I think we can get him ready, but I think it is cutting it a little bit short because he had to go back home and renew his visa.
“And then obviously they still haven’t announced anything yet with his contract and where they’re at, so 50-50 for me. I’m hoping for this thing, fingers crossed that we can get this deal done. If it’s not March, maybe it’s April or May, or something like that. I do know that they’re shooting for March and that Jon Jones is the opponent. Everything else is out of my hands, but if they tell me, ‘Hey, we’re fighting March 4,’ we’ll have our guy ready, that’s for sure.”
To follow up, Nicksick was asked, hypothetically, if he were to bet on whether or not the fight will materialize and take place sometime in the first half of 2023. Again, Nicksick isn’t involved in the business side of Ngannou’s career, but he’s feeling positive about it.
“I’m a Vegas boy, so I’m always betting on the table to win,” Nicksick said. “I’m not a don’t pass line guy, so put it on let’s make this thing happen. I’m optimistic we’ll get this thing done.”
Ngannou is currently in his home country of Cameroon where he spent the holiday season, while also needing to get his visa renewed to return to Las Vegas and Xtreme Couture for whatever comes his way.
Prior to leaving to head back home, Nicksick worked with Ngannou in the gym during a private session — one that left the head coach in an extremely positive place, not just because of what he saw from the UFC heavyweight champion physically, but mentally as well.
“Before he left man, we sparred on [that] Thursday before he left, and I’ll tell you what: He looked amazing. Like, absolutely amazing,” Nicksick explained.
“I was just so happy and elated to see how his energy felt when he was in the room and you could see that the old Francis is back. I’m very optimistic about everything, but the contract stuff, that’s all up to Francis and the UFC. But I know, as far as the skill set goes and what I’m seeing in the room, it’s very positive right now. I just can’t wait to get him back in and get back to training.
“Obviously, we were kind of at the mercy of the rehab process, and we had a moment where it was just me and him, and he came in and hit some pads with me. We hit a couple of different combinations, we would do this, we would do that, and then our energy levels — both of us — it was like two little kids in a candy store. He just started bouncing and was like, ‘I’m back,’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, bro, you’re back.’ He said, ‘I feel good, it feels good to be back, I miss this s***.’
“That was the thing for me: I wanted him to have that feeling, that love again for the sport. Not any of the business stuff of it, just the love for the sport, the love for what we’ve built here at Xtreme Couture, getting better, building all of these new skill sets. I want him to come back and feel rejuvenated, ready to get back to work, and that’s what I saw from him that first day back. It just gave me a lot of optimism.”