While Francis Ngannou’s head coach was hopeful things could work out between his fighter and the UFC, he ultimately wasn’t surprised Ngannou is no longer the UFC heavyweight champion, and a UFC fighter in general.
For Eric Nicksick, he told MMA Fighting prior to Dana White’s reveal that Ngannou was an unrestricted free agent and stripped of the title that he was optimistic the fight with Jon Jones would happen, but was still “50-50” due to the business side of things, as well as Ngannou’s recovery from knee surgery it would happen March 4 at UFC 285. Jones will now fight Ciryl Gane for the vacant title at that event, which has now led to critics — and to a certain degree, White — implying that Ngannou left the company because he was “scared” to fight Jones.
Nicksick admits he didn’t watch White’s UFC Vegas 67 post-fight press conference, but he sees what people are saying.
“The one narrative that I have been seeing is that Francis is scared, and that s*** just makes me laugh,” Nicksick said on The MMA Hour. “They’re going to say what they want to say, they’re going to run the narrative the way they want to run it, but I’m going to have my guy’s back 110 percent.”
Ngannou has been through a lot over the last year during the public contract talks with the UFC. By all accounts, things seemed to be heading in the right direction towards the mega fight between Ngannou and the returning Jones.
Nicksick was at the initial meeting of parties in hopes of getting Ngannou re-signed, and it was something the now former heavyweight champion said to him after that dinner that stood out to him — and it certainly didn’t have anything to do with any trepidation in fighting Jones.
“We fought [Ciryl Gane], the next up and coming phenom on one f****** leg — and against all of our advice,” Nicksick explained. “He’s not scared of anybody. He’s doing what he feels is right for him.
“I’ll tell you this: We met with Dana and Hunter after the fight, we had a great dinner. Things were going in the right direction, I felt. We got in the car and Francis looks over at me, and says, ‘If I sign this deal, if I do this without making any change, without doing all the things I said I was going to do, I’m just another sell out. I refuse to do that.’
“He goes, ‘I’m happy, I have more money than I could’ve ever imagined, I’m in a position that I could never envision, and I have a stance where I can make a difference.’ I went home thinking, this dude is willing to stand up for what he believes in, for what’s right, and I’m going to have that dude’s back 110 percent. We walked away from a lot of money, a lot of us did, but I believe in the next chapter because I know the offer. I know what he’s capable of doing and I love him. That’s my guy. That’s what makes our team so dynamic is the love and respect we have for one another. So it is what it is.”
No matter what Ngannou does next — whether it’s continuing with his MMA journey, or moving over to boxing, or both — Nicksick will be by his side to help him in any way.
While Nicksick may not always agree with how the UFC handles things from a business perspective — especially in the aftermath of a failed negotiation — he does feel the UFC came proper. It wasn’t about the dollars and cents, but more about being able to look himself in the mirror.
“I think I sat on the fence, I’m more on the optimistic side of everything and I was hoping things were going to go in the right direction,” Nicksick said. “To be honest, I think the UFC was doing the best that they could on their end, too. I just think there was terms and certain things in there that Francis just wasn’t comfortable with.
“He wasn’t about the money, and I think the money was right. I think the money was very good, but what he kept talking about was that it wasn’t about the money, it was about these issues and these stances. They couldn’t write a check big enough to make him waver on those stances. People can say whatever they want about him, I know his true character and his heart, and I love the guy to death for doing what he believed in.”