Don’t count Fernand Lopez among those surprised by how Francis Ngannou’s UFC run ended.
Lopez is the founder of France’s MMA Factory and the head coach who first discovered Ngannou and shepherded his initial rise to the UFC. Lopez and Ngannou ultimately went their separate ways following Ngannou’s title loss to Stipe Miocic in 2018, but he still has insight into the way the former heavyweight champion thinks in a way few in MMA do, and he wasn’t the least bit shocked by Ngannou’s decision to walk away from his UFC title reign.
“No, I’m not,” Lopez said Wednesday on The MMA Hour. “I’m not, I’m not.”
Ngannou, 36, is the first active champion to part ways with the UFC of his own accord while still holding a belt since B.J. Penn in 2004. His decision was the culmination of a year-long standoff that went public following Ngannou’s title defense over Ciryl Gane at UFC 270.
At the time, Ngannou said he only wanted freedom from the UFC’s “one-sided” contract and that he did not feel respected by the company. Once his deal expired in late 2022, Ngannou left for free agency after UFC officials balked at his request for contractual concessions such as health insurance for all fighters, the right to seek his own in-cage sponsorships, and an advocate to represent UFC athletes in the company’s board meetings.
Ngannou has pursued a blockbuster boxing match against world heavyweight champion Tyson Fury for the past several years. Since Ngannou’s UFC exit, the two have publicly flirted with one another even more frequently regarding the matchup, with Fury recently calling for the marquee showdown to be a four-ounce glove boxing match “for big boy money” contested in a cage with Mike Tyson as the special guest referee.
In the meantime, the UFC heavyweight division has moved on.
Lopez’s student Gane is set to face former UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones at UFC 285 for the vacant heavyweight title. And in Lopez’s eyes, as long as Ngannou is content with his decision, all’s well that ends well for the heavyweight saga.
“The more important thing that we have to remember and keep in mind is that if he’s happy, then everything is good,” Lopez said. “If [Ngannou] finds his way to be happy, then that’s good. If the UFC are happy to release him and if he’s happy, then it’s good.”