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Francis Ngannou’s coach confident in MMA return — even if they upset Tyson Fury in boxing

UFC 270: Ngannou v Gane
Francis Ngannou (center left) and coach Eric Nicksick (center right)
Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC

Francis Ngannou ended his MMA free agency by inking a lucrative multi-fight contract with the PFL, but now he stands to make an even bigger payday for his upcoming boxing match against Tyson Fury on Oct. 28.

While Ngannou was already plotting his PFL debut in 2024, he first has the chance to pull off a life-changing upset if he can somehow become the first person to beat Fury in the boxing ring. There’s no doubt the odds are stacked against Ngannou, a former UFC heavyweight champion who has never competed in a professional boxing match until now.

But thanks to the ungodly power Ngannou possesses in his hands, he only needs one shot to land clean and put Fury away in violent fashion. If that actually happens, Ngannou could be poised for an even bigger opportunity to offer Fury a rematch, or perhaps entertain boxing matches against other notable heavyweights like Deontay Wilder or Anthony Joshua.

In other words, could Ngannou beating Fury spell the end of his career in MMA?

“I guess we’ll cross that bridge when it comes,” Ngannou’s head coach Eric Nicksick told MMA Fighting. “[Financially] he can lose to Tyson Fury and never have to fight again. Who knows.”

Money aside, Ngannou is arguably still in the prime of his athletic career at 36, but beating Fury would be a game-changer as far as his future goes.

That said, Nicksick is confident that even if Ngannou is victorious against Fury, he would almost certainly live up to his commitment to the PFL, because his work in MMA isn’t done quite yet.

“I’m hoping that he wins this fight and I feel he has so much more to accomplish in MMA, just from what he’s been building with his skill set,” Nicksick explained. “As long as he’s enjoying it and he’s having fun, I think he’ll come back.”

Nicksick says having fun really was the key to unlocking Ngannou’s true potential, which is what became the focus after they first started working together.

When Ngannou arrived at Xtreme Couture, he was already one of the most feared and ferocious heavyweights on the planet, but there was still a lot for him to learn. In particular, Ngannou had to get better at wrestling, which was his downfall when he first tried to become a UFC champion back in 2018.

On that night, Stipe Miocic took Ngannou down repeatedly and battered him with punches over 25 minutes in the cage. That was a harsh lesson learned, but Nicksick knew right away that he couldn’t help Ngannou if the only goal was stopping future takedowns.

“We made it fun for him,” Nicksick said. “When we first started talking about the wrestling element, you think about your deficiencies and that takes a tax on your mental state. Our mindset was to make it fun for him and make it offensive, and especially when it comes to wrestling, if you’re working on offensive wrestling, inherently you’re going to work on defensive wrestling.

“What we had to do was flip the script and make it more fun for him. So when he’s taking guys down and beating guys up, you can see that he had a new tool. It made it a lot more fun.”

The training paid off in Ngannou’s most recent win over Ciryl Gane, which saw Ngannou turn to his wrestling while dealing with a severely compromised knee. The injury was later revealed as a torn ACL, which kept him sidelined for more than a year afterward.

But it was the enjoyment that Nicksick saw in those training sessions that leads him to believe Ngannou still has plenty of time left in MMA, even if Ngannou shocks the world and ends up being celebrated as the new heavyweight king of boxing.

“At the end of the day, with what he’s been developing in the room with MMA, he said to me a few times — and this was after we got him back in the room after knee surgery — he’s like, ‘I really love what I’m doing in MMA,’” Nicksick relayed. “[He told me,] ‘I love the sport now, I love all the aspects with all the takedowns and everything else.’”

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