Ngannou is ice cool outside the octagon – but UFC 270 has him more than fired up
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Francis Ngannou is ice cool away from the scorching heat he has utilised to his advantage in the octagon, warmly greeting journalists by name over Zoom in a short break from his preparations for UFC 270.
Having said that, there is one name that ignites visible fury behind his eyes – and it isn't that of upcoming opponent, and interim heavyweight champion, Ciryl Gane.
Born in Batie, Cameroon back in September of 1985, Ngannou grew up with his aunt after the divorce of his parents and began working in a sand quarry at the tender age of 10.
Refusing the advances of gangs and choosing wisely to pursue boxing, it wasn't until after his 26th birthday that he travelled to France in a bid to make his passion a career.
Having been jailed in Spain for illegally crossing the border, Ngannou was later introduced to Fernand Lopez by a mutual friend after living homeless on the streets of the French capital.
With Mike Tyson as he idol, Ngannou wanted to train as a boxer, but the influence of Lopez saw him take a path in mixed martial arts that would see him become the most feared heavyweight on the planet.
Beginning his career in November of 2013, Ngannou won five of his first six bouts to catch the eye of UFC chiefs, winning by second round knockout against fellow newcomer Luis Henrique in a taster of things to come.
Curtis Blaydes, Bojan Mihajlovic, Anthony Hamilton, Andrei Arlovski and Alistair Overeem all subsequently fell at his hand before they could make the distance, with his first attempt at the belt following in 2018.
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For only the second time in his career the fight would go the distance – with the same outcome as the first.
Stipe Miocic's unanimous victory was followed by a damaging loss against Derrick Lewis which would spell the end of the once fruitful partnership between the heavyweight and his long-term coach Lopez.
Having left MMA FACTORY and moving to the United States to train under the guidance of Eric Nicksick with Xtreme Couture, Ngannou found the groove which put him back on the path to UFC glory.
Another KO of Blaydes was followed up by demolitions of former champions Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos, with Jairzinho Rozenstruik then offering just 20 seconds of resistance as Ngannou booked another shot at the king.
With his second-round victory over Miocic, Ngannou had achieved his dream of being UFC Heavyweight Champion without the help of Lopez – who was busy guiding a two-time training partner of his former prospect on his own path towards stardom.
Born in April of 1990, it wasn't until the age of 28 that Gane would make his professional MMA debut – and what has followed is a rise unlike any other in the history of the promotion.
The Frenchman, who had recently joined forces with Lopez, joined the UFC as a 3-0 rookie in the summer of 2019, and has put together an astounding seven victories across just 31 months.
Both men have been keen to brush off any talk of bad blood between them despite their handful of sparring sessions. It is with Lopez whom Ngannou has a problem.
With the release of training clips from their January 2019 meeting, as well as plenty of chat about his former relationship with Ngannou, Lopez has riled up his former protege.
"It's not easy," Ngannou said when asked how he has managed to stay focused on the task at hand.
Adding: "But I know that that's their strategy. That's what they're doing to make a distraction.
"They want me to be distracted, which is a good thing, because they know that Francis focused is a problem… a massive problem."
Lopez has insisted that he is not bitter about the split with the champion, saying that the toxic relationship between the pair does make him feel regretful, but then suggested that Ngannou won't stand a chance against boxing icon Tyson Fury.
Ngannou is doing his best to block out the unwelcome comments from his former coach, staying focused on the task at hand despite the bad blood surrounding the UFC 270 showpiece and his plans to move into boxing after it.
Adding of Lopez: "Personally I don't give any credit to what he's saying. I think he's speaking from jealousy. If I have had bad habits how have I become the champion? I should be having more bad habits."
Watch Francis Ngannou look to defend his UFC heavyweight title against Ciryl Gane at UFC® 270: NGANNOU vs. GANE on Saturday January 22. Early Prelims start on UFC FIGHT PASS at 11pm and the main card begins at 3.00am on BT Sport 2.
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