For Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight king Francis Ngannou, there are three specific options for his first title defense. Either a dream fight with former light heavyweight champion Jon Jones. A trilogy bout with two-time heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic, or the winner of August’s UFC 265 interim title fight between Derrick Lewis and Ciryl Gane. Amongst those possibilities, Ngannou’s head coach Eric Nicksick feels there is one clear favorite.
Eric Nicksick sees one likely avenue for Francis Ngannou’s first title defense
“Most likely the winner out of Lewis and Gane I think. Just because with the contract stuff stalling with Jon Jones, and I just think Stipe needs more time to recover,” Nicksick told MixedMartialArts.com about the next likely foe for Ngannou. “And that’s been historically his thing. He just takes a lot of time in between fights. And then after being knocked out the way he was, and his time and where his career is at, I just think it makes a lot of sense for him to be able to rest and be with his family. Now with [Lewis-Gane] being in August, hopefully, we can get that fight before the end of the year.”
Despite just winning the heavyweight title in March at UFC 260, the promotion has put their heavyweight champion in an odd position by making an interim title fight in August. Even though team Ngannou believed a September return was an agreed-upon plan. It was a stunning piece of booking that left the champion and Nicksick confused. Not so much because of the fighters involved, but because the UFC decided a championship needed to be on the line for their scheduled UFC 265 main event.
“There’s two sides to every story, and I know our side. I don’t know the UFC’s at length, but for them to go and put on a fight in August; I think that fight makes sense but obviously we all have an issue with the interim label. Not even an issue, more of a confusion lies with us. Why would you put an interim on? That’s a great fight, and I think both guys are deserving,” said Nicksick.
“… In my opinion, I think the whole situation would have shook out better had it gone, Derrick Lewis and Gane, and then have Francis and Jon Jones, [which] is what we all thought we’d fight in November. And then the winner out of those two fights would have met up and they would have fought in the beginning of 2022. It was really no ones fault, it was a timing thing. August 7th [in Houston, Texas], you’ve got to have [Houston native] Derrick Lewis on that card.”
The inconsistency of interim belt use bother Nicksick
Beyond just the surprise of an interim title bout being made when negotiations were ongoing for “The Predator’s” return, the real sticking point for Xtreme Couture’s top coach is the inconsistency of when interim titles are made. It has long been a point of contention for fans and mixed martial arts media alike. The UFC has never set specific guidelines on when interim titles should be instituted, and the MMAJunkie 2020 coach of the year wishes there was more clarity on the promotion’s thinking on interim belts.
“To be fair, there should be more stipulations and guidelines to understand what constitutes an interim belt and what doesn’t. Let’s put some stipulations on there so it’s just across the board. Somebody hasn’t defended their belt in a year, an injury, this or that, then by all means, put an interim on it,” he says.
Although he expects to be drawing up strategies for Lewis or Gane, if it were up to him, there is just one fight Nicksick prefers for his giant pupil more than any other. And that is a long-rumored clash between Ngannous and Jones.
What I’d really like as a competitor, I would like to fight and compete against Jon Jones. I think he’s the pound-for-pound GOAT, and I have nothing but respect for him and his team. I just think that’s the fight we all want as competitors, and the fans, and everyone in the universe wants to see. Who doesn’t want to see Jon Jones and Ngannou?,” said Nicksick.