After running through Jairzinho Rozenstruik in just 20 seconds in May, Francis Ngannou never imagined that seven months later he’d still be waiting for word on his next fight.
The undisputed No. 1 contender in the heavyweight division knew there would be an initial delay with a trilogy already planned between current champion Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier, who split their first two fights. Miocic eventually dispatched Cormier by unanimous decision in August and Ngannou started to get excited about a return to action before the end of the year.
But then the 34-year-old knockout artist got word that Miocic wasn’t going to be ready to compete again in 2020. Since that time, Ngannou has been told that he’ll fight for heavyweight gold in the first quarter of 2021, but without a contract in his hand, it’s tough to know what exactly is guaranteed to happen next.
“It’s been a lifetime [since I last fought],” Ngannou said when speaking to MMA Fighting. “It’s still kind of like frustrating even though I’m trying to take it out of my mind knowing that I can’t do nothing to change it. Even before fighting in May, I’ve been through this same story, this same situation and it got me ready to face it again. I was waiting for Stipe and D.C., who was in August and obviously I was expecting something in December. That’s why after their fight, I just came back from Cameroon expecting maybe sometime in December because it’s four months away, or maybe January at the latest, I might have a fight.
“Obviously, now I don’t know. What I know, they just said March but it’s not official. Who knows. Who knows how that will play out.”
While Ngannou was somewhat sympathetic to Miocic and Cormier wanting to settle their business, it was the timeliness of that trilogy that became harder and harder to deal with.
After Cormier won the first fight, he did return to action four months later to dispatch Derrick Lewis but then the rematch with Miocic didn’t happen until August 2019. Miocic won that fight but he had to deal with an eye injury suffered during the battle with Cormier that kept him sidelined for several months.
Then the coronavirus pandemic hit and with gyms closed for several weeks in Ohio coupled with Miocic’s other occupation as a first-responder, he wasn’t able to book the third fight with Cormier until August.
Of course no one could predict injuries and outside issues causing delays but for Ngannou as the clear cut No. 1 contender in the division, he’s grown tired of waiting.
“My only thing with that trilogy is that [Stipe] has been holding the heavyweight division up for a long time,” Ngannou said. “There hasn’t been a title fight in this division for two years except for those between Stipe and D.C. and other than that there hasn’t been a fight with contenders, which is what contenders fight for. To fight for the title but there is no title going on in this division. I don’t how long that is going to last. I’m sure it’s not just me saying that. Other contenders who also feel the same way because if there’s not a title fight, contenders they’re not moving on. They’re just fighting without purpose. Without a real goal.
“Because when you’re a prospect, you fight to become a contender. When you’re a contender, you fight to be champion. Now, heavyweight contenders right now don’t really know what they’re fighting for. For those who are fighting, obviously. In my case, I’m not fighting. I can’t even dare say I’m fighting.”
Ngannou’s overall inactivity has definitely played a part in his growing discontent.
After finishing Curtis Blaydes in November 2018, Ngannou made a relatively normal turnaround to fight former heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez in February 2019. He demolished Velasquez in just 26 seconds before taking out another former champion in Junior Dos Santos four months later.
That’s when the waiting game really began.
Ngannou then sat out for 11 months awaiting his fight with Rozenstruik and now he’s been sidelined for the past seven months just hoping for his title shot to come sooner rather than later. It doesn’t help matters much that Ngannou has torn through his competition in such dominant fashion that he’s only spent two minutes and 42 seconds inside the octagon in his past four fights.
As much as it might seem like Ngannou is putting the blame back on Miocic for the delays in their rematch, he knows ultimately it’s going to come down to the UFC making the fight happen.
“At the end of the day, Stipe doesn’t decide much,” Ngannou said. “I think the UFC is in charge of things. That’s why my last fight, we requested that to be an interim [title] fight so we can fight for something and if that would have been for an interim fight, I’m sure I would be fighting by now.
“Obviously, Stipe on his end wants to do things his way, which is what everyone wants to do. But it’s not for him to regulate the situation in the division. It’s not his duty.”
After returning home from his native Cameroon, Ngannou has been back in training, although even that has required a different kind of mental focus.
He’s always enjoyed spending time in the gym while working with his teammate but it’s also difficult to find the drive required to go harder when he’s essentially running a race without a finish line.
“I just want to fight next,” Ngannou said. “It’s been seven months since my last fight. I don’t know exactly for sure when is my next fight. It’s kind of like really hard to find motivation and everything. Even when you’re training and don’t have motivation. It’s kind of a little bit hard.”