UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou’s head coach Eric Nicksick is optimistic that “The Predator” will fight Jon Jones in the first half of 2023. But, he’s unsure if they can scrap as early as March.
Ngannou hasn’t competed since January 2022 when he notched his first title defense by besting Ciryl Gane via unanimous decision at UFC 270. Ngannou underwent knee surgery after the bout. And coupled with his contract negotiations with the UFC, it’s unclear when Ngannou will step inside the Octagon next.
But for Nicksick, he thinks there’s a “50-50” chance that Ngannou fights in March. All signs point toward Jones receiving the next shot against The Predator, and “Bones” recently cemented his intentions by tweeting, “#Champion2023.”
“I think it’s 50-50, to be honest with you, when you’re talking business and timeline,” Nicksick said to MMA Fighting in a recent interview. “I’m confident from what I saw from Francis a couple of weeks ago that if we had to be ready for March, I think we can get him ready, but I think it is cutting it a little bit short because he had to go back home and renew his visa.
“And then obviously they still haven’t announced anything yet with his contract and where they’re at, so 50-50 for me. I’m hoping for this thing, fingers crossed that we can get this deal done. If it’s not March, maybe it’s April or May, or something like that. I do know that they’re shooting for March and that Jon Jones is the opponent. Everything else is out of my hands, but if they tell me, ‘Hey, we’re fighting March 4,’ we’ll have our guy ready, that’s for sure.”
Nicksick Is Optimistic That They’ll ‘Get This Thing Done’ Before 2023 Is Halfway Over
Still, Nicksick wagers that the fight will happen before the year hits the halfway mark.
“I’m a Vegas boy, so I’m always betting on the table to win,” Nicksick said. “I’m not a don’t pass line guy, so put it on let’s make this thing happen. I’m optimistic we’ll get this thing done.”
Ngannou Recently Worked Out With Nicksick, Nicksick Said ‘He Looked Amazing’
Ngannou spent some time working out with Nicksick recently, and the head coach said that the heavyweight king was firing on all cylinders. He told the outlet Ngannou brought his old energy into the gym and that training together made them feel like “two little kids in a candy store.”
“Before he left man, we sparred on [that] Thursday before he left, and I’ll tell you what: He looked amazing. Like, absolutely amazing,” Nicksick said.
“I was just so happy and elated to see how his energy felt when he was in the room and you could see that the old Francis is back. I’m very optimistic about everything, but the contract stuff, that’s all up to Francis and the UFC. But I know, as far as the skill set goes and what I’m seeing in the room, it’s very positive right now. I just can’t wait to get him back in and get back to training.
“Obviously, we were kind of at the mercy of the rehab process, and we had a moment where it was just me and him, and he came in and hit some pads with me. We hit a couple of different combinations, we would do this, we would do that, and then our energy levels — both of us — it was like two little kids in a candy store. He just started bouncing and was like, ‘I’m back,’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, bro, you’re back.’ He said, ‘I feel good, it feels good to be back, I miss this s***.’
“That was the thing for me: I wanted him to have that feeling, that love again for the sport. Not any of the business stuff of it, just the love for the sport, the love for what we’ve built here at Xtreme Couture, getting better, building all of these new skill sets. I want him to come back and feel rejuvenated, ready to get back to work, and that’s what I saw from him that first day back. It just gave me a lot of optimism.”