From the moment Francis Ngannou stepped into the cage at UFC 270 with knee guards on, everyone knew something was up. In fact, it turns out some knew earlier than that: rumors were swirling during fight week that Ngannou had hurt his knee in camp, pushing him from even money at -100 against Ciryl Gane to a +100 underdog.
Following his five-round decision win over Gane, Ngannou admitted it: he had indeed suffered a bad knee injury a month out from the fight. How bad? Pretty damn bad.
“That happened 3.5 weeks ago and [the fight] came within one inch of being canceled,” Ngannou told UFC reporter Laura Sanko backstage. “Because when we did the MRI, the report came out and it was scary and not good.
“I remember the doctor reading the report to me, it was scary,” he continued. “Telling me how my MCL was torn, grade three. My MPFL is torn. My ACL is damaged. Basically the only thing I had left on my leg was the PCL and LCL. But, we did a lot of work at the Performance Institute, they helped me a lot with the rehab. They did the stem cells. Did everything that we can. And obviously rely on the quadricep to support everything.”
At the UFC 270 post-fight press conference Ngannou pinned his inability to keep up with Gane on the bum knee.
“I didn’t know for sure it was going to be a grappling match,” Ngannou said. “But, I had that for an option that it could be a grappling match basically because I wasn’t very comfortable on my stand, I wasn’t very stable so I was very concerned. I couldn’t move properly, and against a guy who moves as well as Ciryl.
“So it was pretty tough for me, the stand up part,” he continued. “But, it kind of gave me the opportunity, it came to me at first, the first takedown. And I knew that that was what I was working on and my team recommend me to keep doing that, work on the grappling, wrestling, grappling, because we were pretty confident of our skill.”
It was a good thing the wrestling worked so well because it was clear that Gane was easily out-maneuvering him on the feet.
“I was very stable trying to hold position, don’t move too much, I didn’t want to slip or something,” Ngannou said. “Just the idea of slipping or getting kicked on that knee was so scary. Basically I saw the doctor on Tuesday to clear me and he wasn’t very optimistic about it, but I still decided to move on ... the doctor said he wouldn’t recommend me that because it can have irreversible damage? That’s what they say? Irreversible, something like that, if I get kicked in that knee. So that’s why I couldn’t switch my stance.”
As close as Ngannou came to losing his belt (Gane took the first two rounds on the feet) and possibly getting crippled, he had no regrets about staying in.
“I could have withdraw from this fight, but then get into another fight and get even worse,” he said. “You are doing this sport, it’s very dangerous, you can hurt yourself all the time. So if you feel like there is a chance you can do it, then you have to do it. And I believe in myself. I’ve been through a lot of stuff in my life. So for sure, that must be a dumb decision, but I didn’t want to withdraw from this fight. I was very confident about my skills to win this fight.
“I knew what I was putting myself into, and if I needed to leave that leg in the Octagon to get that win I would have done it,” he continued.
Francis explained how the decision to turn the fight into a wrestling battle came to him.
“For the first two rounds I couldn’t find my spot, couldn’t move properly and was a little concerned,” he said. “By the end of the second round something came to my mind, I remembered all the support that I received from my country and I’m like, ‘I’m not letting them down.’ Then my coaches that were there motivated me, telling me it was good, this, that. Then we went to the third round, get this takedown. And at the end of the third round I see him desperate. At that moment I know that he’s going to lose this fight. Like he’s losing the fight! I could tell that he wasn’t himself any more.
“The wrestling be part of my game since the beginning, I’ve been working on and maybe it wasn’t good enough, but I never had a chance to prove it,” he continued. “In the past three years I’ve been at Xtreme Couture working on wrestling, it’s an elite wrestling team and I had the opportunity to have great partners, great coaches that were very good at wrestling and I show up to every class. Wrestle with everybody.”
According to Ngannou, he expected the knee to take surgery to fix. Not that he had another fight lined up: Ngannou and his management team fully expect to spend 2022 stuck on the sidelines while waiting out a champion clause that keeps him locked into UFC until December. You can read more of Ngannou’s post-fight press conference thoughts on that and his feud with Dana White here.
For now, he’ll enjoy his win, which was satisfying in its own way even without the standard “Predator” knockout finish.
“If I would have choose, he’d have been a knockout, man,” Ngannou said with a laugh. “This five rounds, it wasn’t my call. But meanwhile it was a good thing because I finally had a chance to prove that I can do it. Everyone counts me out when it goes to five round. ‘Oh Ciryl by decision, if Francis win it’s by knockout.’ But, you were wrong.”
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