Eric Nicksick: Francis Ngannou more intrigued by Renan Ferreira than Ryan Bader as PFL debut opponent

Francis Ngannou apparently has a preference between Renan Ferreira and Ryan Bader.

Reigning PFL champ Ferreira and Bellator champ Bader headline Saturday’s PFL vs. Bellator: Champions card (ESPN+ pay-per-view) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, with the two heavyweights knowing that the victor will also win the Ngannou sweepstakes and face the former UFC champ upon his return to MMA.

First, though, Ngannou has business to tend to in boxing as he prepares to fight Anthony Joshua on March 8. Ngannou reiterated Thursday that he intends on getting back in the cage – it’s just a matter of when.

When Ngannou does, there’s one name he likes over the other to serve as his opponent, according to Xtreme Couture head coach Eric Nicksick.

“I know the Ferreira guy definitely intrigues Francis more in my opinion,” Nicksick told MMA Junkie Radio. “The more I talk to Francis about the MMA side of things, when (Ferreira) fought, Francis wrote me, ‘I think this guy is good.’ I think that fight definitely intrigues him.”

Ferreira (12-3), 34, is coming off a stellar 2023 in which he went 3-0 with one no contest, en route to claiming the PFL heavyweight title. The no contest was changed from a loss to Rizvan Kuniev in the regular season opener after Kuniev tested positive for a banned substance. After that, Ferreira proceeded to finish all three of his remaining 2023 bouts, including a knockout of Denis Goltsov at the 2023 PFL Championship on Nov. 24.

Bader (31-7), 40, fought just once in 2023, defeating Fedor Emelianenko by first-round TKO last February at Bellator 290.

Despite the PFL’s announcement, it’s anyone’s guess as to when Ngannou would fight the Ferreira-Bader winner. That’s because what happens in the Joshua fight will greatly affect Ngannou’s next step.

“I think it’s gonna depend on what’s gonna happen in this Joshua fight. I really do,” Nicksick said. “I think if he goes out and performs well or knocks this dude out, I think it puts him in a position to be fighting for the world title. I think it really hinders on what happens March 8 on what goes on from that point, whether we’ll be back to MMA or he’s fighting for the belt (in boxing).”

It’s been more than two years since Ngannou last fought in MMA, when he defeated Ciryl Gane in his final UFC fight in January 2022. Even though it’s been so long and with boxing receiving most Ngannou’s attention, Nicksick isn’t worried about his fighter being properly prepared for MMA when the time comes.

“The guy wants to win at everything that he does,” Nicksick said. “He doesn’t cut any corners. I think that’s the most important thing. When he’s doing something, he’s doing it at 110 percent. … Once he gets back over to MMA, I know nothing’s gonna change with that mentality that he has.”

Story originally appeared on MMA Junkie