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Francis Ngannou says rivalry with Ciryl Gane isn't personal, just business

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UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou tells Yahoo Sports' Kevin Iole there isn't any history between him and interim champion Ciryl Gane ahead of their title unification fight Saturday at UFC 270.

Video Transcript

KEVIN IOLE: Hey, everybody. I am Kevin Iole. And I will be in Anaheim on Saturday for UFC 270, and there hasn't been a heavyweight fight I have been more excited for than the main event of this one. Cyril Gunn, the interim champion going up against my guest right now, the predator Francis Ngannou the UFC heavyweight champ of the world. Francis if you're not fired up for this one, I don't think people have a pulse. This has got to be a great fight, don't you think?

FRANCIS NGANNOU: I do think so, I do think so.

KEVIN IOLE: You know, you and Cyril have a little bit of history together. You know, you trained--

FRANCIS NGANNOU: We do not have a history together.

KEVIN IOLE: You were training partners.

FRANCIS NGANNOU: No. We train-- we do train a few times, which might be maybe six times in elapse of time and that was it.

KEVIN IOLE: OK.

FRANCIS NGANNOU: [INAUDIBLE]

KEVIN IOLE: So there's not a real-- there's not a real personal thing there between you?

FRANCIS NGANNOU: No, we don't even know each other. This person-- this supposed personality in between us is just drama that they are making. But personally, we don't have a personal things between us, you know.

KEVIN IOLE: You got a lot of-- you got a lot of people talking when at UFC, was it UFC 268 Madison Square Garden? You walked down the hall and in Cyril and your coach-- former coach, [INAUDIBLE] Lopez was standing there, and you kind of walk past him and didn't acknowledge him. And I think a lot of people started taking from that, that there was a rivalry with you guys.

FRANCIS NGANNOU: There's a rivalry, I mean, you're going to fight a guy, you are going to the octagon on Saturday, and you're going to try to take each other's heads off. Yes, obviously there is a rivalry, but other than that there is nothing. The reason why I walk past them wasn't because of him, you know. I mean, even though I don't really see why I needed to acknowledge him, he is my opponent and he is not my friend. He's not my coworker that I meet him in the office, I'm going to go grab some coffee for us, you know. He's my opponent.

KEVIN IOLE: Right, so you-- yeah, you know, you take it that way. Now, when you defeated [INAUDIBLE] you know, a lot of people thought this was the beginning of the Francis Ngannou era. And you even talked about maybe coming back and fighting very quickly, you know, fighting maybe even as soon as June. What happened? It's now nine months. And not that that's a long time, but I bet from a guy that said he wanted to fight really quickly to, you know, now having a nine month gap between when you won the title and coming back, you know, how come you didn't get back in the ring quicker when you seemed to want to do that?

FRANCIS NGANNOU: Well, before I-- even before I first [INAUDIBLE] back in March, in the past two years I have fought twice, and I always wanted to fight. So what's happened is the same thing that happened in the past two or two years, you know, is not on my control. You know, and then, yeah, it's not on my control. And obviously, there have been a little bit of disagreement but overall is not on my control.

KEVIN IOLE: Well, you know, you chose to wait when the UFC was going to put on that [INAUDIBLE] Daniel Cormier rematch. That kind of affected you.

FRANCIS NGANNOU: I didn't choose, I didn't choose to wait. I didn't have a choice.

KEVIN IOLE: So they didn't offer you a fight?

FRANCIS NGANNOU: No, I was-- I was asked for a fight, I get to a point that I ask for Shamil, which at the time was a number 10 On the roster. You know, I wanted to fight. I never--

KEVIN IOLE: Because I asked that question of the UFC, and they said, You--

FRANCIS NGANNOU: No, that's wrong. No, that's wrong. We've been sending email and text messages asking for a fight, that's-- I've always done that. So if somebody says I chose to wait, then that's a false response.

KEVIN IOLE: OK. All right. So you want-- how much do you think that hurts you then, you know, because you've had those big gaps a time off. And you know, big guys-- you know, they seem to be better with activity, right? Or if you're-- you're fighting more, you know. Do you think it hurts your career at all, those gaps that you've had?

FRANCIS NGANNOU: I don't know if he hurt my career, but I do know for sure that he hurts my pocket. Basically that-- basically that I-- I do that for a living, that's what I need to do to provide, that's my job and my only job. You know, so when I'm restraint of doing my job, yes, you [INAUDIBLE] it hurts my pocket, you know, definitely. I mean, from what I'm making, it's not like I'm making enough money to be set up for a lifetime or for years, you know. So yes, I really do want to keep fighting. But as I said, it wasn't on my control.

KEVIN IOLE: You know, we talked to Dana White Saturday after the show, [INAUDIBLE] show. And your name came up and people ask about, Hey, all the talk is about Francis' contract and Francis is not fighting and not about the fight. So let me ask you-- with that said, let me ask you this question Francis, you know, you've won, I think, in your last seven fights you've been performance of the night six times. You know, you're one of the most exciting fighters in the world, one of the best fighters in the world.

They are a fight promoter, it doesn't make sense that they wouldn't want you to fight. So do you think it was just like, you know, you guys needed to get together and talk, you know. Why hasn't that gotten resolved? Because that seems like a thing that would make sense for both sides. You want to fight and make money, they want to promote good fighters. Why couldn't you guys get together and talk?

FRANCIS NGANNOU: Well, we tried, we did everything that we could. We begged for a meeting, we went there, we-- we did everything that we could. But why? I don't know. Like, if you ask me exactly like, why we are where we are right now? I don't know. I feel like, at some point there was-- there wasn't a good faith in this situation. Like honestly, that my personal feeling. I might be wrong, but that's how I feel. Because there is not a reason why things would be here. They always claim to want-- like people who want to fight.

And since Junior dos Santos fight, I always want to fight. I always want to fight. They said, no, this, no a title fight, no interim. I'm like, doesn't matter, give me a fight. They say this booked, that is booked. Yes, give me this guy. Oh no, he's number 10, he doesn't make sense for you this. OK find me a guy. You know, so I don't know.

KEVIN IOLE: Now do you-- you know, you defend the title, I want to get into the fight because that's what people care about not-- not this stuff. But, you know, do you think that being down there you fight this week, that maybe everybody is together that you'd be able to resolve the flogjam? Or do you think that Saturday will be your last UFC appearance?

FRANCIS NGANNOU: Honestly, I don't know. Once again, every fight could be your last UFC appearance. Because they have control over you, that they can decide whenever they want to cut you to cut you. So you don't have a [INAUDIBLE] about it. People fight, go home, sleep. Wake up in the next morning, find out an email that they are called, they are no longer part in the UFC and you can't do anything about that. So as far as that, I can't have an accurate answer for it.

KEVIN IOLE: [INAUDIBLE] Now, what do you expect? Cyril looked very good in his win over Derrick Lewis, you fought Derrick as well. You know, I know, Derrick had an injured back, and there were things going on with you at that time. It wasn't the best fight that either of you two ever had. Cyril looked very good against Derrick Lewis, and now he's the favorite. I think a lot-- you know, he's becoming know the darling of the public to a certain degree. What is Cyril's strength and how do you have to beat him? What do you have to do to be successful against Cyril?

FRANCIS NGANNOU: Well, he-- no, the question, that's the wrong question, Kevin, excuse me. I'm the champ, and the question-- you should be asking Cyril what is-- what did he have to do to beat me.

KEVIN IOLE: I asked him that question, but now you've got to retain [INAUDIBLE]

FRANCIS NGANNOU: No, you go to ask him, not me.

KEVIN IOLE: I did.

FRANCIS NGANNOU: Well, I'll get to do what I've been doing to beat people, because that's where I get where I am, you know. Obviously, he's a tough opponent. He has some skills, and I think like-- such as, every fighter in this level, but once again, I think I get this figure.

KEVIN IOLE: Do you think-- you know, his coach Fernando Lopez, obviously I mentioned before coached you. Do you think because, you know, Fernando and the way he works at that gives you an advantage going into the fight? Like that you'd, kind of, know maybe what their plan might be and how to attack their weaknesses?

FRANCIS NGANNOU: Well, if I have to stick in the plan, in the fact-- if I have to consider the fact that I have changed or evolved my game a lot since I last worked with Fernando, then I would have said maybe he has changed his own. Then he will be wrong to say I know him. You know, because like, he-- I'm clearly nothing to do with the guy that he knew back then. And then, I assume he might be different as well. So it's kind of tricky.

KEVIN IOLE: Is there still beef with you guys? I mean, you know, are you guys cool? I mean, what is the relationship, if any?

FRANCIS NGANNOU: Well, I think it's clear that he's in the past. No, no more need to be-- no, no more say-- no more things needed to be said about it, it belongs to the past.

KEVIN IOLE: OK. Now you're-- Eric Nicksick one of the best coaches in the business. You know, I think Eric Nicksick to me, is an unsung coach. You know, maybe doesn't get enough credit. What role do you think Eric Nicksick played in helping you get to where you are now to become the UFC heavyweight champion, and to the point where you're going to defend the title against Cyril Gunn on Saturday?

FRANCIS NGANNOU: Well, he's definitely like, one of the best coaches out there. And then maybe be underrated, as you are saying. But I remember the reason why I started to work with him, he was after-- he was at the Junior dos Santos fight, you know. And then having a toxic relationship with coaches, you know, they don't really want something like that to happen. But for some reason, I kind of like get a chance to be in the fight with Eric, and then I just loved his energy, man. So then from there for, I'm like, this is the kind of energy that I need. Because like, I really believe that fighting is a mental game.

And it doesn't matter which kind of training you have, if the energy around you is not right you can't perform well. You know, so as long as people-- and that's why you see some people just have their dad, or even their girlfriend with them. Which know nothing about this game, but he helps them to be in the mind right-- mind-- the right mindset. And from there on, they can perform their best. But if you have the best techniques ever and you are not in the best mindset, oh you won't do [BLEEP].

KEVIN IOLE: Haha.

FRANCIS NGANNOU: And I know that by experience.

KEVIN IOLE: When you have this, like, you have, and I mean, there's not too many people I've ever seen that can throw that punch the way you have. You always [INAUDIBLE]--

FRANCIS NGANNOU: But your, but your your mind contr-- your mind control everything.

KEVIN IOLE: Well, of course.

FRANCIS NGANNOU: If your mind is not right, you won't believe in this.

KEVIN IOLE: I agree with that, I agree with that. The one thing I wanted to ask you is that, have you ever hit a guy in a fight and go, Oh my God is he OK? Like, have you ever gotten worried like that you hit him so hard that you might have really seriously hurt him.

FRANCIS NGANNOU: No, no.

KEVIN IOLE: Because you have [INAUDIBLE]

FRANCIS NGANNOU: Not really. Huh?

KEVIN IOLE: You've had some that were pretty, pretty spectacular.

FRANCIS NGANNOU: Yeah, when you wash it after on the tape it's different than when you are there fighting. Sometimes you don't even believe that you hit him, like you truly hit him. You know, sometimes you're still like, Oh maybe I clocked him, I still need to finish him. You don't even know that he's caught that.

KEVIN IOLE: I want to wrap up with this, you know, I didn't ask you about the rumors of, you know-- I mean, I think you talked about it. Tyson Fury challenged you to a fight. I want to ask you this, you know, he just came off three fights-- three fight series with Deontay Wilder who was purported to be, and I think, fair enough one of the biggest punchers of all time. Deontay Wilder couldn't knock out Tyson Fury. You think that you have the kind of power that if you've got a chance to fight him, that you could do with Deontay Wilder couldn't do?

FRANCIS NGANNOU: So how do you know that Deontay Wilder is the biggest knockout punch power [INAUDIBLE]?

KEVIN IOLE: I think-- I said, I think he's one of the biggest punches of all time. I didn't say he is [INAUDIBLE]

FRANCIS NGANNOU: Yes he's one of the biggest doesn't mean the biggest. I might be the biggest.

KEVIN IOLE: OK.

[LAUGHTER]

Well, we'll see what happens, man. Well first, you'll go in on Saturday night at UFC 270. Francis, thank you so much, my friend. Good luck to you, I'll see you in Anaheim on Saturday.

FRANCIS NGANNOU: Thank you, Kevin.

KEVIN IOLE: Thanks, Francis. [INAUDIBLE]

FRANCIS NGANNOU: Bye.