Now that Ciryl Gane is the new UFC interim heavyweight champ, everyone is looking forward to a unification bout against his former teammate Francis Ngannou. And as usual when it comes to former teammates, everyone is looking for a bad blood angle to sell the fight even more.
But if you want to know the real deal when it comes to Game and Ngannou, it’s less about Ciryl Gane’s feelings towards his former teammate and more about Gane’s head coach and MMA Factory head Fernand Lopez.
Lopez built up both Gane and Ngannou, but Ngannou left MMA Factory after his bad loss to Stipe Miocic in January of 2018. It was a pretty public split. Many blamed Ngannou’s coach for not preparing him properly for his first big title fight, and Ngannou didn’t exactly do much to dissuade people of that notion.
Here’s what Lopez had to say about it in October of 2020 in an interview with Bash MMA.
“In the Lab, you have to be free to choose who you work with,” he said. “And when Francis was in my gym, I asked him to step out of the gym two times, and he was already in the UFC. Because there was so values that I don’t share with him.”
So things were already rocky between the two over the years, but it was the Stipe fight and the aftermath that killed the relationship completely.
“When Francis didn’t win the belt against Stipe Miocic, I got blast,” Lopez said. “Okay, people was killing me. People was just ripping me out. And I was sad because … you have a lot of fighters coming out and saying ‘I’m very sorry, I let you down my coach.’ And then you feel like okay. And I had this guy try to hide behind what people were saying.”
“So we have twelve fight together,” he continued. “You only lost one fight by decision in France, before the MMA. And then after that you win every fight preparing in the MMA Factory. You never lost one fight. The two fight you lose you were in Las Vegas and you went to Paris just last minute but you were preparing your fight in Las Vegas. And you lose those two fights.”
“Listen: you should be honest and say ‘Listen, I let my coach down. He tried to do something, he tried to help me and I let him down.’ And I had this guy say ‘Well, there’s a lot of things I didn’t figure out in my life before that fight. I wasn’t supposed to go to Paris two weeks before the fight. And I was like damn.”
“All the coaches around, when we prepare the fight with Stipe Miocic, we had wrote down all the game plan, everything. The strength, the weakness, the opportunity, everything prepared and I give this to him. And my game plan was simple. Listen: Stipe Miocic is a f—king Golden Glove in boxing. He’s a f—king NCAA. You can not stand there to try and take his head off. He will take you down. The only thing you can make is to maintain the distance. If you have the range, you can manage distance, then you can keep striking going backward, going forward. That was the game plan.”
“And in the gym, we had so many good talented heavyweights, very good wrestlers. And they trained Francis everywhere in the mat. But we stopped everything, I say ‘Francis I need to talk with you’ and I bring him into locker room … ‘Francis, is there something that you don’t like in my gameplan that I give you … Why don’t you do that in the mat, what’s wrong?’ He’s like ‘I like my instinct, I believe in my power, I can beat this guy with instinct, just one punch,’ that’s how we went into the fight with Stipe. But people don’t know the reality.”
“I put a lot of effort in keeping him on the feet, keep him on the footwork,” Lopez added. “Because the wrestling is the plan B. The plan A is to not get touched. Because no matter how hard I teach Francis wrestling, he will never be a better wrestler than Curtis Blaydes or Stipe Miocic. So therefore this is the last thing I have to do. The first thing is how to hit the guy without getting touched. That’s how you see Ciryl Gane fight … that’s our signature in MMA Factory.”
“But we have Francis going against Stipe and saying ‘No I think I can beat this guy with one punch.’ And when they criticized me, not once did he say ‘Hey guys, stop saying that bulls—t.’”
So when Ciryl Gane insists its just sports, just another performance, well … you can take him at his word because there’s no evidence that there’s any bad feelings between him and Ngannou from their days training or in the aftermath of Ngannou’s MMA Factory departure.
But when it comes to Gane’s head coach Fernand Lopez, he’s still clearly unhappy with how the student he built up left his coaching reputation in tatters following the first Miocic loss. And now he’s got his next prodigy ready to extract a little revenge.