With that in mind, Ngannou (16-3 MMA, 11-2 UFC) feels somewhat bad about the backstage video, that surfaced from the bowels of Madison Square Garden during UFC 268, in which he strutted right past Gane (10-0 MMA, 7-0 UFC), coach Fernandez Lopez, and French welterweight Nassourdine Imavov.
“The only thing that bothers me a little bit (was Gane)… and he was right,” Ngannou recently said in an interview with Daniel Cormier. “I would’ve looked confused. Obviously, as his coach said, he’s naive. I would’ve been confused, too, because if… I walked by Gane, I would say hi. If it’s just him, I’d say, ‘Hi, what’s up?’”
So why did Ngannou avoid not only approaching his former team but acknowledging them at all? According to Ngannou, the problem is between him and his former coach and manager, Lopez.
Lopez, the head coach of MMA Factory in Paris, coached Ngannou during his rise to the UFC and journey toward the title before the duo’s uncongenial split in 2019. Ngannou now trains at Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas and is under the management of Creative Artists Agency (CAA).
“I felt like I didn’t want to say hi, for my sake,” Ngannou said. “It’s been a couple of years now that he’s out there… I mean, like, yeah, I want to be nice. But when I saw him in that position, I had a few thoughts. I’m like, ‘OK, should I say hi?’ Then I’m like, ‘I don’t know.’ I might got closer and say hi and then somehow, you’ll hear that I said ‘this,’ which is not what I said. Getting close to him was giving an opportunity for him. Not only the fact that I’m sure that he didn’t need me to say hi, but it was giving him the opportunity to say something again that I didn’t say. I’d rather stay in the distance. … It’s not like we’re friendly. He’s attacking me all the time. I can’t do that. I don’t feel like it.”
Despite his scheduled booking against Gane at UFC 270, Ngannou indicated the matchup did not play a part in the decision to ignore the MMA Factory pack. If Gane was alone, Ngannou said he’d have no problem chatting it up.
“When I faced, I saw them,” Ngannou said. “I’m like, ‘OK.’ When I thought that, I moved my eyes, so I didn’t even see (Imavov), who fought that night. I don’t have any problem with (Imavov). I don’t have any problem with Ciryl, but I know the guy next to them and it’s going to be awkward. If I say hi to them without saying hi to Fernand and then (responding), I think that might cause them a problem as well. It just was a very confusing situation. How do you do here? What can you do here to get out of here.”
UFC 270 takes place Jan. 22 at Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. In addition to a heavyweight title fight between Ngannou and Gane, a championship bout between flyweight champion Brandon Moreno and former champ Deiveson Figueiredo is slated as the co-main event.