For Francis Ngannou head coach Eric Nicksick, preparing for Jon Jones would scratch every imaginable competitive itch.
The heavyweight title picture is in an interesting place with Ngannou’s future unknown and the potential return and heavyweight debut of Jon Jones. Then there are top contenders Stipe Miocic and Curtis Blaydes, and the winner of the UFC Paris main event between Ciryl Gane and Tai Tuivasa. But if Nicksick has his druthers, the opponent he wants to see is hands down Jones.
It just probably won’t happen this year, despite the UFC’s reported desire to book Ngannou vs. Jones at UFC 282 on Dec. 10 (per Ariel Helwani).
“The fight that makes the most sense is obviously Jon Jones,” Nicksick told MMA Fighting. “That’s the fight we all want. The way I look at it is, Jon Jones has been out for two and a half years. If we can’t do it in December, and depending on the way the UFC schedule plays out, maybe [it can happen] in January or February, somewhere in that timeline.
“Jon hasn’t fought in so long, Stipe hasn’t fought since Francis beat him, so that will be two years for Stipe in March, so might as well wait another month for the super fight and the fight to make.
“Honestly, for me, I’d love the Stipe fight again, or the Jones fight, but if I had my choice between the two, obviously I want to compete against the best to ever do it, in my opinion, and that’s Jon Jones.”
Currently, Ngannou is recovering from knee surgery following a successful title defense against Gane at UFC 270. Ngannou’s fighting future with the UFC is still up in the air; he has publicly discussed the issues surrounding his contract, which he said will run out at the end of the year.
UFC President Dana White has said he’s met with Ngannou multiple times since the January fight and expressed confidence the promotion will re-sign him. Following surgery, “The Predator” has also said December or early 2023 could be in play.
According to Nicksick, Ngannou will travell to France for Saturday’s UFC Paris card, where he will likely be taking notes on the bout between his most recent opponent and the surging Tuivasa. From there, the No. 1 ranked heavyweight in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings will head back to Las Vegas to continue his rehab.
“Once he gets back home and the [UFC Performance Institute] reevaluates him — because he was home for the last month to see where his knee is at — and I speak to [his manager] regularly to see what’s going on with the business side of everything, and I don’t think December is going to be a realistic timeline with where he’s at with the rehab. I think it’s only been five months because he had the surgery in March, so October would be six months for him.
“With that type of injury, that type of surgery, I think December’s [making] it a little close, to be honest with you. But you never know with this guy, he might just come right back and be ready to go, and you never know what the UFC is going to be putting on our plate, either.”
If Tuivasa can pull off a massive upset, according to the betting lines, on Saturday, Nicksick can see a world where the “Bam Bam” could break through to fight for the title if negotiations between Jones, or Miocic, and the UFC don’t go well.
“100 percent, either Tai or Nate Diaz,” Nicksick joked.