UFC 270: Fernand Lopez 'regrets' his 'toxic relationship' with Francis Ngannou

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UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou’s former coach Fernand Lopez revealed he is not ‘bitter’ about their split, despite their now ‘toxic’ relationship, ahead of their reunion in one of the biggest heavyweight title fights in MMA history.

Lopez insisted that he now coaches the better fighter in Ciryl Gane, who Ngannou will face in the first defence of his reign as champion when he takes on the unbeaten interim belt holder at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California in UFC 270.

Lopez, the head coach of MMA Factory in Paris, will be in the corner opposite to Ngannou (16-3 MMA, 11-2 UFC), with Gane (10-0 MMA, 7-0 UFC), as he bids to help the 31-year-old seal victory over his former fighter.

Coach Fernand Lopez (centre, right) is looking to put past history with his former charge Francis Ngannou (centre, left) behind him ahead of UFC 270

Coach Fernand Lopez (centre, right) is looking to put past history with his former charge Francis Ngannou (centre, left) behind him ahead of UFC 270

Coach Lopez (with Cyril Gane, right) has regrets about his now toxic relationship with Ngannou

Coach Lopez (with Cyril Gane, right) has regrets about his now toxic relationship with Ngannou

Ngannou left Lopez heartbroken as he decided to move to Team Xtreme Couture MMA

Ngannou left Lopez heartbroken as he decided to move to Team Xtreme Couture MMA

Lopez said: ‘I do regret where things are between us, our story was actually very beautiful.

‘I have a bunch of other students that I have fallen out with in the past and we’re still friends and still call each other. 

‘But because of what’s said in some media, I don’t like this, it makes me looks bitter – makes me look like someone who will not let Ngannou go.

‘I did not call the journalist and say: “can you call me about Francis, I want to say a bad thing about him.” No, I’m over it. But I do regret it because our story was actually very beautiful.’ 

Lopez, 43, was the mastermind behind Ngannou’s first rise to title contention, with the coach fine-tuning the Predator into the sensational knockout artist that tore through the heavyweight ranks.

However, when all expected Ngannou to lay his hands on UFC gold in 2018, things went off course. 

The 35-year-old was outclassed by Stipe Miocic in Boston, leading to queries regarding his attitude and his preparations heading into UFC 220. 

It was Ngannou’s failure to, first, credit his coach for his ascension to the summit of the UFC and, second, to defend his coach when things went awry, that left Lopez heartbroken as Ngannou decided to change gyms and move to Team Xtreme Couture MMA in the States. 

But Lopez insisted he was now teamed with the more accomplished fighter. 

He said: ‘I am not a bitter guy… Ciryl is the best fighter, the best mindset, the cooler guy – why the hell would I be jealous?’

‘Let people know where I stand. I was telling my girlfriend the other day. I’m a guy that likes to be nice to people. 

Gane will have coach Lopez on his side to help exploit Ngannou's weaknesses in their fight

Gane will have coach Lopez on his side to help exploit Ngannou’s weaknesses in their fight

Lopez expects champion Ngannou (pictured) to put his fighter Gane under pressure

Lopez expects champion Ngannou (pictured) to put his fighter Gane under pressure

‘Francis Ngannou has a lot of fans and his fans look at me like a guy who is bitter and who is bad for his career. I am not here to do that. I hate that.’ 

Lopez and Ngannou used to spend five days a week training, where they barely spoke, but they obviously learnt a huge deal about each other during that period. 

‘I know his physical and mental weaknesses, someone is going down in this fight.

‘I know him and he knows me, we know each other well. I spent many nights with him in the same room, I spent much time with him on flights, I spent a long time with him in the gym, I know his pain, his medical background, I know what wears him down, I know his back problems – I know he’s hurt in the lower back.   

‘I know his mental weakness because I saw him in the changing room after his first loss. I was the one pulling his shorts so he could breathe properly.

‘There’s nothing else Francis can do but put Ciryl under pressure. Francis will need to be calm, but he cannot be calm and when he puts the pressure on, it will leave gaps in his game. 

‘It’s about mindset, Ciryl and Francis need to concentrate, the one that makes the mistake will go down.’

The quotes in this article first appeared on the Betway Insider blog. 

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