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Francis Ngannou, Ciryl Gane to meet in UFC 270 grudge match

Francis Ngannou never has faced as much drama entering a fight as he has during the buildup to his UFC heavyweight title defense against Ciryl Gane on Saturday.

The 35-year-old Las Vegas resident is ready for it to be done.

“It’s going to be a relief to get this over and not have to talk about it,” he said before the main event of UFC 270 at Honda Center in Anaheim, California.

There’s been plenty to discuss.

While Ngannou is known as a mild-mannered humanitarian who has discussed the joy he gets from the ducks and fish at Sunset Park, he is a silent assassin in the cage as he hunts down opponents and ruins their dreams with ferocious punching power.

The first sign of conflict during his typical fight week comes with the first swing of his right fist, a blow that has ended many a bout.

This has been different, as Ngannou has taken on drama on several fronts before the fight against Gane, the interim champion and a former training partner.

Therein lies the first conflict.

Ngannou’s career was launched at the same Paris gym under the tutelage of the same coach who will bring Gane to the cage Saturday.

A falling out between Ngannou and coach Fernand Lopez is just one source of conversation this week, as both parties exchange versions of what led to the frost in their friendship.

It’s also relevant to another. Lopez first brought Gane into the gym as a training partner for Ngannou several years ago, but Gane quickly became the prized pupil when Ngannou moved to Las Vegas full time.

Lopez, who has expressed frustration at Ngannou’s refusal to credit him for any of his early success, quickly disputed a claim that Ngannou knocked out Gane with a left high kick during a sparring session.

So there has been plenty of talk about Ngannou’s past as he prepares for what has quickly become a grudge match.

There is also plenty of chatter about his future.

Ngannou has been adamant about his desire to fight heavyweight boxing champion Tyson Fury in the squared circle and his demands to have that option written into his UFC contract if he wins this fight.

But UFC president Dana White has cautioned Ngannou to concern himself more with the present.

“You’re worried about all these other things — ‘I want to box Tyson Fury, I want to do this, I want to do that.’” White said on “The Jim Rome Show.” “You’re the underdog on Saturday night. You’re not some huge 10-1 favorite, and you want to move on. Focus on (this): beat Ciryl Gane. Win this fight, then you can start talking about the possibility of other things.”

Ngannou, whose five straight knockout wins include four in the first 71 seconds, was a +130 underdog Friday morning against the undefeated Gane, who racked up seven wins in his first two years in the UFC to put himself in this position.

Despite all of it, Ngannou insists he’s not distracted.

“I do believe that many people deal with a lot of stuff before fights, whether it’s a contract, drama stuff, or some ex-girlfriend or ex-wife,” he said.

The bout is one of two title fights on the 7 p.m. pay-per-view card.

Flyweight champion Brandon Moreno will fight former champ Deiveson Figueiredo in their third meeting in 406 days. It’s the quickest trilogy from first to third bout in UFC championship history.

Figueiredo retained the belt in a draw in December 2020 after he was deducted a point in the third round because of repeated groin strikes. Moreno took the title when he locked in a third-round submission in June.

There’s other drama, too. Figueiredo will be cornered by Moreno’s former close friend and former two-division champion, Henry Cejudo.

Preliminary card bouts will stream on ESPN+ at 3:30 p.m., with coverage moving to ESPN2 at 5.

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on Twitter.

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