Born into utter poverty in Cameroon, UFC heavyweight Francis Ngannou started working in a sand mine at age 12. Determined to become the boxing champion of the world, he went to Paris, where he was homeless before finding MMA Fight Factory, a gym run by a fellow Cameroonian. Founder and coach Fernand Lopez allowed Ngannou to sleep on the mats.
UFC president Dana White said he thought Ngannou was the next big thing. By the time he got a title shot vs. then champion Stipe Miocic, the UFC publicity machine so focused on Ngannou that Miocic said it was “obvious” who the UFC wanted to win. Ngannou had moved to Las Vegas, and was training at the UFC PI, but Lopez remained as his coach.
Then Ngannou lost. Then he had switched trainers from Lopez to Syndicate MMA in Las Vegas. But instead of bouncing back in storybook fashion, 'The Predator' lost an enormously boring decision to Derrick Lewis at UFC 226.
At the post-fight press conference, UFC president Dana White said the fighter let his ego ran away with him "big-time." White received some criticism for the remarks, but now Ngannou's former coach echoed the remarks frankly in an interview with MMANews.pl.
“The only thing I can say is Dana was speaking about Francis’ ego is probably one of the truths that I witnessed that Dana White said,” said Lopez as transcribed by Jim Edwards for MMANytt. “It’s probably the only truth that I know for a fact, that’s a fact. Why am I saying that? I’m saying that because Ngannou is like a brother for me and when you’re dealing with a brother, problems with your brother, you have to be honest with your brother so he can be a better man.
“In order to make Francis a better man, there are some people that have to have the bad role. The bad job is to tell Ngannou, ‘You have a big ego and you have changed with the time.’ That’s the truth. I had the conversation with Ngannou and I said to him ‘You have changed my friend, you have changed. You’re not the same anymore. Your ego is killing you and it’s just about your ego.’ That’s the thing like.”
“All the time he was in Vegas he was still in my team. He never left the team, the membership. Every time he was asked if he was an MMA Factory member he didn’t let me down on that. He was always saying that. The only problem was, there’s never been a problem between us. During the last fight, we decided to make the camp with Syndicate MMA because the gym was close to the UFC Institute. So for his last fight, his mentor was John Wood of Syndicate. He called and said to me and asked me if I could come and assist him as a friend and as an assistant coach, which made sense and that was a good thing. But what I’m saying is the ego can make you go the wrong way and hurt people.
“Myself I got hurt with a lot of dedication to Francis’ career, I got hurt, a lot. When Francis lost the fight with Stipe, no one ever heard Francis say he lost because he didn’t follow the gameplan. He did the opposite of the gameplan that we worked. That loss for Francis, for the belt, had a huge impact for him, but also myself and my gym. Francis being world champion means that I’m a champion coach and that means the MMA Factory is a champion training camp. We missed that because he did not follow the gameplan. He followed the gameplans until the title shot and then the next fight he was in Syndicate MMA.”
“When all these people are saying what a bad coach I am, it would’ve been nice for Francis to back me up and say ‘No guys, this guy did his job, this guy tried to help me with the best gameplan that he could and he gave me the thing that I should do and I didn’t do that.' Instead of saying that he just stayed quiet and people were killing us saying how stupid could I be to just keep training Francis on the feet and not on the wrestling and not the ground game.
“This is just crazy because the MMA Factory was building Francis a long time ago and for this and the wrestling and the ground game was taking almost 80-percent of his training, but because whenever the television come in the gym we were showcasing everything on the pads because it looked good for TV. We didn’t show Francis struggling or sharing the thing that he’s working on, on the ground. We only just showed to everyone what he was good at so they didn’t see any weakness in Francis, but actually, we were working so hard. We were taking all the best ground game guys in France.
“We lost the fight as a team, as a team, we lost the fight. There’s a fault of mine in losing the Stipe fight because it’s the team losing the fight. I don’t want to say only Francis lost that fight, but Francis didn’t follow the gameplan and it was up to himself to say he didn’t follow the gameplan.”