When it comes to his personal life, Francis Ngannou couldn't help but constantly use the world "grateful" knowing how many people are going through difficult times in this unpredictable 2020. But his professional life, on the other hand, has left the UFC heavyweight contender nothing short of frustrated.
Ngannou (15-3), who is riding a four-fight winning streak featuring some of the most destructive knockouts in UFC history, has no official date for his proposed second crack at Stipe Miocic's heavyweight title after the fight was pushed to 2021. Now he fears he might be wasting away his prime waiting for it.
The 34-year-old native of Cameroon caught up with "Morning Kombat" this week to talk about his efforts to help the sport of MMA expand in his native Africa and his new role as the global ambassador to the Nocco USA family of energy drinks. And Ngannou wasn't afraid to share his current unhappiness with being forced to sit out and wait.
"It's very complicated right now. Even before the May fight [against Jairzinho Rozenstruik], I was expecting a title fight and they told me they had to do this trilogy between [Daniel Cormier] and Stipe," Ngannou said. "I was almost one year away without fighting, so they gave me the fight against Rosenstruik. Basically, that was just to stay active.
"Since August, there have been nothing but problems. I was expecting that I would fight maybe in December or something, but it appears that Stipe is not fighting until March. That's what they tell me. The only thing that I have to do is to wait until March for the fight."
Ngannou initially rose to fame like he was shot out of a cannon in late 2017 when a savage knockout of perennial contender Alistair Overeem provided him an immediate title shot one month later. Despite coming up empty in a decision loss to Miocic and following it up with a bizarrely passive defeat against Derrick Lewis, Ngannou rebounded in violent fashion with first-round finishes of Curtis Blaydes, Cain Velasquez, Junior dos Santos and Rozenstruik.
The only problem, along with having to wait for the 36-year-old Miocic to close out his rivalry with Cormier, was that Miocic has only defended his title once per year of late. Because of this, the champion wasn't keen on any form of a short turnaround to rematch Ngannou.
"It's very hard," Ngannou said. "I'm in some position which is very complicated because not only am I not in the position to defend the title, technically I am in my prime age and am wasting time being out without good reason. This is time that I should be fighting. It's kind of frustrating.
"We have to have something to keep going to motivate us. We have to make money and have to do anything, so why fighting? When you don't fight, sometimes it's hard to wake up and go to the gym without that motivation of a fight. It's like, 'OK, I'm training, but for what? When will be the fight? I don't know. What is this? I don't know.' When you don't have a clue about anything, it's tough to have the motivation. You really have to find the motivation to move yourself."
While Ngannou believes UFC did the right thing by announcing he was next for the title shot and not letting someone like former light heavyweight king Jon Jones cut his place in line. A major part of his frustration, however, goes back to his last fight at UFC 249 in Jacksonville, Florida, the event which served as the promotion's first fight card in two months after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ngannou claims he asked the UFC to put an interim title at stake for his fight against Rozenstruik, but the promotion resisted. Yet on that same card, after lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov was unable to travel to the U.S. for his fight against Tony Ferguson, top contender Justin Gaethje was allowed to slide in to save the main event for which an interim title was placed at stake.
"Justin Gaethje was in the same spot as me with where the lightweight division wasn't moving," Ngannou said. "If the interim title was lined up by now for that fight, I don't think right now I would be inactive. There would be something for me right now. I thought that I deserved the title shot and thought the UFC would've done the right thing, but this is a big roster and if things were active and moving on, this wouldn't be an issue.
"Many divisions have a title defense three or four times a year. We are talking about a division right here that is doing one title defense per year. It can have a lot of complicated positions for contenders. You get lined up but not really move. I think what they should do is just find a way to make the heavyweight division move on again because right now it's stuck."
In the meantime, all Ngannou can do is stay active in training and continue to improve upon the ground game and wrestling skills that seemed all but non-existent the first time he faced Miocic.
"After the Stipe fight, I realized a lot of things and took a step back," Ngannou said. "I was trying to look at that fight and see what was all the mistakes and see everything that I did wrong. I think what has changed is just me, the young fighter improving. Despite my age, I am still young sport-wise. I only started fighting seven years ago, so I still have a big page of improvement in my game, and that's what makes me believe in myself to think that I can do something very big in this sport."