Earlier this month, it appeared as though Francis Ngannou vs. Jairzinho Rozenstruik would proceed as the main event of UFC on ESPN 8 on Saturday, March 28, without any problems. However, with the ongoing pandemic of coronavirus disease, (COVID-19) the fight, scheduled to take place in Columbus, Ohio, was rightfully canceled by the promotion — but not without some resistance.
As many other major sports in the United States and around the world shut down in response to the pandemic, UFC president Dana White was determined to keep the promotion alive.
“This is what we do,” White said. “We put fights on every weekend. The fighters want to fight. The fans want to see it. I’ve had nothing but positive feedback from the fans and the fighters. These guys all want to continue. We will. Obviously, we’ve had some blowback from the media that covers us, but everybody is going to have their opinions. We’re going to continue on. These three fights are postponed. They will still happen. Khabib vs. Tony is on for the original date. We’re going to keep fighting.”
One of the three fights White referred to is the heavyweight matchup between Ngannou and Rozenstruik. Ngannou, who has now won three consecutive fights since that uneventful decision loss to Derrick Lewis in July 2018, would be fighting to keep his #2 spot in the UFC heavyweight rankings as he waits for the promotion to move forward with Stipe Miocic vs. Daniel Cormier III.
But Ngannou believes that he has already done enough to secure his second opportunity to fight for the UFC Heavyweight Championship.
“What I believe, is that I didn’t need to fight Rozenstruik to get the title shot,” Ngannou told Submission Radio on Wednesday. “I believe I deserve the title shot right now, where I am, even without this fight. So, that’s what I believe. But at the end of the day, it’s not my call.”
Of course, Ngannou doesn’t have much say in when he fights for a UFC title, but he also doesn’t have any input as to when and where he’ll be fighting this time, either.
With his main event slot in Columbus canceled, Ngannou is preparing to fight on the upcoming UFC 249 card headlined by Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson. That card is currently scheduled to take place on Saturday, April 18, but the rapid spread of the coronavirus means that it is increasingly unlikely that the event will take place, even after White’s recent announcement that UFC 249 would occur in an undisclosed location with a full lineup of fights.
Per Dana White (@danawhite), a location for Khabib Nurmagomedov (@TeamKhabib) vs Tony Ferguson (@TonyFergusonXT) is "99.9 percent done." Confirms Khabib is back in Russia. I also asked him if it will be a full undercard for UFC 249 or a shortened lineup, he said full lineup.
— Brett Okamoto (@bokamotoESPN) March 24, 2020
“There is a chance that I can be fighting on that card, but they have to settle everything down,” Ngannou said.
“Like, for now, it seems like they have a location, but they have to double-check and see how they can handle this event safely for people. Because, first of all, it’s not just about [fighters]. They are not just expecting to work with people that are fighting, they’re also trying to make things to care about our health. So, I got tested, they got me tested for the COVID-19, so I guess they tested other fighters, which is kind of like a positive thing, and like, makes you feel a little bit safe to get close or along with those people.”
One of the major criticisms following the UFC’s most recent event in Brasilia was that the promotion proceeded to host the event despite inadequate safety measures in place for fighters. Without testing for COVID-19, it was impossible for fighters to know whether they were physically competing against another fighter who may have been carrying the virus.
Ngannou isn’t concerned about competing at any upcoming UFC event. He also confirmed to Submission Radio that he was tested for COVID-19 one week ago by a UFC doctor.
“I won’t be concerned, because once again, okay, I don’t wanna say that COVID-19 is nothing, I don’t want to say it’s not bad, but technically I think it’s a flu that we have all the time,” Ngannou said.
“The only problem with it is that it’s contagious and it can spread very fast. But no, I won’t be concerned about it because even after I’ve had a test, I wasn’t very worried. I was like, okay, whatever it is, it’s gonna be okay. It’s not like bad. Because I think the thing right now is just the panic. So, this thing has caused more panic then the real pain itself. We are just panicking.”
Although no one is entirely confident that UFC 249 will actually take place, Ngannou is ready to proceed, even with the question marks surrounding the event.
“Obviously, every fighter would like to know as soon as possible, like, two months away from the fight. But given the circumstances, you kind of understand the situation, you kind of understand that they are just trying to make it happen. It’s not like they had everything under control and didn’t tell you. So, it’s just as I said before, it’s just something that you have to be in or out. Like, I compromise or I don’t compromise. It’s all about you.”
“It’s not the ideal scenario for nobody right now. So, nobody was expecting this thing, nobody was prepared already for this thing. So then, if it’s about the compromise and make things happen, yes, we will compromise and make things happen.”
And as for where UFC 249 will take place…
“It’s gonna be somewhere on earth, it’s gonna be on this planet.”
Jake Nichols is The Body Lock's Editor in Chief. Previously, he was the MMA Editor at RealSport.