Ngannou and Gane are set to headline the UFC 270 pay-per-view on January 22. Their collision course was set up after “Bon Gamin” won interim gold against Derrick Lewis at UFC 265 last August. Having not competed since his title-winning performance last March, the upcoming clash of former teammates will be Ngannou’s first defense.
One of the leading narratives heading into the opening PPV main event of the year is the ongoing feud between Ngannou and his former coach Fernand Lopez, who now mentors Gane. Their bitter relationship soured even further after an awkward backstage interaction at UFC 268 attracted widespread interest and attention.
The meeting in question took place at Madison Square Garden on November 5. While Ngannou was in attendance to support his friend and fellow African champion Kamaru Usman, Gane and Lopez were cornering rising middleweight contender Nassourdine Imavov.
After Imavov defeated Edmen Shahbazyan, the MMA Factory group was backstage when “The Predator” was filmed walking towards them. Instead of acknowledging his former coach and training partners, the heavyweight titleholder strode past, a move that was later criticized by both Gane and Lopez.
But Ngannou doesn’t believe all was as it seemed. Later in the month, in an interview with Daniel Cormier, the Cameroonian suggested the interaction was likely manufactured by the UFC in order to add more intrigue and drama to his fight with Gane.
“There was this lady taking us to our seat. And she was bringing us to this section, and then they talked to her over the radio. And then [she said], ‘Oh, sorry, I’m wrong.’ So she turned around and we get back [and Gane and Lopez are standing right there]. I mean, tell me how this can be a coincidence.”
Gane Responds To Ngannou’s Conspiracy Theory
During a recent appearance on Ariel Helwani’s The MMA Hour, Gane looked back on the incident with less than two weeks until his showdown with Ngannou.
Discussing his upcoming opponent’s claim that the UFC 268 interaction could have been created by the promotion, the Frenchman asserted the theory is “wrong.”
“The people like to say everything was managed for this meeting (to happen), and that’s wrong. I think it’s wrong,” said Gane. “Because there are no cameras, there are nobody, and we just did a lot of interviews for Nassourdine Imavov, and we were just waiting for the elevators and at the same time, he comes, at the same time. There was no camera, when the people say Francis hung out by the elevator, the guy (filming) picked up his phone and just do that (started recording). It was a phone, it was not a camera, it was not something like that. For me, I’m not sure it was (a controlled meeting).”
While the UFC is set to return this weekend with a card headlined by Giga Chikadze and Calvin Kattar, most of the January intrigue is pointed towards the battle of former teammates and different heavyweight styles a week later.
We’ll likely never know whether the backstage moment at UFC 268 was simply by chance or controlled by the UFC. However, it certainly has created some extra animosity and opened the door for Ngannou and Lopez to take their rivalry into the public domain.
Do you believe the backstage meeting between Ciryl Gane and Francis Ngannou could have been manufactured by the UFC?