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Fernand Lopez has helped build two of the best heavyweights in the world as head coach of the MMA Factory in France.
Currently preparing Ciryl Gane for his shot at the world heavyweight title against Jon Jones in March at UFC 285, Lopez was also the head coach who helped bring Francis Ngannou to prominence.
Lopez played an integral role in helping secure a UFC contract for Ngannou in 2015, but their professional relationship began to crack in 2018 following Ngannou’s loss to Stipe Miocic. Supported by a different staff, Ngannou eventually won the heavyweight belt in a rematch against Miocic, then defeated Gane a year ago in a tightly contested title defense. Ngannou was recently stripped of the belt after failing to come to terms on a new UFC contract.
Despite their differences over the years, Lopez expressed his desire to see Ngannou succeed.
“I’m surprised he is no longer with UFC,” says Lopez. “I hope he is successful with boxing and with any other company. I just hope Francis finds happiness. That is what is most important. I wish him the best.”
Lopez’s focus is on Gane’s upcoming bout against Jones. Ironically, this would likely have been a battle to fight Ngannou had he stayed with the company, but instead it will determine a new undisputed heavyweight champ.
“This is the best opportunity for any fighter in the heavyweight division,” says Lopez. “Ciryl is fighting one of the greatest fighters ever and the title is on the line. For me, as his coach, I am very happy with the way this is going. This is his chance to be champion, and I am very proud he is in that spot.”
Gane has advanced at a phenomenal rate. Only 12 bouts into his career, the 32-year-old is a former interim UFC heavyweight champ and has only tasted defeat once. He has a combination of speed, cardio, and power that will cause problems for Jones, who last fought in February of 2020.
Lopez knows this upcoming bout is about more than the title. If Gane can defeat Jones, it will stand as one of the sport’s biggest victories.
“Ciryl has the skill,” says Lopez. “And if Ciryl does win, he will become the face of mixed martial arts.”
Spivak Looks to Disrupt UFC Heavyweight Rankings
Change is coming to UFC’s heavyweight division. And if Sergey Spivak has his way, it will happen at a rapid pace.
Spivak headlines Saturday’s UFC Fight Night against Derrick Lewis. Long a staple of the world’s most elite heavyweight fighters, Lewis has dropped three of his last four fights. Spivak (15-3) has ripped off five wins in his past six bouts. A win against Lewis (26-10, 1 NC) will place Spivak in the top 10, most likely taking Lewis’ spot at No. 7. Even with a loss, Lewis should stay in the top 10, but his days of headlining would be over—and he would effectively be removed from the title picture.
Sergei Pavlovich and Tai Tuivasa both executed the formula needed to beat Lewis. You can exhaust him, like Ciryl Gane did, or hit him with an all-out assault. Tuivasa knocked out Lewis less than two minutes into the second round of their bout in February, and Pavlovich was even more aggressive–he needed only 55 seconds to win by TKO. The catch is that you need to absorb a vicious shot or two, which will be a test for Spivak.
So a late night on Saturday, where the main card does not start until 1am ET, there will be some serious stakes on the line for the heavyweight division.
Bellator Coming to CBS With a Familiar Face
While there may be a changing of the heavyweight guard in UFC, the opposite is likely to play out in Bellator.
Fedor Emelianenko specifically requested his final bout take place against Ryan Bader. And it is never good to have Fedor asking for you.
Bader and Emelianenko headline Bellator 290 this Saturday, which will run live on CBS. It is the top of a compelling card, and there is a ton of intrigue as to whether Emelianenko actually retires if he wins the heavyweight title.
Now 46, Emelianenko remains a threat. Bader (30-7, 1 NC) knocked him out in January of 2019, and the legend from Russia finally has an opportunity to enact his revenge. Emelianenko (40-6, 1 NC) has won two in a row since suffering that defeat.
Unfortunately for Bader, the goal posts keep moving whenever he is successful. Critics will point out that Bellator’s heavyweight division is thin on elite talent, and that he beat Emelianenko well past his prime. It is easy to imagine hearing the same complaints coming out of Saturday if Bader beats Emelianenko again. But nothing should lessen his accomplishments. If Bader knocks out Emelianenko for a second time, that will be a remarkable accomplishment.
If Emelianenko wins the belt, it only makes sense for Scott Coker to bring him back for another fight. Fortunately for Coker, former UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou is a free agent. Coker needs Ngannou in the crowd on Saturday, which will create major buzz for Bellator on CBS. It will also set up a phenomenal title bout, with Ngannou challenging either Bader or Emelianenko.