ANAHEIM, Calif. – Given the drama that’s unfolded between Francis Ngannou and his former coach, Fernand Lopez, in the buildup to UFC 270, it’s easy to see how Eric Nicksick has felt caught in the middle.
Nicksick, the head coach of Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas, has trained Ngannou for the past few years since he left Lopez’s MMA Factory in Paris. On Saturday at UFC 270, Ngannou meets Lopez’s prized pupil, Ciryl Gane, to unify the heavyweight championship in the main event at Honda Center.
The fight finally will arrive after plenty has been said and done by both sides to make matters personal, not the least of which being the controversy surrounding past sparring footage between Ngannou and Gane that was shared by Lopez.
For his part, Nicksick has focused on prepping Ngannou for his in-cage fight and remained level-headed about everything that’s happened to this point.
“I think sometimes, for me, I have to sit down and look at this from both sides of the fence,” Nicksick told reporters, including MMA Junkie, during UFC 270 media day on Wednesday. “Naturally you wanna always defend your side, your team, your fighter. But I understand there’s a lot of emotions involved. I’ve been in that situation where fighters have left, and relationships didn’t work out, and I think that a lot of this is riding on high emotions when it comes to Fernand, so I try to be empathetic and understanding to his situation.”
Nicksick doesn’t completely agree with all of Lopez’s actions the past few months as they pertain to Ngannou. That being said, Nicksick isn’t about to trash Lopez, in part because of the message from Ngannou.
“Yeah, there are things that I think I maybe would have not done or not said, and then there are things that I’ve read, and I have to do my due diligence and look at the source,” Nicksick said. “Maybe that wasn’t what he said, maybe it’s taken out of context. Obviously I’m just trying to give everybody the benefit of the doubt when it comes to this situation. I have to be empathetic to their relationship. And I’ll tell you the most mature thing to me has been Francis. He says to me, ‘I don’t ever want you to feel a certain way about somebody because of my relationship with that person. It’s up to you to decide how you feel about that person through your interactions.’ And my interactions with Coach Lopez have only really been present and respect back and forth.
“He made a post, I think last Sunday, kind of calling me a hypocrite about some of the sparring footage stuff on his Instagram. And that was really the only time I was like, ‘C’mon, bro, this isn’t about me and you.’ The question I was asked is if I have ever shared sparring footage at my gym. It was never brought up, his name, nothing. And my answer to that was no, I’ve still to this day never shared sparring footage. And I elaborated on that. I said, ‘You don’t even know if it was Fernand that shared that sparring footage. You don’t know if maybe this is a common practice of theirs at their gym or their team.’ And if that’s the case, don’t take it as a surprise. It’s something they’ve done in the past. You can look at it either way. But for me, I try to understand both situations, if you will.”