Eric Nicksick: Francis Ngannou should catch Anthony Joshua in the pocket

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Francis Ngannou’s head coach Eric Nicksick is no longer surprised when big fights come to Ngannou, whether it be in the ring or MMA cage.

After taking lineal heavyweight boxing champ Tyson Fury to the absolute limit this past October, Ngannou returns in March to face Anthony Joshua in Saudi Arabia. When Nicksick found out about the matchup, it was business as usual.

“He never ceases to amaze me,” Nicksick told MMA Fighting. “This guy has been playing chess, and we’ve all been playing checkers, and it couldn’t happen to a better guy. So I’m very happy for our guy.

“It’s just, man, it’s been such a smooth sailing process ever since he’s kind of moved over and done his thing. I’m excited to get back out there, I can’t wait to go see our guy compete, and then I think there’s so many things that we can build on and show even a better version of [the] Francis you saw versus Tyson Fury.”

Ngannou, a former UFC heavyweight champion who left the company and signed with the PFL, lost a split decision to Fury in his pro boxing debut in a fight where he knocked Fury to the canvas.

While “The Predator” hasn’t shown all of his boxing skillset as of yet, Nicksick understands as preparations are set to begin for the Joshua fight that the element of the unknown is pretty much out the window for his next massive opportunity.

“I think obviously him surprising a lot of people in the outcome, and the way that he performed in the Tyson Fury fight, so the cat’s kind of out of the bag,” Nicksick explained. “The nice thing from a coaching perspective, I feel like there’s a lot of things that we didn’t show in that fight and improvements that we can build [upon]. So we’re going to sit down and kind of go over what his thoughts are on the approach, see if we could find some holes and some variables that we can change, have a different style approach against Anthony Joshua.

“I think it’s going to be a fun fight. But moreover, there’s the X-factor that our guy always is going to carry, and that’s that power. Once he hits you, once he’s able to kind of dictate his power on somebody and make them move and make them vulnerable, I think that’s when really you’re gonna start seeing the good things happen in that fight.”

In a recent interview on The MMA Hour, Ngannou discussed the matchup with Joshua and declared that if Joshua takes the knockdown shot Fury took, he doesn’t “guarantee he’s standing up.”

When asked about if Joshua is more prone to being knocked out than Fury, Nicksick can’t confidently say that’s true. However, the coach can see avenues where the opportunities to land the knockout blow will present themselves more than they did in Ngannou’s first pro boxing appearance.

“Well, I’m not going to sit here and say that I think he’s more susceptible to get knocked out [than Fury], but I’ll say that he’s more susceptible to us finding him stylistically, whereas Tyson does such a good job of movement, and angles, and kind of just rolling off the punches and things like that. That’s why we tried to utilize a little bit more of the ring control and put him in a bar to limit some of his movement, whereas I feel like Anthony is going to be there more often.

“He’s more of a plot fighter, kind of works well behind his jab, but I feel like we can find him there in the pocket rather than having to chase him down or try to hunt him down. So there’s some differences there, but by that style of fight, if he’s going be there in the pocket, Francis will find you.”

Following the loss to Fury, Ngannou’s performance earned him the No. 10 ranking in the WBC heavyweight rankings, which heading into the bout was extremely difficult to fathom.

After shocking the boxing world, if Ngannou can do it again by coming away with an upset victory, the amount of lanes that open up to him in boxing are endless. Much like booking the fight with Joshua, that result will be par for the course in Nicksick’s eyes.

“I mean, none of this surprises me anymore,” Nicksick said. “I’ll say, from my perspective as his head coach in MMA, watching him just completely tear his knee in half and then be able to go and beat Ciryl Gane on one leg, I was a believer forever. I mean, I’ve always believed in the guy, but I remember, I was the guy from the camp saying, ‘Yo, I think we should pull out your leg is a mess,’ he’s like, ‘No, I’m good, I’m just going too beat this guy on one leg. I know I can do it,’ and I’m like, ‘Holy s***, here we go.’

“And after that, man, I’m just like, bro, whatever you tell me, [if you tell me] we’re going to drive to the moon, then we could drive to the moon, but whatever you tell me, I’m in.”

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