Fernand Lopez sweats profusely as he walks towards us in a corner of the MMA Factory, the hall of which he is the proud sporting director. A quarter of an hour to take the tatane blows of the explosive Taylor Lapilus, it wears out. Less than making Ciryl Gane work, of course, a question of size – the first measures 1m67 for 61 kg, the second 1m96 for 112kg – but enough to need a minute’s respite before answering our questions.
Not enough to pull the face so far. The Cameroonian coach, whose reputation is well established in the field, is a fulfilled man: Gane has just won the interim heavy UFC belt by ridiculing Derrick Lewis, who is not just anyone , and his next opponent may well be Francis Ngannou the “real” champion. His particuliarity ? It is also a pure product of the Factory. It is therefore an understatement to say that France
and the UFC – who has a golden opportunity to conquer a new market in a country long refractory to the discipline – dream of seeing the two men compete in the octagon in Paris. We’re not there yet. But while waiting for all this to take shape, we still wanted to turn the sauce up by talking about the two loustics to Fernand Lopez. Sit down, you have it for a moment.
How do you welcome this belt, certainly interim but global, from Ciryl?
“Interim belt” doesn’t mean anything to me. Who was predisposed to challenge Francis Ngannou for the world belt? Derrick Lewis. We’re talking about someone who has already beaten the champion, the guy who has the most knockouts at UFC. In Ciryl’s career, there’s something going on, it’s this annihilation effect. Whenever Ciryl confronts someone, we find his opponent very weak, not present. But people don’t question why. Why before facing Ciryl they were brilliant, why afterwards they continue to shine but why when they fight him they are absent? Ciryl has this body language which is very complicated for her opponents.
Obviously, we already want to turn to the fight against Francis Ngannou. The Factory derby, in Bercy, that would be good, wouldn’t it?
We want it to happen in Paris. It would be great to tell yourself on the spot that it was five minutes from Bercy that it all started. One day, seven years ago, Francis Ngannou showed up in this room, and one day three years ago, Ciryl Gane also showed up here. It would be magical for the two to come together to fight for the title in this city. Whatever happens, even if Ciryl was not going to beat Francis, I would already be very proud of the road traveled and very proud to have united the French behind an ambassador of his stature. Ciryl is a native of here, he is French, and it is good for the French community to have an ambassador worthy of the name. There aren’t many people in the UFC who are as worthy in values as Ciryl.
It took him three years to get to the top in MMA, two years to make a name for himself in Muay Thai before that. It feels like he could have been successful in any sport.
You need a breeding ground, a brain that can receive all the information. When we teach a child very early on motor skills in a broad way through sport by teaching him to do for example horse riding, surfing, volleyball, whatever we want, we open up to various variations of gestures. . Ciryl’s parents surely gave him the breeding ground very early on to be able to accept as many sporting gestures as possible. Then it only had to transfer them from one sport to another.
There is something innate, but what are the achievements?
They are cognitive and reflective. For example, giving a real middle kick that will bring a sensation of pain to the opponent so that on the next similar movement, he tenses up to prepare for this pain, leaving an opening to place another blow that he does not. was not waiting. This is what we call a preaction, it is thought out, reflected on and chosen.
These are things that I teach, but to remember and chain it all takes a lot of memory. Let’s say that Ciryl’s microprocessor goes so fast that it quickly captures information, processes it and makes choices despite time constraints. It’s rare to have a guy who almost always makes the right choices. And his are 99% fair.
And Francis Ngannou, in comparison?
He’s a smart person. In this room I saw him and I knew he would become champion because he didn’t make the same mistakes twice. In terms of “combat IQ” in my gym, I consider Taylor Lapilus to be the alpha male, but he was quickly overtaken by Ciryl. A little further on, there is Francis. But he makes up for it with a lot of brutality. It is a force of nature. During his first year in the gym I managed to master him in boxing, wrestling, on the ground… But after a year it was over. Just rubbing against Francis hurt. Physically, he’s an animal, a monster.
What do we say to ourselves when we hold such an athlete in our hands?
That you have an exceptional person and you have to try to take advantage of their potential. Him, he was very young, he had this idea of wanting to do boxing and to be like Tyson. Except that boxing requires too much precision for Francis. He needs to be in a combat sport where there is still a bit of savagery, which is a bit like MMA. I knew that his social elevator, since that was the question, how to protect his family from want, had to be quick. So I told him to forget about boxing. Since he didn’t want to, I decided to make a deal with him.
I told him “give me time to have a professional boxing license for you, but in the meantime you commit to training Brazilian jiu-jitsu, MMA, and you train all the time “. I am fighting with the boxing federation to get him a license, I am asked to do some amateur fights, except that he had no papers. In the meantime, I make him move ahead on MMA. He does pancrace fights, watered down MMA, and from there he gets paid. This is the click. When he sees that it brings in money, he switches and says to himself “I’m going”.
Finally, he made it to the top as agreed. But he left the Factory. You would have liked there to be this little extra thing, this recognition on his part?
It’s embarrassing to know that a guy has known misery, poverty, but that it did not make him want to help. When a young person shows up in my room and I give him the opportunity to become someone, I give him bags of clothes, I let him register in the room for four years for free… That’s where as a sports educator I failed. Because a sports educator must transmit values, and I have the impression of having failed to transmit those that I wanted. Namely to say “ok you did it, but think of the others”.
I would have liked that Francis could give an opportunity to those of this same structure who revealed it. This kind of association that we have lived by communication, by word of mouth, by social networks, by the light we bring to it. That’s why there is this ritual where the athletes, whether they win or lose, always make sure to thank their gym.
Why doesn’t he do it, in your opinion?
There is insecurity at home. Saying the name of the MMA Factory suggests that she may have helped him. However, he considers himself a self-made man: I left Cameroon, I walked, I crossed the desert, the sea, I arrived in Vegas and became who I am. In his speech, he says that no one has ever believed in him, that no one has ever given him anything… But deep down I don’t blame him that much. He’s the best heavyweight to date and it’s a luxury to watch two of my students compete for the best place in the world.
Not too sad to imagine two of your “children” sticking bread in front of your eyes?
To be in the parent-child analogy, I’m like a daddy who is on his deathbed and sees he’s leaving a legacy. Sportingly, it doesn’t bother me to see them compete, on the contrary. It is a strong message to see the French flag flying as high as possible in the most powerful institution of MMA possible thanks to a project that I launched a few years ago.
A project that is gaining notoriety and credibility. Some already see you as Coach of the Year. How do you explain it?
When I sign up for a name, it means I really think it’s going to go a long way. I take a risk, but if it passes, I gain credibility. I analyze each factor, including the way of speaking of the person, his charisma, all of these elements that make someone a champion. When I say Ciryl Gane could be the new Mohammed Ali, I mean it. It is very heavy and serious to say that. But beyond the sporting aspect, he’s an influencer, he’s a man. He’s going to be at least one of the sports leaders of the century. And in three years, it will be at its peak.