LAS VEGAS – Francis Ngannou won’t let his conflict with UFC brass serve as a distraction from his heavyweight title defense against Ciryl Gane at UFC 270.

Ngannou (16-3 MMA, 11-2 UFC), the reigning divisional titleholder, is set to put his belt on the line for the first time Jan. 22 when he meets former teammate and training partner Gane (10-0 MMA, 7-0 UFC) in a main event clash at Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., which streams on ESPN+ pay-per-view.

The road to this fight hasn’t necessarily been smooth sailing, with Ngannou’s contract status becoming something of a talking point. Ngannou has been vocal about his frustrations with the terms of his deal and his treatment from the UFC, and his team has declined extension offers ahead of UFC 270, citing inadequate compensation.

If Ngannou loses to Gane, he will become a free agent, according to Ngannou’s management. If he successfully defends his belt, Ngannou’s current deal will roll on, but he will have increased leverage for his demands to be met under a new contract. A lot is at stake, but Ngannou said he’s not focused on that as the fight gets closer.

“The situation is what it is, but what I’m trying to do is not let anything step into (my mind) for the fight,” Ngannou told MMA Junkie. “At the end of the day, I’m not allowed to get distracted by anything. It will be on me if I get something wrong because I’m distracted by everything around. I signed up for this fight, so I better take it seriously and focus on it. It doesn’t matter what happens on the side. We’re going to deal with that after.”

Ngannou, 35, knows he must be laser-focused for the task at hand. Gane is not a typical title challenger since the Frenchman trains out of the MMA Factory in Paris where Ngannou got his start in the sport. Ngannou’s former coach, Fernand Lopez, will be in Gane’s corner for the fight, which generates a unique dynamic for this particular matchup.

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The champion is not threatened by any of these elements, though, and Ngannou said it all goes out the window once they’re inside the octagon.

“Undefeated opponent doesn’t mean anything,” Ngannou said. “For me, I think undefeated just means he has a lack of experience because it’s not the full experience. Losing a fight is a learning process, as well, so if you haven’t (been) there, you can’t understand something. I think that’s the thing. I have fought undefeated fighters before, so it’s not my first time. I know how it is. You can be undefeated, but when you get in that cage it’s just you and your opponent and nothing matters at that point.”

Ngannou said he has no issues with Gane himself, and any tension leading into UFC 270 will be between him and former coach Lopez.

Gane has shown only respect to Ngannou ahead of the matchup, but recently said in an interview with BT Sport that his familiarity with Ngannou leads him to believe he can “manage” the power of the champ, which has proven to be nothing short of devastating.

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Ngannou said he thinks that means Gane will try to grapple with him and make it a drawn-out affair. However, he has other plans.

“That’s probably his prediction because he has nowhere else to go,” Ngannou said. “He has nothing else to do. Instead of expecting to jump around and waiting for the decision, I’m sure he’s going to be like, ‘I’m going to take him to the long rounds, the deep water’ and all this. That can be his only prediction, which could be very contrary of my prediction, which is knocking him out.”

Despite the fact that Ngannou is not currently on the same page as the UFC behind the scenes, he thinks UFC 270 will be a massive event with the appropriate level of hype. He is not expecting an easy night at the office, but Ngannou is confident his skills will shine brightest.

“It’s going to be a very big night between Ciryl and me, because regardless (of the situation), they’ll promote this fight pretty good,” Ngannou said. “You can’t take away his talent. He’s a good guy. He’s very talented. He’s a good contender. He’s a good competitor. I am ‘The Predator.’ I am the champion. It’s a pretty good matchup and what I do know for sure is that people are going to see a good fight, probably end up with some exciting knockout. It’ll be a good fight.”

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