Francis Ngannou's return to the Octagon could happen before the end of the calendar year.
The UFC heavyweight champion says he could be recovered from knee surgery in time to return in December.
"If everything goes well, I'll be ready by the end of the year because it's gonna be nine months. So, let's say late December or early next year," Ngannou told TMZ Sports.
Ngannou defeated Ciryl Gane at January's UFC 270 pay-per-view despite suffering a torn MCL and damaged ACL during training. He waited until March to undergo surgery to repair the issue.
UFC President Dana White said it's expected that Ngannou will reach a new contract with the promotion before returning. The heavyweight star has expressed frustration with his salary and said any new deal would involve a carve-out to allow him to box heavyweight champion Tyson Fury.
“If I sign another contract now, basically the same model of the contract, I’m screwed," Ngannou said on The MMA Hour in April. "That’s not happening ever. So we have to figure out a way to implement this into a contract.
“I think the UFC is a good promotion, and I want to keep fighting. Tyson Fury is not my last fight. I want to keep fighting. After Tyson Fury, there’s still a lot of fights out there. There’s the Jon Jones, there’s the Stipe trilogy. That’s a big fight I can do in the USA. Yes, I can do Tyson Fury on my own, but what next?”
Ngannou's knee surgery put both a potential prizefight with Fury and his UFC return on hold. It seems more likely than not that Ngannou will return to the UFC and defend his heavyweight championship in the promotion before trying out his hand in the boxing ring.
The promotion has not determined an interim champion with Ngannou out.