UFC champion Francis Ngannou is targeting a 2023 return after undergoing surgery to repair the ACL and MCL in his right knee in March, he told ESPN's Marc Raimondi.
"I'm not very strong on that knee yet," Ngannou said Friday. "See how heavy I am. That's something I really have to consider—my weight and this division and how it is."
Ngannou told Raimondi that he is currently "very out of shape." However, he intends to visit his doctor in Las Vegas next week before going into pre-training camp to get his body back where it needs to be.
The 35-year-old's future with the UFC is up in the air. He has publicly discussed issues surrounding his contract, which is set to end at the end of the year. Ahead of UFC 270, he told reporters he would not fight for UFC again under his current contract.
"I will not fight for $500,000 [or] $600,000 anymore," he said. "It's over. I took this fight for personal reasons, because I want to make sure that regardless of [whether] it's fair, I can make my case that I have completed the fights."
However, UFC president Dana White says he has met with Ngannou multiple times and is confident they will be able to reach an agreement. He told TMZ Sports in January that the promotion would figure things out "one way or another."
It's unclear who Ngannou will fight when he's ready to return. However, Eric Nicksick, his coach, would like to see him fight Jon Jones, he told MMA Fighting:
"The fight that makes the most sense is obviously Jon Jones. That's the fight we all want. The way I look at it is, Jon Jones has been out for two and a half years. If we can’t do it in December, and depending on the way the UFC schedule plays out, maybe [it can happen] in January or February, somewhere in that timeline.
"Jon hasn't fought in so long, Stipe hasn't fought since Francis beat him, so that will be two years for Stipe in March, so might as well wait another month for the super fight and the fight to make.
"Honestly, for me, I'd love the Stipe fight again, or the Jones fight, but if I had my choice between the two, obviously I want to compete against the best to ever do it, in my opinion, and that's Jon Jones."
Ngannou has fought for the UFC since 2015 and has an 11-2 record with the promotion. "The Predator" is 16-3 overall in his MMA career and is known for having the world's hardest punch.