For the moment, at least, it seems far too late to see the UFC come to any kind of agreement with former heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou. The 36-year-old Xtreme Couture talent has yet to ink any new deals for the next stage of his combat sports career, but it feels like the Endeavor owned MMA promotion is firmly in the rear view mirror after a year of potential contract negotiations yielded little in the way of negotiable compromise.
While money and a hoped for move to pro-boxing were likely the primary reasons for the split, the ‘Predator’ apparently also brought a few more nebulous demands to the table. Ngannou approached the UFC looking to bring back individual fighter sponsors to the Octagon, get a UFC health insurance policy in place, and get a representative for the athletes that could sit in on the UFC’s board of directors.
“They say, ‘No, we don’t do business like that,’ Ngannou explained of his negotiations with the UFC. “They say, ‘Yes, [you] can pay your health insurance?’ and all that. I’m like, ‘Yes, I can pay my health insurance. At this point health insurance for me is not a problem. But, how about those guys that are at the bottom? Make $10k + $10k or, lost the fight, made $10k? They can’t really afford that health insurance.’ And I have been there. So, it’s something that I still carry in my heart.”
Recently deposed middleweight champion Israel Adesanya doesn’t sound surprised by the way things shook out, or by the UFC’s stance on negotiating demands that could have massive ripple effects through the organization. He does, however, sound like he’s in full support of the moves Ngannou was looking to make, and that he feels the UFC will have to change how they do business sooner or later to meet them.
“Francis made the right call,” Adesanya said in a media scrum, backstage at UFC 284 (transcript via MMA Fighting).
“I’ve been saying the same thing. I’m not gonna harp on about it, but he’s right, it’s little things—he’s asking for things that should be mandatory. He wasn’t asking for, you know, crazy, ridiculous diva-ish demands. There’s something as little as for the guys fighting on the opening [bout], having the fourth or third corner man being paid for and the hotel is being paid for. That sets them up nicely, and they don’t have to fork it out of their 10 and 10, to pay for their fourth or third corner. Little things like that.”
“He’s not being a diva,” the ‘Last Stylebender’ added. “He’s asking for reasonable demands, and I felt like he should have got them. But again, yeah, what [the UFC] said, ‘That’s not how we do business.’ But, the way we do business has to change, and it will change. He’s just the guy to kick in the door, and you never know what the future holds. Maybe he comes back or something.”
For the moment, a potential move to the PFL sounds a lot more likely than a Ngannou return to the UFC. Promotion CEO Peter Murray recently gave an interview to insider.com where he sounded highly enthusiastic about negotiations between the season-based organization and the heavyweight star.
“We’re excited about Francis and the conversations that are taking place,” Murray said of Ngannou’s free agency. “His next chapter is going to be bright, as will the PFLs. We believe we’re the perfect fit.”
Recently Jake Paul revealed that he had signed a two-fight deal with the PFL for the potential of a boxing match against Nate Diaz, followed by an MMA fight. It sounds a lot like the kind of idea that heavyweight boxing star Deontay Wilder recently proposed to Ngannou: Two fights, one boxing, one MMA. It could be just the thing to scratch the pugilistic itch that Ngannou has been hinting at for years.
Whether any of that comes together, or what happens afterward if it does, is all impossible to predict. Maybe there’s a future, somewhere down the line, where Ngannou and the UFC meet to negotiate again. Until then, however, if Adesanya wants to see the changes that his cohort argued for, he may just have to lead that fight himself.
About the author: Zane Simon is a senior editor, writer and podcaster for Bloody Elbow. Host of the MMA Vivisection and 6th Round, he has covered MMA and the UFC since 2013. (full bio)
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