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The UFC wants (or should that be expects?) the MMA media to be its unpaid public relations arm. More often than not, the promotion gets its way. Fans need only to look at the recent reporting on heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou leaving the UFC for one of the many examples of how this scenario plays out.
Dana White claims Francis Ngannou wants lesser opponents
In January, UFC president Dana White appeared at the UFC Vegas 67 post-fight press conference and informed everyone that Ngannou was no longer part of the UFC. In White’s telling of the tale, Ngannou walked away over money—and fear.
“We offered a deal to Francis that would’ve made him the highest paid heavyweight in the history of the company, more than Lesnar, more than everybody. And he turned the deal down,” White claimed.
“I think Francis is at a place right now, where he doesn’t want to take a risk,” White said about Ngannou. “He feels like he can fight lesser opponents and make more money.
“The guy weighs over 300 lbs, just had knee surgery, hasn’t had a real training camp. I think that probably has a lot to do with it. He doesn’t know what’s going to happen with his knee, he’s not getting younger,” White said. “It’s not like this is something that has never happened before. There’s been other guys that have come to us and said I don’t want to compete at this level anymore.”
That story was reported by several MMA outlets like MMA Junkie, BJPenn.com, and even mainstream media like CNN.
A simple noting of the men he faced while competing under the UFC banner would have reduced that argument to rubble. As would have pointing out the fact that White has a long history of saying fighters are scared when they try to negotiate for better pay. Even UFC employee Daniel Cormier wasn’t buying what White was selling on that front.
When outlets simply repeat White’s quotes unopposed and without context on the absurdity of his claims, they only serve to spread that false narrative meant to discredit fighters trying to negotiate for better pay, or those on their way out like Ngannou.
Jon Jones doubles down on Francis Ngannou being scared
Knowing that Ngannou wasn’t “scared” didn’t prevent Jon Jones from picking up on White’s claims and running with them.
“I don’t think I deserve any criticism,” Jones said in February after the possibility of a Ngannou vs. Jones fight fell apart. “I’m here. Francis had the opportunity to face me, and he opted out of the opportunity. If anyone should be criticized, it’s Francis Ngannou. If I’m correct, he was offered the biggest contract in heavyweight history. He had the opportunity to be a guy to dethrone me. He didn’t believe in himself. Francis didn’t believe in himself. He wasn’t willing to gamble on himself.”
Outlets like MMA Junkie, BJ Penn, MMA Mania, reported on Jones’ mimicry of White’s “he’s scared” talking point, along with others. What was missing in the stories that reported on Jones’ commentary was the fact that Jones’ move to heavyweight took more than three years to come to fruition. That’s three years where Ngannou and Jones could have matched up. In fact, the Jones vs. Ngannou fight was discussed in 2020, but Jones reportedly turned it down then because he didn’t feel it made financial sense. At the very least, reporters should have added that context to Jones’ claims that Ngannou ran from him in 2023.
Further, it must be pointed out that the idea that the UFC “released” Ngannou from his contract is a bit misleading. By the time White said the UFC had released the ex-champ, Ngannou had already completed his UFC deal. Waiving minor time provisions is different from the traditional meaning of being “released” and cut from their contracts, and simply repeating those terms as is another example of how the MMA media can take part in UFC propaganda.
Jose Aldo on Ngannou and boxing money
MMA Fighting recently reported that another former UFC champion, this time Jose Aldo, said of Ngannou, “With all humbleness, I think Ngannou shot himself in the foot. He had everything to sign a great contract, the biggest in heavyweight, but this desire to be a boxing champion or to fight in boxing… People see the top of the boxing pyramid getting paid big numbers but forget that the lower part is paid so little. I think the UFC has bigger salaries than boxing.”
“I see Ngannou tripping about a fight with Tyson Fury, a champion, who heavyweights aim at but don’t come anywhere near. It’s like saying I wanna play soccer because they get paid million but forget only five percent gets paid millions, the rest make way below that. People say that the UFC doesn’t pay that well, but it does. That’s why it’s the biggest organization. You can make money like [big] boxers can. Conor [McGregor], Ronda Rousey. People say women don’t make money and she’s made it, right?”
As is often the case with the aggregation game, other sites like B.J. Penn, MMA Mania, LowKick, Cageside Press, and others all picked up on MMA Fighting’s report.
Conor McGregor on Ngannou and boxing money
In late March, former two-division UFC champion Conor McGregor appeared on The MMA Hour. When asked if there was a shift in the UFC business with Ngannou, and Nate Diaz leaving the promotion, McGregor towed the UFC company line that the departures were about the money.
“What, to go out and do a little side quest, and seeking to get some boxing dollars and all the rest of it?” McGregor said before adding, “Ngannou, think of all he got. He had his injury, he was in that PI using all the equipment, all everything, there was no dough on that. There would have been no charge on that. He’s getting the accommodation, he’s getting everything sorted.”
“I thought he made an error, to be honest. I mean, he hasn’t fought in a minute. Get a bout under the belt and then maybe start. I wasn’t sure why he done that, to be honest. He kind of took the shine off him how it went, but look, I wish him well.”
MMA Fighting reported on McGregor statement, as did MMA Mania, Middle Easy, and others reported on McGregor’s statements.
All of those sites, including Bloody Elbow, failed to provide enough context regarding Ngannou that would have dispelled the belief that he failed to agree to a deal with the UFC in order “to get some boxing dollars.”
As Ngannou repeatedly pointed out for a year, that the issue isn’t all about just money.
“It’s not simply money,” Ngannou said at the UFC 270 post-fight press conference. “Obviously, money is a part of it, but it’s also the terms of the contract that I don’t agree with. I don’t feel like it’s fair. I don’t feel like I’m a free man. I don’t feel like I’ve been treated good. It’s unfortunate that I have to be in this position, that I have to say that. I feel like everyone should have the right to claim for what’s best for them. At the end of the day, we put a lot of work for this job and we take a lot on our body to make it happen, so we can have a fair and square deal.”
Ngannou added more to his thinking on a new UFC deal in November.
“…the contract says you have to fight when they tell you you have to fight,” Ngannou said. “But your contract does obligate them to give you a fight. They can sit you down for two years. You can’t say anything. So unless they want to make you fight, you won’t fight. So that’s something that caught my attention. What is this contract good for? How this contract protect me, on what? Nothing. I have nothing. When you sign that contract, you give your ownership to the UFC. But technically, it’s not protecting you from nothing, from anything.
“They can cut you whenever they want, they can give you a fight, yes or no, and they don’t have to answer to anybody,” he concluded. “They can do whatever they want. So why am I signing contract? I have no protection in that contract. Unless you can guarantee me something in that contract, there’s not a reason to do a contract. Matter of fact, you say I’m an independent contractor. Let me fight, I can fight for you and fight for someone else. Why am I having exclusive contract with you with no benefit? I’m supposedly an independent contractor.”
After a year of back and forth between the UFC and Ngannou, the former UFC champion’s stance on what it would take to get him into a shiny new UFC deal should have been clear to everyone who reported on White’s comments at the UFC Vegas 67 post-fight press conference. To overlook the context that would have made that story more robust was a huge error.
As for Aldo and McGregor’s statements, at first glance, they seem innocuous enough. They offered their opinions on Ngannou leaving the UFC after his contract with the promotion expired, and the two sides failed to agree on a new deal. However, none of the sites provided the context to explain why Ngannou parted ways with the UFC. By not providing that background, the reporting presents only McGregor and Aldo’s pro-UFC side of the discussion.
In their statements, McGregor and Aldo made it seem like it was all about Ngannou getting more money via boxing, but in his own words, Ngannou said, “it wasn’t going to be about money.”
Many of these errors or lack of context could be attributed to being in a rush to be the first to get the story published. In this day and age where every MMA site is covering the same topics, it is perhaps understandable. The less forgivable reason for the lack of context is because the MMA media has often hidden behind the excuse that they are just reporting on what White (or anyone) says when he appears in front of a microphone.
With none of the stories on White, Aldo, McGregor or Jones’s comments including Ngannou’s side of the story, the sites basically did what the UFC wanted—tell a one-sided story that favors them.
Did those writers do so consciously or for nefarious reasons? I really don’t think that’s the case.
But with that lack of context, narratives on Ngannou leaving the UFC simply because of money or somehow being afraid, only gets pushed a step closer to being seen as facts. The same can be said about so many other important topics in the sport.
We all have room to improve on this subject. Taking the time to tell a complete story is part of the media’s job. However, hiding behind the idea that part of the job is to be a transcriptionist for powerful members of the organization being covered, is something any media member should strive to avoid.
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