Francis Ngannou is in the ‘perfect situation’

Amid speculation of how Francis Ngannou is handling his options since leaving the UFC, former manager Marquel Martin weighs in.

By: Stephie Haynes | 4 weeks ago
Francis Ngannou is in the ‘perfect situation’

Francis Ngannou has spent the majority of 2022 and all of 2023 in promotional purgatory. After successfully defending his UFC heavyweight title in January of last year, Ngannou went through multiple rounds at the bargaining table in the months leading to his decision to walk away from the biggest promotion in the world. While many speculate on whether he’s made the right choice testing the waters of free agency, his former manager says that he’s in the perfect position for negotiating big deals, life-changing deals.

In an interview I conducted with Marquel Martin a few days ago, the former UFC executive/former CAA sports agent weighed in on a variety of topics including why his own split with the UFC was so acrimonious, what MMA representation looks like (both good and bad), what the climate was like right after WME bought the UFC and more. Also of note is the revelation that Francis Ngannou is self-representing currently.

UFC Sale

In 2016, the UFC was sold to WME for around $4.2B. Rumors had been swirling for months prior, but Dana White constantly assured media and fans that wasn’t the case. And then the sale happened. At the time, we saw execs like Joe Silva, Garry Cook, Marshall Zelaznik and Ken Berger get their walking papers, but an actual tally of released executives and employees hasn’t really been discussed. However, when asked about his layoff, Martin mentioned that the UFC—a company of around 300 employees—released about 100 of them immediately following the buyout, saying

“Basically, because of redundancies, about a third of us were essentially laid off.”

The Disruptor

When expanding on his layoff, Martin discussed why the UFC viewed him as such a threat, adding “It’s no secret that UFC, because of my representation of Francis Ngannou, they no longer like me anymore because I disrupt their business model.” He went on, “Right out of the gate, I was kind of a threat to the UFC business model. Why? Because I understood how they work, because I understood the numbers, and I could be in a better position than most managers to educate my clients on whether it’s endorsements, whether it’s contract language, or whether it’s distribution deals.”


It’s been a little over 16 months since Francis Ngannou’s last fight. Almost a year after that fateful night where he would win convincingly with two injured knees, he let his sunset provision kick in (December 2022 timeframe) and with no satisfactory offer, he walked. Speculation has ranged from ‘Francis Ngannou will fight Tyson Fury’ to ‘Francis Ngannou is wasting the last of his prime years waiting for the perfect deal that’s never coming.’ Martin, who’s maintained a close friendship with the champ, says he’s doing just fine, that major deals take time.

“When it comes to these kind of dealings, it takes time, and if you’re smart, you already know you have to be strategic about it’ expanding further,

“I think he’s in a perfect situation and I kind of laugh a little bit because I see the MMA media and all the antics—thoughts here, opinions there—you don’t really know until you’re behind those closed doors, so to speak, on what’s happening. I think a lot of people are really going to be surprised. Let’s just say Francis is in a very, very good position.”

Who manages Francis Ngannou currently?

According to Marquel, exactly nobody is who manages Francis Ngannou right now. Describing him as ‘incredibly patient’ and an ‘immovable mountain’, Martin explained that since the dissolution of CAA’s MMA branch from which Ngannou was represented, the biggest free agent in the sport is now managing himself.

“To this day, no one represents him that I know of. No one manages him that I know of.”

Can UFC & Francis Ngannou mend fences?

Dana White has said on several occasions during the course of numerous interviews that the UFC is out of the Francis Ngannou business, that he’s difficult to work with, that there will never be a deal struck between the two. We’ve heard Dana say ‘never’ before. Never doesn’t always mean never, most famously displayed when he said the words “Women will never fight in the UFC.” And while White may say ‘never’ today, there is always room for consideration that the UFC could reverse their position tomorrow. Martin was quite complimentary of the efficient machine that is the UFC, even offering up some friendly advice.

“They should try to re-sign Francis. They should go back and try to mend that relationship with him.”


MMA is a unique space for representation. The criteria to be an agent/manager in MMA is almost nonexistent when compared to stick & ball sports. Martin having been an employee of the UFC for five years, then being with one of the two largest management firms in the world for nearly six years, puts him in a unique position to provide much more informed counsel than your average manager. His thoughts on the current management landscape are bleak, though.

“I think that a lot of managers—most not all—got put on alert, ‘Hey, don’t ever try to do what Marquel did. Don’t ever try to back your client.’ A lot of managers don’t fight for their client. They try to pretend that they do,” then providing some additional context, “A lot of managers will do a deal for a client simply because they have other clients they want to make sure they protect, so they’re just like, ‘Whatever the UFC says, goes.’”

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About the author
Stephie Haynes
Stephie Haynes

Stephie Haynes has been covering MMA since 2005. She has also worked for MMA promotion Proelite and apparel brand TapouT. She hosted TapouT’s official radio show for four years before joining Bloody Elbow in 2012. She has interviewed everyone there is to interview in the fight game from from Dana White to Conor McGregor to Kimbo Slice, as well as mainstream TV, film and music stars including Norman Reedus, RZA and Anthony Bourdain. She has been producing the BE podcast network since 2017 and hosts four of its current shows.

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