It looks like Francis Ngannou’s free agency saga has finally come to an end. The 36-year-old former UFC heavyweight champion hasn’t been seen inside the cage since January of last year, when he successfully defended his title against Ciryl Gane. That bout came smack dab in the middle of a prolonged series of contract negotiations with the world’s largest MMA promotion, which eventually resulted in the Cameroonian-born Frenchman becoming one of the most notable MMA talents to ever leave the Octagon behind in the prime of his career.
For better and worse, those contract negotiations (and the Gane fight) also took place in the middle of Ngannou’s battle with a severe knee injury. After surgery and months of rehab, the ‘Predator’ seems to be fighting fit once again, and ready to land in his new place of business.
Francis Ngannou to become highest paid heavyweight in MMA
Bloody Elbow has learned that the Professional Fighters League will be announcing very soon, that they have signed former UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou to a multi-fight agreement that gives them the exclusive right to promote his mixed martial arts matches. The promotional agreement, which was described to us as unprecedented for MMA, would make him the highest paid heavyweight in the sport while still allowing him the option to participate in any boxing matches that he negotiates on his own.
While the specific number of fights and duration were not revealed to Bloody Elbow, those familiar with the deal described it as “an incredible contract for Francis,” that was “more like a top boxers contract” than those of other MMA fighters. The deal would supposedly guarantee Ngannou close to 8-figures a fight, an amount that we were told is more than what the UFC’s final offer had guaranteed him for every title defense. The agreement would also call for him to be paid an upside on successful events—although unlike most other MMA contracts that give a few extra dollars per pay-per-view sold, Ngannou’s calls for him to receive a large share of the sales from pay-per-views, tickets and sponsorships.
When asked what he could make for a very successful (such as “a million buy pay-per-view event”) we were told that he could expect to earn “tens of million of dollars” and “really get Deontay Wilder money,” an apparent reference to a Dana White comment regarding Jon Jones.
The agreement would supposedly also call for Francis Ngannou to be paid an annual fee or salary in order to operate as a brand ambassador for the PFL when not fighting. As far as some of Ngannou’s other requests to the UFC, such as health insurance, co-determination, and sponsorship rights for the fighters on the roster, we were told these were not agreed to although their were still ongoing talks over how they could eventually be implemented. There is also word that Ngannou had made another demand, asking that any opponent of his get a guaranteed minimum purse, perhaps as much as $1 million. There have been discussions on these, but it is still unclear whether or not the PFL agreed to it.
When will Francis Ngannou be back?
As for when fans could expect to see Francis Ngannou fighting again, the Xtreme Couture talent would not be expected to take part in the PFL season or end of year tournament—but Instead he would be fighting under the PFL’s PPV Super Fight brand. There was mention that with the major boxing stars apparently booked through the year Ngannou might choose to wait until next year before trying his hand at boxing and instead take a fight with the PFL before the end of 2023.
We did not receive an answer regarding whether or not the PFL would introduce a heavyweight title for his matches or what happens if Ngannou losses an MMA match.
Francis Ngannou’s free agency unprecedented in MMA
Francis Ngannou became the biggest free agent perhaps in the history of the sport after his contract expired in December of last year and the UFC ended their negotiations a month later, officially parting ways. But the relationship between the UFC and Ngannou appeared to have soured well before then, when—after winning the heavyweight title from Stipe Miocic—he refused to sign a new contract unless certain conditions were met. The most important of which seemed to be the right to take a boxing match.
Ngannou was able to eventually fight out his contract, thanks in large part to the introduction of a termination date (“sunset clause”) into UFC contracts back in 2017—apparently in response to the ongoing antitrust lawsuit. Even with his time off for injuries and an extension for the champion’s clause, Francis Ngannou’s contract terminated 5 years after he signed it. The UFC appears to have since made changes to their contracts to make it more difficult for other fighters to do the same.
Since he entered the market several of the biggest boxing promoters have expressed interest in signing Francis Ngannou for a match, but a front runner has yet to materialize. Meanwhile he has had talks with the other major MMA promoters. Both Bellator and ONE have said that they could not come to terms with what he was asking. PFL apparently did not run into the same problems.
Podcast: Francis Ngannou got a sweet deal, but did PFL get one?
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