It’s safe to say the icy relationship now shared between Dana White and Francis Ngannou won’t thaw anytime soon.

That obviously shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone. The UFC President can’t be happy living with the fact his heavyweight champion fought out his contract and then walked away from the promotion, eventually signing with PFL. It’s a move that’s provided a big boost to Ngannou in terms of future earning potential and other opportunities and It’s a move that doesn’t hurt UFC too much beyond the fact that another high profile fighter chose to leave rather than accept the restrictions that come with being under the thumb of the MMA leader.

For the UFC, it’s probably not going to be a big deal in the long run because, with certain exceptions, the company’s focus has always been on its brand versus any individual fighters. This means stars can come and go and the UFC will still keep chugging along. That is entirely by design.

But for PFL? That’s where the question marks are most striking.

Of course Dana White was going to talk about it

At the post-fight presser for UFC Vegas 73, Dana White, when he wasn’t throwing out benjamins to media members, tore into the Francis Ngannou’s deal, spewing obvious lies about the company releasing him (he fought out his contract and chose to not re-sign) as well as saying Francis didn’t want to fight Jones (he’s wanted that fight since at least 2019) or that he was inactive by choice and not due to injuries or contract tomfoolery.

Also, Dana’s aware his current heavyweight champion has only fought once in the last 3 years, right? Sure would have been cool for a media member to point that out…

Dana took shots at PFL as well, essentially referring to the business as one that’s been drumming up loads of investment capital so they can spend it and then have nothing to show for it.

And honestly? Dana’s right about that.

Yeah, it’s revisionist for him to say Francis doesn’t want to take risks and it is a bit silly to say UFC doesn’t do gimmick fights right after answering questions about bringing back the BMF belt, but it’s difficult to understand what the benefit for PFL will be with this current plan, which is to wait until 2024 to debut Francis while allowing him the rest of 2023 to pursue a boxing fight.

Francis Ngannou + boxing + ? = profit?

I know the obvious answer is that PFL needs time to launch the super fights division that Francis Ngannou is signed to. It takes time to build up Pay-per-view when those aren’t a regular component of your business.

Whenever that Pay-per-view happens, it won’t be PFL’s first foray, as they ended their 2022 season on ESPN+ PPV, headlined by the upset loss of their homegrown Ronda Rousey, Kayla Harrison, to division rival Larissa Pacheco. Official word from the promotion was that they were happy with how well it performed, because of course it was, but online reaction beforehand wasn’t great (reviews afterward were more pleasant) and Ray Sefo even said, “You’ve got to start somewhere” so that makes it seem like, to put a positive spin on it, they have room to grow.

And now their plan is to throw money at whichever high profile free agents they can get their hands on and hope that alone will be enough to take their business to the next level? Are they using the Affliction playbook now?

Francis having a deal where he can box is absolutely great for him but, for the business, it’s mind-boggling they would allow him to arrange and manage his own boxing career independent of them. I would have thought they would at least have said that Francis can box but with PFL as a co-promoter. That’s all he wanted from the UFC. But PFL is going to allow him to pursue whatever boxing opportunities he can get and they’ll have zero involvement? They’re okay not getting a piece of that action?

Is PFL really hoping Francis can secure a high profile match-up and that, win or lose, it will boost his profile enough to benefit his MMA career? Because I don’t want to be the bad guy to say this, but it’s probably not going to happen.

Sure, the top boxers have no problem jawing with Francis on Twitter or even going face to face with him (so long as a camera is present) but do we don’t really think a fight with Tyson Fury or Anthony Joshua is going to materialize, do we? Fury’s too busy jawing with other MMA fighters he’ll never actually get in the ring with.

Francis said the fight with Deontay Wilder was close but then fell apart so it’s now up in the air when, or if, he even does box. So if Deontay really isn’t into the idea of a part boxing, part MMA rivalry with Francis, then why was he yapping? Just to get headlines and attention placed on himself? Yeah, probably.

Does Francis want to box if it’s not against a top ranked opponent? All he’s been chasing so far are the best heavyweights in the world, men who would be taking a massive risk putting their reputations on the line to face a man with zero pro boxing experience.

Is it still worth it to Francis if he doesn’t get a big fight? If his only realistic options are lesser ranked or unranked opponents (and I’m sure he can find someone since he does have name value), then is there still a point in doing it?

If he just wants to box, he could have found someone already and gotten that promotional train rolling but instead, we’re just here waiting and wondering.

He could spend the rest of the year chasing this dream, getting nowhere, and then PFL is left with a bigger task because, not only do they have to find someone worth a damn for Francis to fight, they also have to put their PR machine into overdrive to remind people of who he is and why we should pay $50 (or more) to see him fight someone other than Jon Jones.

Sure, but is Francis Ngannou a draw?

It might be a tough sell either way because, for as much as people are talking about Francis Ngannou now, he was only a modest PPV draw at best. That means the opponent will definitely matter and, if the only available options are guys like Fabricio Werdum and Junior dos Santos, former champions who haven’t been relevant in years, it will be quite the challenge to keep this from turning into a disaster.

And don’t assume Jake Paul will be enough. His boxing fight with Anderson Silva proved that his name alone doesn’t guarantee a massive buyrate and, if the intent is for him to make an honest go at MMA, PFL is going to have to be very deliberate with who they match him up with.

Hey, maybe they can find a boxer desperate enough for a payday to face Jake in MMA. Wouldn’t that be ironic?

I hope PFL has modest expectations about this super fight division. They should know to be prepared in case it doesn’t take off immediately and time is needed to build up fan interest. One would think they’ll be spending a lot of time between now and next year planning a strategy for how to establish and grow that business model and keep the ship afloat in case things don’t take off right away.

Or maybe they’ll just spend the time asking Middle East investors and Alex Rodriguez for more money. I don’t know. I’m not a business insider. I just watch a lot of Shark Tank.

PFL offered Francis the world and more to secure his services so they’re going to expect a lot in return. Time will tell if they signed the newest MMA superstar or just an employee who occasionally fights.

Francis clearly got what he wanted. Let’s see if PFL got the same.

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About the author
Evan Zivin
Evan Zivin

Evan Zivin is a writer, having joined Bloody Elbow in 2023. He's been providing his unique takes on the sport of MMA since 2013, previously working as a featured columnist for 411Mania. Evan has followed MMA and professional wrestling for most of his life. His joy is in finding the stories and characters within all combat sports and presenting them in a serious yet light-hearted way.

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