‘Just a few pennies’ – Francis Ngannou details UFC strong-arm tactics

Francis Ngannou recently gave more details and insight into exactly what went wrong with his negotiations with the UFC.

By: Zane Simon | 5 days ago
‘Just a few pennies’ – Francis Ngannou details UFC strong-arm tactics
New PFL signee Francis Ngannou. IMAGO / ZUMA Wire

Where did it all go wrong between the UFC and Francis Ngannou. The Cameroonian-born Frenchman became an overnight sensation for the UFC back in 2015-17, with a string of violent knockouts that presaged his first shot at UFC gold. He didn’t win the title in his first attempt, but by 2019 he looked every bit like an unstoppable juggernaut once again on his way to the crown.

Between 2015-2019, Ngannou fought 11 times inside the Octagon, amassing 8 knockouts and headlining four fight cards, including one PPV. He would fight for the UFC just three more times after that run, however. Snagging another two KOs and the UFC heavyweight crown in the process, and then his run with the world’s largest MMA promotion was over; ending in a slow, dragged out contract negotiation battle that saw a sitting UFC champ walk into free agency, belt in hand.

Francis Ngannou traces UFC contract trouble back to 2019

In a recent interview on the Dan Lebatard show, Ngannou got into the details of his split with the UFC. Most notably how, at the end of an 8-fight deal in 2019, the promotion iced him out for nearly a year, rather than letting him complete his contract and negotiate with Endeavor-owned company as a free agent.

“What I was asking for at first was ‘Can I have a fight,'” Ngannou explained, when asked about the UFC’s negotiating tactics. “Because, I had an eight-fight contract, and I wanted to fulfill that contract. But they wouldn’t allow me, since I wasn’t going to sign another contract. Because they know, if I fulfill that contract, I’m automatically free. They used some kind of dirty game in there, they freezed me out.

“How much I was getting per fight wasn’t much at all, just a few pennies. So they knew that I couldn’t make a living out of it. I had to come back and accept those contract. And that was after the Junior Dos Santos fight, was in June 2019. So, it was almost one year after that I have to fight. So I just resisted to that. That was very hard.”

Ngannou made a more public stand in later negotiations

It was a ‘take it or leave it’ style of negotiation that Ngannou felt was repeated once he actually won the UFC belt in 2021, as well. Despite only just having secured the UFC title in March of that year, the UFC immediately started making plans for Xtreme Couture talent’s next title defense. If he wasn’t going to be ready to fight Derrick Lewis in August, then Ciryl Gane could have the job with an Interim belt on the line.

“One of the things that was hard about it as well was the pressure that was putting on you,” Ngannou revealed. “Before I decided to speak up about this, I realized that if I just stay there and not speak up, not only are they going to change the narrative, but I would not take the pressure on me. I’m just me, and they are them; they are massive. I couldn’t fight that. I started to see how they promote even the interim title by saying I don’t want to fight. I’m like, ‘These people are killing me.’ So, I think that’s when I started to speak up about it.”

Not all about money

It seems that experience taught the ‘Predator’ that the most important part of dealing with the UFC wasn’t getting them to cough up more money, but getting the ability to actually bargain with Dana White & Co. while in a position to consider more options than the one they were prepared to give. To hear him tell it, the promotion had no problem throwing more cash his way, the trouble seems to have been more the idea that as long as he accepted new deals he’d always be meeting with the UFC exclusively on their terms.

“Exactly,” Ngannou agreed, noting that the problem with the UFC wasn’t just one of dollars and cents. “I didn’t ask for more money because—by the way, the new contract was more money, but I was like, ‘I don’t want more money, just give me the fight, so I can fulfill my obligation and be free. Therefore I can renegotiate as a free man.

“I can’t be locked here and negotiate. I’m not negotiating, you’re just telling me what I will get. Either way, it’s my right. We have an 8-fight deal, and then I’m here asking for the fight to deliver.’

“And they’re very happy to go out there all the time and say, ‘Oh, we give the fighters three fights per year. We give this.’ At the time, I even have to save all the video that Dana was saying. Like, ‘We give those fighters three fights a year!’ I’m like, ‘This guy is joking, right? I’m here, I’ve been here for five, six months, asking for fight, because I need money. I need to fulfill the contract, I need to make a living out of it.’

“My contract was exclusive, so I didn’t have any other revenue. But they were holding me captive into that, and now they’re trying to act like I want more money. I didn’t want more money. If it was about more money, I would have signed the contract, because there was more money into those contract and more and more by the time I was getting to the end.”

According to Ngannou, by the end of his 8-fight deal he was making somewhere around $100k-$120k to show while headline UFC events. By the time he beat Ciryl Gane to retain his belt in 2022, he was bringing in a flat rate of $600k with no win money (although likely PPV points and a probable side-letter agreement as well).

Negotiating as a free agent no longer under UFC contract has seen Ngannou reportedly net one of the highest paying contracts in MMA history. It may not have been all about money, but the ability to field multiple offers and sit at the table without restrictions certainly didn’t hurt his bank account.

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About the author
Zane Simon
Zane Simon

Zane Simon is a senior editor, writer, and podcaster for Bloody Elbow. He has worked with the website since 2013, taking on a wide variety of roles. A lifelong combat sports fan, Zane has trained off & on in both boxing and Muay Thai. He currently hosts the long-running MMA Vivisection podcast, which he took over from Nate Wilcox & Dallas Winston in 2015, as well as the 6th Round podcast, started in 2014. Zane is also responsible for developing and maintaining the ‘List of current UFC fighters’ on Bloody Elbow, a resource he originally developed for Wikipedia in 2010.

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