Will Francis Ngannou return to MMA? Here’s what the PFL are saying

Francis Ngannou is a star. And PFL MMA think they'll have in their cage sooner rather than later.

By: Nate Wilcox | 1 month ago
Will Francis Ngannou return to MMA? Here’s what the PFL are saying
Francis Ngannou poses with PFL gear after signing his new contract. | Louis Grasse / ZUMA Wire, IMAGO

Francis Ngannou is a boxing superstar

Recap Ngannou vs. Fury. Lost the fight, won the story. Tons of options ahead of him now.

Why would he entertain MMA? As Bloody Elbow’s Evan Zivin wrote, “Why should he go back? If he just did what he did to Tyson Fury, why wouldn’t he stay in boxing? Sure seems like a more viable career path to me.”

Tyson Fury on the floor after getting knocked down by UFC star Francis Ngannou.
Francis Ngannou scored a knockdown on Tyson Fury in their fight.

Despite how successful Ngannou’s foray into boxing has been, he’s still signed to PFL MMA.

And it’s not just any old MMA deal, it’s what we called a ‘sweetheart deal‘ at the time. Key elements include a “close to 8 figure guarantee” per fight plus “a large share of the sales from pay-per-views, tickets and sponsorships” — that’s much more than the few extra dollars per pay-per-view sale that constitutes the biggest money the UFC offers even their most popular fighters.

PFL expected Francis Ngannou to fight in the ‘SmartCage’

PFL MMA CEO Peter Murray spoke to TMZ about the company’s most prized asset and whether we will ever actually see him put on a pair of PFL gloves.

“Francis wants Jon Jones, and Jon Jones wants Francis. Francis wants Stipe [Miocic], and Stipe wants Francis. And there’s a conversation going on with Deontay Wilder, whether it’s boxing, whether it’s modified rules. That could be exciting, so that’s a real consideration.”

May 16, 2023, Los Angeles, CA, Los Angeles, CA, United States: Los Angeles, CA - May 16: (L-R) Peter Murray, CEO of PFL and Francis Ngannou sign the new contract at Professional Fighters League - Contract Signing at Beverly Wilshire, A Four Seasons Hotel on May 16, 2023 in Los Angeles, CA Los Angeles, CA United States - ZUMAp175 20230516_zsa_p175_002
PFL CEO Peter Murray and Francis Ngannou. | Louis Grasse / ZUMA Wire, IMAGO

Opinion: Ngannou in a PFL cage will be…

There are two ways to see this working out. The first possibility is the most optimistic one for MMA as a sport. In this scenario, Ngannou’s return to the cage will be a massive boon to the PFL, Ngannou and mixed martial arts itself.

Unfortunately, this scenario depends on the UFC breaking with its long-established practice of refusing to co-promote with anyone, anywhere or anytime. This is something that goes back to the heady early days of Zuffa when the UFC was a distant second to Japan’s Pride promotion and a young, naive Dana White agreed to send Chuck Liddell to compete in the 2003 light heavyweight tournament.

After Liddell got waxed by Rampage Jackson in the second round of the tournament a chastened Dana never co-promoted again.

So what’s changed that makes me think there’s even an outside possibility of Hell freezing over (or thawing out or whatever)?

Two factors. First, the UFC antitrust case is inexorably heading to trial in April, where a decidedly unfriendly Judge Richard Boulware will decide the case on the merits before passing it to a jury to determine damages.

I promise you there’s nothing like a manifest change in behavior to impress a judge who’s already leaning against the promotion based on his comments when he certified the case as a class-action suit. Judges generally don’t throw phrases like “variety of ruthless coercive techniques” and “devastating effect on fighters’ ability to control their careers” around lightly.

The second factor that might change the UFC’s thinking on the matter is the increasing financial difficulty that Endeavor, the majority owner of UFC parent company TKO, finds itself in. Ari Emanuel told Puck that the company is losing $25 million a month in large part due to the strikes that have afflicted Hollywood this year. Silver Lake, owner of 70% of Endeavor has already announced they are pulling the company off the stock market and taking it private.

That’s a twofer that comprise the kind of circumstances that can cause a company to change its habits.

On the other hand, if the UFC doesn’t change its ways and free up Jon Jones to face Francis Ngannou in a fight for the ages, we’re dealing with a completely different scenario.

That scenario would constitute a waste of time and something no one cares about or needs to see.

As PFL founder Donn Davis put it himself, “I think the opponents in pure MMA are not that interesting right now,” he said in his recent appearance on The MMA Hour. “We’re just like the fans, we’re just like the fighters. We’re not like the other companies. ‘Oh, let’s just do it ’cause they’re our guys.’”

There is one name, according to Davis, that is ‘compelling’ enough to push for. 

“There’s only one guy in MMA right now who’s interesting for Francis Ngannou: Jon Jones. One guy. Everybody says, ‘Well, what about Stipe [Miocic]?’ Maybe. Give him a half a point. 1.5 guys who are compelling. 

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About the author
Nate Wilcox
Nate Wilcox

Nate Wilcox is the founding editor of BloodyElbow.com. As such he has hired every editor and writer to work for the site. Wilcox’s writing for BE is known for its emphasis on MMA history, the evolution of fighting techniques and strong opinions. Wilcox developed the SBN MMA consensus rankings which were featured in USA Today from 2009 to 2011. Before founding BE, Wilcox was a political operative working for such figures as Senators John Kerry and Mark Warner and an early political blogger. He is the co-author of Netroots Rising, a history of the political blogosphere from 2003 to 2007. Wilcox also hosts the Let It Roll podcast on music history for the Pantheon Podcast Network.

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