Francis “The Predator” Ngannou is officially a free agent, as he decided to leave the UFC, and the organization will not attempt to match any offers for his services. The news comes as the UFC announced the return of Jon “Bones” Jones, who will fight at heavyweight against Ciryl Gane on March 4 for the UFC heavyweight championship that Ngannou has vacated with his departure.
The news comes during a horrible news cycle for UFC president Dana White, who has felt the backlash from a slapping incident between him and his wife Anne in Cabo San Lucas during New Year’s Eve weekend.
Francis Ngannou was and still is the baddest man on the planet and you can't tell me otherwise 💯 pic.twitter.com/hqvgmnhfuN
— Chamatkar Sandhu (@SandhuMMA) January 15, 2023
New Year. New Ngannou.
“I’ve told you guys this before, if you don’t want to be here, you don’t have to be,” White said to ESPN. “I think Francis is in a place right now where he doesn’t want to take a lot of risk. He feels like he’s in a good position where he could fight lesser opponents and make more money. We’re going to let him do that, release him from his contract and give up our right to match.”
Mike Tyson gave UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou tips on how to fight Tyson Fury…
— Michael Benson (@MichaelBensonn) January 15, 2023
“The Predator” has been at odds with the organization over terms that would not allow him to pursue other combat sports opportunities, namely a super fight against boxing champion Tyson “The Gypsy King” Fury. Last year, Ngannou made it well known that his UFC contract renewal negotiations were contingent on his ability to participate in boxing and receive a pay raise within his UFC contract.
A Pandora’s box of financial possibilities opened in most MMA fighters’ minds when Conor McGregor fought Floyd Mayweather Jr., and White allowed his former cash cow to participate in the spectacle. However, White was adamant that he would not let Ngannou have the same privilege.
“The difference was, the Conor-Floyd thing became bigger than, you know, everywhere I went, people were talking about it, all the media was talking about it, fans wanted to see it,” White said to TMZ in May 2022.
“Nobody’s beating my door down for this fight, and I love Tyson Fury. I’m friends with Tyson; he’s one of the greatest boxers of all time, one of the greatest heavyweight boxers of all time going in against one of my MMA guys, it just — we saw this movie before; we know how this story ends.”
— No Context Ariel Helwani (@NoContextAriel) January 15, 2023
Turning Down The Bag
Additionally, White said they offered the 36-year-old Ngannou a deal that would have made him the “highest-paid heavyweight in the history of the company,” but Ngannou turned it down. The highest-paid heavyweight in UFC history is Brock Lesnar, the WWE superstar that had a successful championship jaunt in the UFC before retiring in 2017.
White himself might be to blame for the loss of Ngannou. After a year of negotiations, White seemingly never conceded to Ngannou’s critical points of diversification of combat opportunities outside the Octagon. Then White faces criticisms from his very outspoken opponents after the physical altercation between him and his wife on New Year’s Eve. The lack of consequences has perturbed many who feel that it reverses the positive steps of the sport not to look barbaric.
“What should the repercussions be?” White said at the press conference for UFC Fight Night last Wednesday. “I take 30 days off? How does that hurt me? Me leaving hurts the company. Hurts my employees. Hurts the fighters. Doesn’t hurt me. I could’ve left in 2016 [when the company was acquired by Endeavor]. Do I need to reflect? I’ve been against this. I’ve owned this. I’m telling you that I’m wrong.
“Here’s my punishment: I have to walk around for however long I live — and this is how I’m labeled now,” he continued. “My other punishment is that I’m sure a lot of people — whether it be media, fighters, friends, acquaintances — who had respect for me might not have respect for me now. There’s a lot of things I have to deal with the rest of my life that’s way more of a punishment than, what, I take a 30-day or 60-day absence? You don’t bounce back from this. For the rest of my life, people will label me that. I did it.”
Always an honor to work with @JonnyBones, the greatest fighter in MMA history. Now it's time for him to add to that legacy with his first UFC heavyweight title. Can't wait for Jones v Gane! #UFC285 🦴🐐
— Henry Cejudo (@HenryCejudo) January 15, 2023
Ironically, the returning Jon Jones was also involved in a domestic incident with his fiancée in late 2021. The organization is undoubtedly looking for Jones to become one of its star faces again since he hasn’t fought since 2020.
Ngannou now will show that you can make it outside of the UFC amid their troubles or find it hard to gain traction without the closed promotional system UFC cocoons its fighters within to incubate stars.