UFC bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling hopes Francis Ngannou is able to find what he’s looking for in free agency, but he still can’t help but be a little disappointed with how the saga between the UFC and its now former heavyweight champ ultimately played out.
” I am actually saddened, and that is not gonna be lying,” Sterling stated Monday at The MMA Hour .
” If I am being truthful, I believe both sides have messed it up. I think Francis needs the UFC in regards to continuing his rise into the mainstream. He is well-known, but people don’t know him. I believe he can reach the next level if he defeats someone like Jon Jones. That’s undeniable. He’s now a free agent. How much is this going to make him? I don’t know. I have no inside information to know what that looks like. Can he get the Tyson Fury fight? If he does that, OK, good for him, because I think that’s going to do huge numbers — maybe.
“Maybe people don’t think he has a chance. It’s possible that they are teasing him with the smaller gloves, but it makes for a fascinating boxing match. It’s like this: You let the worst man on earth walk. What? Because the man wants to box while he is still under contract. Conor did it. Why can’t Francis do it? And I don’t know if that’s the reason why they didn’t agree, I’m sure there’s a bunch of things we don’t see behind closed doors,” Sterling continued.
“Outside of that, I don’t know if he goes to a Bellator, will he do the same? I don’t know if people are going to be tuning in to watch Francis in Bellator. It’s not clear. Also, I’m not sure what his strategy is. I just hope whatever he does, honestly, it’s the best financial means for him. That’s what I hope for it. It seems like the [Jon Jones] battle should not have been a one-off event. Or maybe it should have been an negotiating element. I believe that this is what will propel him to this high level in his career. Maybe he doesn’t even give a s***. Perhaps he doesn’t care .”
Ngannou’s departure with the UFC became official on Saturday — an unprecedented move for the modern era of the sport. B.J. Penn left the UFC in 2004 while still holding its welterweight title has a sitting champion departed the promotion with a belt in tow. In Ngannou’s absence, a bout between former 205-pound champ Jon Jones and Ciryl Gane is already official for March 4 at UFC 285 to decide the new heavyweight champion.
Ngannou vs. Jones was the matchup many people within the MMA community wanted to see. Sterling is among the disappointed that they didn’t get to meet up.
“It’ll be sad if it’s a missed opportunity, like it would’ve been Brock Lesnar vs. Fedor Emelianenko, or maybe Emelianenko vs. Cain Velasquez,” Sterling said. “We want to see those fights, right? So it’s like, I would rather have that fight and then whatever happens after that, maybe we go back to the drawing board and we negotiate again, because I’m sure there’s enough money to scratch both backs and everyone’s happy.
“I think it’s just a power play, and maybe a leverage thing, and trying to see whose dick is bigger. The UFC has deep pockets, they can go to bat with anybody on this planet as much as they want. So I just go, like, ‘Come on, man. They want it. Let’s figure out a way to make this fight happen.’ That’s that’s just where I’m at with it.”
Ngannou was dissatisfied with UFC. This is not surprising.
The 36-year-old has been publicly at odds with the promotion for some time now. Following his final title defense over Gane in January 2022, Ngannou told MMA Fighting that his grievances were no longer solely about money, but also about issues of freedom and respect that far outweighed the number of zeroes on his checks in terms of importance.
Sterling also had his disagreements with the UFC, so he understands where Ngannou is coming from. He just wishes the two sides would’ve found a way to make it work.
Sterling also pushed back at the narrative spun by UFC president Dana White on Saturday that Ngannou’s departure was the result of the former heavyweight champion not wanting “to take a lot of risk” by fighting an opponent like Jones.
” It’s not difficult to state that people do not want to fight anyone,” Sterling stated. “At the end of the day, I used to fight for no money. And then when I realized that your body is actually compromised after doing this, after a couple of years in this sport, you go, ‘Maybe I should actually care about the money.’ And I think that’s all it is — Francis cares about the money.
“And he even said it’s not just about the money, it’s about freedom. It’s like you’re giving up the freedom for the money. He believes there is a way to combine both and I agree. Again, it is possible that [the UFC] do not want to create a precedent and allow all other fighters to follow his example. It’s not possible for me to do this if Francis did it. And I’m in this position.’ That can definitely happen. However, the UFC has repeatedly nipped it in the bud. .”