Although it’s early, the biggest story of 2022 thus far has been Francis Ngannou’s contract situation with the UFC.
At UFC 270, Ngannou said he fought the final fight on his UFC contract, winning a unanimous decision over Ciryl Gane to retain the UFC heavyweight title. After the victory, he was open about where he stands with the UFC, saying that he didn’t know if the UFC even wants to re-sign him, but if they do, he would want to have the ability to pursue fights in boxing as well as MMA. It’s an exception the UFC has made only once, when Conor McGregor when he boxed Floyd Mayweather Jr., but it’s a condition that boxing promoter Eddie Hearn believes the UFC will ultimately give in to.
“Ultimately, during that period, the pressure’s on the UFC to go to Francis Ngannou and do a new deal, and they’ll significantly overpay him from where he’s at,” Hearn predicted recently on The MMA Hour. It comes down to the feelings of fighters to feel that they’ve been treated badly so they don’t want them here any more. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the UFC didn’t sign a new contract with Francis Ngannou. It’s nearly certain that they will by the end of it all .”
Somebody is less certain, partly because of how dire the situation has become between them. UFC President Dana White wasn’t present in cage to present Ngannou the title. This was a tradition that Ngannou and his team considered a slight. White tried to dismiss it later as an accidental coincidence.
What White can’t brush off is that just hours before his scheduled title fight, the UFC sent Ngannou’s manager an email threatening legal action over alleged contact with Jake Paul’s business partner. And if the UFC doesn’t manage to retain Ngannou, well, Hearn believes that the heavyweight champion has plenty of marketable options available to him elsewhere.
” During the pandemic I was working on Zoom, trying to make content. I also read that Francis was interested in boxing and wanted to become a fighter,” Hearn stated. So I reached out to his team as he was having a disagreement with Dillian whyte. I spoke with him and we agreed to do a Zoom. Dillian Whyte and me. I was bored. So they agreed to it, and next thing, I’m on a Zoom with Dillian Whyte and Francis Ngannou basically going at it.
” The UFC has heard that I have done a press conference in order to promote the fight. Dana messaged me, asking what I was doing. It was a press confer with Francis Ngannou, Dillian Whyte, and I wasn’t even thinking about it. Then Dana messaged me, asking, “What are you doing?” I then received a legal notice from UFC that said they couldn’t release this information. Although they were correct, I thought this was huge. I think Francis Ngannou vs. Tyson Fury and Francis Ngannou vs. AJ Dillian are huge, massive fights.”
We don’t know how big these fights will be, but there is interest from all sides. Both Fury and Whyte have said outright they’d be interested in facing Ngannou, with the former even suggesting doing so under a modified ruleset.
So if the UFC doesn’t ultimately re-sign Ngannou, perhaps Hearn can one day hold a real press conference with “The Predator.”