Now-former UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou said he wanted a new three-fight contract he expected to finish in one year before a turn to professional boxing.
Ngannou estimated the new deal would pay him “around” $8 million to fight Jon Jones at UFC 285. He then expected to complete trilogy with Stipe Miocic and then rematch Jones before making a turn to professional boxing, where high-dollar matchups with Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua loomed.
But there was one problem that ended up killing the deal. Ngannou did not want the UFC standard contract.
“In that contract, I’m not free,” he said. “I’m not an independent contractor. No rights. I hand over all the power to you guys. I’ve seen in the past how you guys can utilize your power against me, and I don’t want that.”
In a lengthy interview, Ngannou discussed the negotiations that lead to his almost unprecedented exit from UFC as a champion. He also addressed Dana White’s claim about White’s departure and what his future plans are as one of the most important free agents in MMA’s history.
Ngannou insists that he took the correct decision to leave the UFC. He said that he does not rule out the possibility of a return to UFC, but it would have to be in his terms. These could include the right to ask outside sponsors and health insurance, as well as the ability to advocate for fighters at the promotions’ negotiating table.
“I know that I did everything right,” he said. “I don’t have any regrets. I wouldn’t do anything different if I had to do it again.”
Ngannou said his last message with the UFC came one week prior when the promotion told him it had to move on with the heavyweight division. But he had not budged from his position that he needed certain concessions that went above and beyond the UFC’s standard deal, which he felt left him without any leverage in future negotiations. He wanted a contract that couldn’t be extended beyond the three fights he had agreed to so he could fulfill his desire to box, which he said the promotion had no interest in.
“They didn’t want anything to do with boxing,” he said. He said, “If, and only then, and in good will, they were like that, and I’m like: I’m not betting upon that .”
The discussion involved UFC COO Hunter Campbell and matchmaker Mick Maynard. Ngannou noticed that White was present in the same room as White when discussions took place.
Of the specific value of the deal, which White previously said made “The Predator” the highest-paid heavyweight in UFC history, Ngannou said he couldn’t be sure because he couldn’t verify what he was being told.
“It is all their story, which is also their story, and it cannot be proved,” he stated. “I wish it could work. It’s something I truly want. I really wanted, but not at any cost.”
Ngannou said he prepared to compromise on several of his requests. He wasn’t expecting that the UFC would grant him health insurance. This was especially true for the entire roster. He felt that there was long-term value for him even if the UFC didn’t grant all of his demands.
” I just wanted them know that it was something they did want and to consider it.” he stated. They said “No, they don’t know any business like that .”
“At this point, health insurance for me is not a problem, but how about the guys at the bottom,” he added. They can’t afford to have health insurance. It’s something that I know from personal experience .”
At a certain point, Ngannou said he felt a hard pivot in negotiations when he said Campbell declared, ‘This is it. Let’s work this out.'”
Ngannou answered no. He knew that the UFC would change everything.
“At some time, I feel like I was slapped in the face by money, like, ‘Take the money and shut up.’ And that couldn’t happen.
” It was a matter-of-principle and I was certain that this was the case. They didn’t say on the phone, ‘This is what’s going to happen,’ but I knew.”
When the heavyweight champ saw a poster advertising a heavyweight title fight between Jones and his former teammate and one-time opponent, Ciryl Gane, at UFC 285, it didn’t come as a surprise. He stated that he turned off his smartphone, as it was buzzing with media inquiries at the time.
Speaking to reporters this past Saturday, White confirmed the heavyweight title fight and made a series of dubious claims about Ngannou’s desire to fight top opposition and to be a UFC fighter. There was even a throwaway comment about the champ’s weight, which the exec said was north of 300 pounds.
“At some point, I stopped watching it,” replied Ngannou, who said he’s near his usual walk-around weight of 275. “‘Bulls***.'”
Ngannou said he doesn’t take personally the attacks from his promoter. These were a result of his current circumstances and the outcome of a marriage that had begun to souveillance, Ngannou said.
“Dana is Dana,” Ngannou said. I don’t care what he has to say. Dana cannot hurt me. From where I come from, I have heard a lot worse than that, and I’m still here. … What I know is that I’m here, and I have a good future.
“He’s upset. He’s not happy about this situation.
He was sad to see his champion leave.
A UFC official was asked for comments on Ngannou’s MMA Hour interview. He told MMA Fighting that Dana would talk about the event on Saturday .”
During negotiations, Ngannou said execs cited Randy Couture as a cautionary tale of what happened when fighters tried to break free of the UFC. So he asked Couture directly.
Couture in 2007 declared he was retired and would pursue free agency in hopes of getting a fight with then-top heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko. Later, Couture said he spent a half-million dollars fighting the UFC in court, only to return to the fold and fight Lesnar for the undisputed title.
White claimed that the promotion released Ngannou of his contract, and allowed the UFC to match offers made by other promotions. But Ngannou said he was a free agent in early December, and in any event, the UFC could never match the offer he really wanted.
“Nobody releases me,” he said. “I’ve been free since Dec. 9 or 13, but the only reason I didn’t go public was in respect of our conversation. I wanted to respect that and not talk about it. But I’ve been a free agent since.”
With a new UFC deal in his rearview mirror, Ngannou said he’s open to soliciting offers from MMA and boxing promoters. After Marquel Martin was his manager at CAA, Ngannou is taking it on himself. The CAA’s combat division was then “attacked”, and was eventually shut down.
” People were still trying after him,” Ngannou stated. We are in the business of people not liking you, if your job is done well. At some point, you’ve just got to kiss the ring.”
Ngannou said he would have been ready to fight Jones in March, despite a serious knee injury that required surgery after he hobbled through a winning fight with Gane at UFC 270.
He’ll now look for a deal to get back on the field by July. What does he want in his next contract?
” I think that I need more respect,” he stated. “It’s very important. It’s important to me that I have some autonomy. It is important for me to be able to control my fate and feel like a man. I don’t want anybody to decide for me. I believe I am strong enough to make my own decisions .”