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. “But it comes down to the feeling of the fighter to say, ‘I feel like I’ve been mistreated so I don’t want to be here anymore,’ but I would be shocked if they didn’t do a new deal with Francis Ngannou. I would say it’s almost a certainty that they will by the time it all plays out.
Others are less sure, in part because of just how bad the situation between the two parties has gotten. After Ngannou’s victory over Gane, UFC president Dana White was not in the cage to present Ngannou with the title, as is tradition, something that Ngannou’s team took as a personal slight, though White later attempted to brush off as a mere 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 doing loads of stuff on Zoom, just trying to create content, and I read that Francis wanted to be a boxer and was interested in fighting,” Hearn said. “So I got in touch with his team because he had a little bit of beef with Dillian Whyte, nothing major, but I got in touch with his team and I said, let’s do a Zoom, you, me, and Dillian Whyte. Just bored. So they agreed to it, and next thing, I’m on a Zoom with Dillian Whyte and Francis Ngannou basically going at it. ‘I’ll knock you out, he’s all hype, blah, blah, blah.’
“Then word has got to the UFC that I’ve done, ultimately, a press conference to promote a fight. I wasn’t even thinking, and then Dana messaged me and said, ‘What are you doing? You’ve done a press conference with Francis Ngannou and Dillian Whyte.’ And I’m like, ‘Well it wasn’t really a press conference, it was just a Zoom.’ Then I got a legal letter from the UFC to say you can’t be putting this out. They were a million percent right, but at the time I was thinking this is massive — and I still think Francis Ngannou vs. Tyson Fury, Francis Ngannou vs. AJ [Anthony Joshua], Dillian, they’re huge, huge fights.”
How big those fights could be remains to be seen, but at the least there is certainly interest on 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.”