Francis Ngannou said he asked for a lot of things from the UFC during a long contract negotiation period. But the former UFC heavyweight champion said he ultimately decided that what the UFC was offering didn’t afford him enough freedom.
In an interview Tuesday on “The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani,” Ngannou said he requested many things from the UFC, including a three-fight deal, the promotion waiving extension clauses and even health insurance for all fighters. Most requests, he said, were not met, and Ngannou is now a free agent.
“In that contract, I’m not free,” Ngannou said. “In that contract, I’m not an independent contractor. In that contract, I have no rights, I have no power. I hand over all the power to you guys, and I’ve seen in the past how you can utilize that power.”
UFC president Dana White said last Saturday that the promotion had released Ngannou, including waiving an exclusive negotiating window and one-year matching rights clause, and stripped him of the heavyweight title. Ngannou disputes that characterization, saying that his contract with the UFC expired in early-to-mid December and he was already a free agent.
Former UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones will face Ciryl Gane for the now vacant heavyweight title at UFC 285 on March 4 in Las Vegas.
White also said at a news conference over the weekend that Ngannou was choosing to get more money to face lesser competition. Ngannou said more money was one of the things he was seeking, but he scoffed at the “lesser competition” narrative. Ngannou said he wants to compete in boxing, potentially against the likes of top stars Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua.
“Maybe Tyson Fury is a lesser opponent for Dana White,” Ngannou said.
Going into the negotiations with the UFC, Ngannou said he asked the promotion for all fighters to get in-cage sponsorships and health insurance. He also wanted an athlete advocate positioned to assist fighters. While he knew those were long-shot terms, the Cameroonian-born fighter said he believed he at least needed to try, even though he knows he can pay for his own health insurance at this stage in his career.
“How about those guys at the bottom?” Ngannou said. “They can’t really afford that health insurance. I have been there, so it’s something I still carry in my heart.”
Ngannou, 36, did say the UFC accepted the idea of a three-fight contract. Ngannou said his thinking was that he could complete those fights in 15 months of less, with the hope of fighting Jones, heavyweight great Stipe Miocic and then maybe Jones again to complete the deal. The sticking point, sources said, was that the UFC would not waive its one-year matching rights clause or exclusive negotiating window following the duration of the contract. Both of those are included in all UFC contracts.
“I asked for a lot of things, which doesn’t mean I was expecting all those things,” Ngannou said. “But I was expecting one or two out of those things.”
White said what the UFC offered Ngannou would make him the highest-paid heavyweight in UFC history. Ngannou said Tuesday that for a fight against Jones, he would have made in the neighborhood of $8 million, which is reportedly in the ballpark of what Brock Lesnar received to fight at UFC 200. Ngannou said he felt like the UFC had a one-track mind in terms of negotiation, saying he felt like he was “getting slapped in the face by money” and had other considerations as well.
Ngannou said he doesn’t have a set plan on what’s next but would like to box and then go back to MMA at some point. He said he’d like to fight as early as July. Right now, he said, he has drawn interest mostly from MMA promotions. Ngannou said he’s also currently representing himself. He would not rule out a return to the UFC in the future, saying he “never really envisioned” himself out of the UFC in the first place.
“I think I just need some respect,” Ngannou said. “More respect, at least. It’s very important. I need some respect. I need some freedom. I need to feel like a man. Own my freedom, control my destiny. Decide what I’m gonna do. I don’t want anybody to decide for me.”