Francis Ngannou is now the UFC’s former heavyweight champion.
After news leaked earlier Saturday regarding a Jon Jones vs. Ciryl Gane heavyweight title fight at UFC 285 in March, the writing was on the wall. With multiple news outlets (including this one), a billboard at the T-Mobile Arena, and Jones himself all confirming the bout as a championship fight, Ngannou appeared to clearly been on the outs with the promotion.
Now, Francis Ngannou is out of the promotion, period. UFC President Dana White confirmed the news to media outlets including Cageside Press at the UFC Apex on Saturday.
White jumped on the news before anyone could ask a question following the completion of the Strickland vs. Imavov card in Las Vegas.
“The first question’s got to be about the heavyweight fight, so I guess I’ll jump right into that,” White announced. “Yes, T-Mobile blew the fight. That wasn’t supposed to go up, but it did.”
White was referring to the billboard-sized banner at the Las Vegas arena, which revealed both the match-up and championship stakes for UFC 285 on March 4, 2023. Multiple photos and a video clip of the arena sporting the banner made the rounds on social media immediately before UFC Vegas 67 kicked off.
“This is for the official heavyweight title. We’ve been working on a new agreement with Francis for like two years now. We had gotten to a point where he was going to fight Jon Jones, many who believe he’s the best of all time for the heavyweight championship. And Jon Jones has been willing, and ready, and able to fight anybody. He didn’t care who it was. Could have been anybody in the heavyweight division, he was ready to go.”
Instead of Ngannou, however, it will be Jones versus France’s Gane. While Ngannou will likely disagree, White gave his side of the story.
“We offered Francis a deal that would have made him the highest paid heavyweight in the history of the company. More than [Brock] Lesnar, more than anybody, and he turned the deal down,” said White.
That led the UFC President to a familiar saying of his. “If you don’t want to be here, you don’t have to be here. I think Francis is in a place right now where he doesn’t want to take a lot of risk. Feels like he’s in a good position to fight lesser opponents, and make more money. So we’re going to let him do that. We’re going to release him from his contract, we’re going to give up our right to match, and he can go where ever he wants and do whatever he wants.”
It’s unclear how many, if any, fights Ngannou actually had left on his contract. As a reigning title holder, he was tied to the promotion under a champion’s clause — though recent changes to UFC contracts are believed involve a sunset clause, which Ngannou had referenced in the past.
According to White, “The Predator,” one of the fiercest heavyweights in UFC history, simply wants easier fights for more money.
“This guy’s worked hard, and he feels like he’s in a position right now to fight lesser competition for more money. I think he doesn’t want to take the risk. You’re going in with Jon Jones, the best of all time.”
“At the end of the day, there’s nothing wrong with that. He can do that, that’s just not what we do here. That’s not what we do here. The best fight the best here. There’s plenty of places where you can go do that, and that’s where he’ll end up. He’ll end up somewhere where somebody will throw some money at him, and he’s going to fight fights that he thinks he can win.”
“I don’t know. That’s a good question,” White answered when asked whether Ngannou would have signed off on a deal if Jon Jones wasn’t involved. The UFC President reiterated that Jones was also willing to fight anybody, and not just for the title. “He literally didn’t care who it was on the roster, and not for the title. He’d literally fight anybody.”
Ngannou will likely have a host of suitors waiting for him. He was recently photographed with a family member wearing a PFL t-shirt, and had previously teased a cross-over to boxing to face heavyweight champion Tyson Fury.