Remember that time when UFC President Dana White was hoping to book Jon Jones vs. Francis Ngannou, and with negotiations stalled, alleged one of the fighters didn’t want to face the other?
Implying, of course, that said fighter might be intimated or otherwise scared of his potential foe?
The internet remembers — and it didn’t happen this past weekend, when White threw now-former UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou under the bus after failing to re-sign the heavyweight star.
It was just about two years ago, in early 2021, with White claiming that it was Jones, not Ngannou, who was avoiding the fight.
“If I’m Jon Jones and I’m home watching this fight, I’d start moving to ’85,” White stated during the UFC 260 post-fight press conference. At the time, Jones had tweeted “show me the money” in regards to the prospect of fighting “The Predator, and who can blame him? Well, White for one.
“I could sit here all day and tell you what ‘show me the money means.’ I tell you guys this all time, you can say you want to fight somebody, but do you really want to?”
Two years later, and it’s Ngannou, not Jones, who White tried to claim was avoiding the fight, after news of a Jones vs. Ciryl Gane heavyweight title fight in March was accidentally leaked by the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
“I think Francis is in a place right now where he doesn’t want to take a lot of risks,” White told media outlets including Cageside Press when addressing the news. “He feels he’s in a good position where he can fight lesser opponents and make more money.”
What’s left unsaid: Jones was scared, ducking the fight then. Ngannou is scared, ducking the fight now. Of course, when you read between the lines, the guy ducking the fight is whoever won’t play ball with the UFC.
Ngannou wouldn’t play ball, and chose not to sign a deal he wasn’t happy with. He now has ample opportunities in boxing, and doesn’t believe the naysayers who claim those offers will now try up because the initials U, F, and C won’t be attached. The UFC was never going to allow Ngannou to box while under contract. Conor McGregor, and he alone, has managed that.
It’s unlikely to ever happen again, which is why Nate Diaz — another superstar who recently chose to walk away from the organization — made his exit.
The UFC, of course, needs to spin the Ngannou situation as a win somehow. After all, it’s ridiculously bad optics to have your reigning, defending, Baddest Man on the Planet heavyweight champion exit stage left away at the peak of his career. That’s what we’ve seen these past few days: various talking heads parroting White’s own talking points, that the UFC released Ngannou and opted to waive their matching rights.
No, Francis Ngannou was not “released by the UFC.” Choosing not to sign a contract you’re not happy with, instead opting to test the free agent waters, is not a “release.”
Those of us who have followed the sport even a short while know the truth, which Ngannou confirmed Tuesday on The MMA Hour: he hasn’t officially been under contract with the UFC since December, when his contract expired. While UFC champions in years past were subjugated essentially in perpetuity under champion’s clauses, at least until they lost their titles, the UFC in more recent years changed the structure of those contracts to allow for a sunset clause. Most believe that to be a response to an ongoing anti-trust lawsuit by a group of former fighters including Jon Fitch and Cung Le.
Further, Ngannou couldn’t even confirm if the UFC had any matching rights with his contract expired, though he admitted he wasn’t entirely sure. Either way, you can’t match what you can’t offer, and Ngannou was fighting for health insurance and sponsorships for fighters, among other issues. Health insurance was a long shot, and seemed to be something Ngannou went after on behalf of his fellow fighters.
Sponsorships? He’ll have no problem obtaining those for a boxing match. Any boxing promotion will allow them; the UFC, under contract with Venom (and Reebok before that), cannot.
In any case, the fighter may change (from Randy Couture to Diaz to Ngannou, and all points in between), but the spin doctoring remains the same. He doesn’t want the fight. If you don’t want to be here, you don’t have to be. Georges. St-Pierre was never my friend. But when the promotion’s initials are larger than any fighter actually competing in the company, the excuses don’t matter. The business moves on, and nothing will change, until some piece of legislation with teeth behind it — be it an extension of the Ali Act, or something else — forces meaningful change.