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Morning Report: Francis Ngannou’s manager hasn’t heard from UFC in 6 months

2021 Sports Humanitarian Awards
Ngannou with Marquel Martin, right.
Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

It wasn’t a sign of good things on the horizon when Francis Ngannou’s manager publicly clashed with UFC President Dana White.

Now, that manager is giving some insight as to how bad things have actually gotten behind the scenes, which is to say they haven’t changed at all since the gloves came off in public. As Ngannou nears a fight that could be pivotal to his future, a title unifier with interim champ Ciryl Gane at UFC 270 that marks the final fight on his current contract, his representation hasn’t heard word one from the promotion on a new deal.

“From the beginning, we’ve always and still do remain, like, open to negotiating with UFC,” Ngannou agent Marquel Martin of CAA said on Sirius XM’s “Throwing Down with Renee and Miesha.” “Even from my standpoint and his representation’s standpoint, UFC is the best MMA promoter in the game, in the business. However, where a lot of people don’t want to come out and say or mean is that it has to make sense for the client. It has to make sense for Francis.

“At the end of the day, I work for Francis, and he and I spent a lot of time chatting back and forth and trying to understand, OK, exactly what does that mean for his future, and we’ve had a lot of back and forth with the UFC. But to be honest with you, I haven’t heard back from the UFC since, I want to say June.”

Martin, whose CAA agency is a direct competitor of UFC corporate parent Endeavor, said throughout his time as Ngannou’s rep, his primary point of contact on negotiations has been UFC executive Hunter Campbell. But he said White got involved in June when the UFC exec went above him at CAA and had a conversation that “got nowhere.”

The agent laughed at the idea that the lack of communication since is a power move.

“Pretty much we all know that UFC, they hold a power position, rightfully so, and when it comes to representation like myself, and again, of course, I’m going to be biased, they’re not going to like what we have to say about how Francis’ future looks like and what that is valued at,” Martin said. “So because of that, they’ve decided not to reach out. So I’m not sure if they want to negotiate a contract before [it runs out] or whatnot, but that’s totally up to them.”

Ngannou’s options depend in part on the outcome of the title unifier next month. Details on the particulars of his contract have not been disclosed. But were he to lose to Gane, he could be subject to an exclusive and matching negotiation periods with the UFC for his next contract, or find himself released outright. Should he win, he would likely be subject to a champion’s clause that could bind him to the promotion for more fights, and should he be unable to accept or turn down any of those additional bouts, his contract could be extended. According to Bloody Elbow’s John Nash, the UFC’s current contract may limit his overall obligation to the promotion to five years, but it’s not clear whether the extensions, known as “tolling” provisions, would supersede those in a legally enforceable way.

From Martin’s perspective, it’s unfortunate that it’s gotten to this point in the first place. Even before the June flareup, the manager believed the relationship was trending the wrong direction, and he said he doesn’t know why.

“You’ve got to ask Dana,” Martin said. “Ask UFC, because you hear this false narrative of representation. What does representation look like in your mind, UFC? To say yes to every single thing that you do. Am I supposed to take you out to dinner, be your best friend? No, I have a fiduciary obligation to my client, and the facts are, OK, if you want to judge me and try to put me out of business for whatever reason and bully me publicly, I don’t respond to that. CAA doesn’t respond to that. We know how to do our job. We’re very competent at what we do.”

Now, as Ngannou nears a situation where he could potentially reach the open market, the manager said the champ needs to weigh everything that’s taken place thus far and could take place in the future. It’s not just about hitting a certain number.

“Let me make this clear: It’s not all about money,” Martin said. “It is 1000 percent not all about money, and they know that. But at the end of the day, the UFC has a business model, that’s how they run it with all their fighters. They can’t put themselves in a situation to establish a precedent that negatively reflects [on] them, so that’s kind of the rub.

“Now, know our position. We’re open to get a deal done. But they also know my phone number. They know how to get ahold of me. If they had an offer that made sense for them and for Francis, we’re open to entertain it. But it’s a point for me to proactively say, ‘Hey, let’s get a deal done. Let’s get a deal done.’ Because at the end of the day, they know where we’re at. They’ve made it pretty clear where they’re at, so it’s an unfortunate, and I hate to say this, but it feels like a standoff. But it’s really not. It’s just like, we would love to be with the UFC, we would love to do business with the UFC, but they’ve chosen to go about the way that they’ve gone, and the way that we don’t feel is right.”

Martin said Ngannou was “heartbroken” when the UFC elected to put up an interim title fight between Gane and Derrick Lewis at UFC 265 rather than wait until September so he could fight Lewis.

“Miesha, I think you know this all too well,” Martin said to show co-host (and current UFC bantamweight) Miesha Tate. “That’s what they do. They kind of ice you out, and then they say jump, and you’ve got to be ready to say how high and be ready to sign on the dotted line.”

Of the apparent standoff, White has left it up to Ngannou whether he continues to fight for the UFC. But he’s made it clear that the champ will either agree to the promotion’s terms or not fight in the octagon.

“Yeah, that’s super unfortunate to hear from your promoter, like, ‘Hey, if you want to be here, great, if not, great,’” Martin said. “It’s kind of sad, but I think the playbook has been written for many years, long before I started representing fighters, right? And if you’re smart to look at how they operate and do things, one of the strategies – I feel, and I could be wrong - is they want to divide and conquer and try to put everything on the representation, and the last fighter was the fighter and he’s on vacation and everything like that. It’s just misinformed, unfortunately, and it’s really sad, because at the end of the day, it’s Francis that we’re talking about.”

If the UFC wants to end the stalemate and pick up the phone, Martin said he’s ready to do business. If a new deal is struck, the rep wants the promotion’s full muscle behind Ngannou – and keep him fighting on the regular.

“This guy, he’s not in trouble with the law,” Martin said. “This guy’s one of the kindest human beings that you will ever meet, but you don’t hear about his story, you don’t see this world tour with the UFC going back to Africa with Francis. We did that with Francis on our own. So as a UFC heavyweight champion, how are you supposed to feel? After three months, what are you supposed to do?”


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FINAL THOUGHTS

Don’t forget, MMA faithful, that there’s still one last big show for 2021: Rizin 33. There’s a bantamweight grand prix, a dubious “special rules” fight between Tenshin Nasukawa and Takanori Gomi, and other odds and ends you just can’t find anywhere else. All you have to do is give up sleep. Thanks for reading and see y’all tomorrow.


If you find something you’d like to see in the Morning Report, hit up @JedKMeshew on Twitter and let him know about it. Also follow MMAFighting on Instagram and like us on Facebook.