UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou is willing to sit out the rest of 2022 if he beats Ciryl Gane and can’t come to terms with his promoter on a new contract that will bump his pay and allow him to box.
Ngannou on Thursday told ESPN.com he believes he has fulfilled his current contract with the UFC when he faces interim champ Ciryl Gane in a title unifier at UFC 270 on Jan. 22. But he also acknowledges a champion’s clause could delay his next move, whatever that might be.
The only thing he’s certain of is that things have to change.
“No, I will not fight for $500,000, $600,000 any more,” said Ngannou when asked if he would fight under the terms of an extended contract with the UFC. “I mean, it’s over. It’s over. I just did this. I took this fight for a personal reason, and I want to make sure that regardless, even if it’s unfair, I have been wrongly treated, I can make my case to say I have completed the eight fights. But no.”
Ngannou said he signed a deal with the UFC in December 2017 – prior to his first heavyweight title shot in a fight against Stipe Miocic at UFC 220 – that had a five-year term. However, he said the champion’s clause in his contract also states that should he hold the title at its expiration, he would be bound to the promotion for one year or three fights.
“That all makes me think it’s optional,” Ngannou said.
Ngannou seemed unclear on his status given the contract’s overall term and the champion’s clause, at one point saying he wouldn’t be under contract until January 2023 “because the global of the UFC contract from the beginning to the end, it cannot pass five years.”
“The UFC contract is very tricky,” he said. “That’s why you sign [a 40-month] contract and you find yourself after four years still dealing with that, even though you have been active.”
The UFC’s standard contracts typically include a “tolling” provision that also allow the promotion to extend them for six months in the event a fighter is not able to accept an offered fight due to injury or other circumstances. Earlier this year, Ngannou turned down a title fight with Derrick Lewis at UFC 265 due to scheduling conflicts. The UFC subsequently promoted an interim title fight between Gane, his former training partner, and Lewis.
Ngannou’s manager Marquel Martin, whose CAA agency is a direct competitor to UFC parent Endeavor, told ESPN that negotiations have not resumed on a new deal. Martin recently said he hadn’t spoken to the promotion in six months despite a desire to strike a new deal.
UFC President Dana White downplayed the conflict and said it was up to Ngannou whether or not to stay on.
“If you want to be with us, we’d love to have you,” he said. “If you don’t want to be with us, no problem. All good.”
Ngannou wasn’t overly encouraged by those words. He said any new deal he strikes must include an option to box. He and heavyweight boxing champ Tyson Fury recently talked up a possible fight, and Fury’s promoter Top Rank welcomed the idea of a crossover event.
“We’ve been having this discussion for over one year, and it seems like they were OK with it,” Ngannou said of the UFC’s stance on boxing. “When the UFC is involved, it’s just going to make it bigger. So yes, if I want to box, I would like the UFC to be involved.”
But, he added, he didn’t know what to think about the promotion’s current interest level.
“Sometimes, I might say yes, sometimes, I don’t know,” he said.
One outcome at UFC 270 would certainly bring clarity to Ngannou’s status: a loss to Gane. At that point, he would be subject to an exclusive negotiating period with the UFC, typically 90 days, followed by a period where other promoters could make offers with the UFC given the option to match them.
Whatever happens, Ngannou refuted the idea that he’s taking a gamble on his career and said a loss won’t define his legacy.
“Let’s make something very clear,” he said. “The reason why I’m here is because I earned it. Nobody has given me anything. So I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, but I’m sure I will make it. I will keep making it. I’m want to win this fight, but if I lost, it’s fine. I don’t think that takes anything out of me as a man. I have done a lot as a man.
“Even if this was the end, well, I’ll say I did it. Not many people in their lifetime, even those who have better opportunities than I, can tell the same story as me. I’m happy where I am.”
Check out Ngannou’s full interview below.