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Chael Sonnen: Francis Ngannou ‘silly’ to hold out for year without Tyson Fury fight guarantee

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Francis Ngannou
Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

Chael Sonnen is questioning the wisdom of Francis Ngannou and his team.

In the main event of UFC 270 on Saturday, Ngannou won a unanimous decision against Ciryl Gane to record the first successful defense of his heavyweight championship, but the drama in the octagon was arguably overshadowed by the contract negotiation talk surrounding the fight.

Ngannou has spoken publicly about wanting a new contract with the UFC that will not only see him receive greater compensation but allow him to pursue boxing opportunities outside of the promotion. That talk continued at Saturday’s post-fight press conference, where Ngannou continued to comment on his uncertainty surrounding his future with the UFC.

Sonnen addressed the situation in a live stream following the event, and while he is impressed with how Ngannou has handled himself, he’s not convinced that the heavyweight star has the best plan of action.

“I found [the post-fight comments] to be powerful, because I no longer think he’s bluffing,” Sonnen said. “I do believe Francis is being given bad advice. Wherever Francis is thinking that the world wants him to go and fight Tyson Fury, I don’t know who put that in his head. But that’s Francis’ dream, and I’d be way out of bounds trying to take it from him. If you’ve got some promoter out there that’s willing to lose a ton of money and wants to throw it at that match — and how they’re going to package it and how they’re going to sell, I really haven’t the foggiest idea — but if they want to do it, that’s their business, it’s not ours.

“It would seem like a very risky thing, and even a silly thing, to hold out for [a Fury fight] when you don’t know that you have a bird in the hand. Francis being active [in the UFC] is looking at anywhere from six to nine million dollars this year. So his opportunity cost just to wait until December for a fight that he does not have is the better part of your career earnings. That’s his decision.”

Ngannou and heavyweight boxing champion Tyson Fury have repeatedly challenged each other over social media, and they exchanged more comments via Twitter following Ngannou’s UFC 270 win. Sonnen wonders whether Fury or promoter Eddie Hearn are serious about making a financial commitment to that matchup.

Specifically, Sonnen is looking ahead to December, when Ngannou could potentially become a free agent without fighting again in the UFC, and whether his name will still have the same value without the promotion attached to his name.

“If December rolls around next year and Francis has been unseen, and Francis is no longer the undisputed champion and he no longer has the power of the organization behind him, the [likeliness] of a payday in boxing with Fury exponentially declines,” Sonnen said. “That’s always a hard one to see.”

Regarding Ngannou’s public handling of the negotiations, though, Sonnen has no issue.

“Whether you like that Francis is in this position of digging in and wanting to change his contract or not, you have to admit Francis has done nothing wrong,” Sonnen said. “And there’s plenty of words that you could use, some of them might even be synonymous, but mutually exclusive will be, ‘Did he do it wrong?’ No, he did not. You could say you were annoyed, you could say you were disappointed — you can’t argue with a guy who does it above board, and the only reason we know where Francis stands is he has told everybody.

“Whoever he’s dealing with, he for sure has told, ‘This is where I stand, and whatever happens to me after this is going to be your decision, but here’s where I stand.’ OK, he did nothing wrong, he didn’t, so how do you want to look at this and what are you going to predict happens?”

Sonnen was critical of Ngannou’s in-cage performance against Gane, going as far to say that he felt the judges’ should have scored the fight for Gane. He feels the same about the co-main event, which saw Deiveson Figueiredo reclaim the flyweight title with a unanimous decision win over Brandon Moreno, and was critical of all four headliners for what he saw as doing a poor job of promoting UFC 270.

Should Ngannou stick around, Sonnen believes that he should wisely take some time off to address a knee injury and potentially avoid a fight with Jon Jones.

“I do believe that story [about Ngannou’s injury] was planted for a reason,” Sonnen said. “The reason is to get a break. To take your oars out of the water. When you’re a prizefighter — much like you guys, you don’t want a break. You love to use the word vacation, but the truth is you need to get paid. You want to go to work. Let’s get it over now, let’s get that much closer to retirement and not be coming back here — in all fairness, a prizefighter works the same way unless he’s calculated.

“The only hope that we have for fans based on what we saw tonight, based on the letdown that these two [title fights] pulled, is if Francis takes his oars out as a way of starving Jon out, which will happen at some point, and get Stipe [Miocic] in there with [Jones]. Stipe is the only one that can beat Jon Jones. I don’t know that Stipe would — that’s between those boys — [but] he’s the only one that could. Because he’s not too big, he’s not too slow. If he goes down, he’s not going to lay there like a turtle because he’s pushing the better part of 300 than he is 200. He’s dog-tough, he knows how to wrestle, he checks a lot of boxes … but one thing, and Daniel [Cormier] might be guilty of this too, but between now and the media cycle on Monday, Jon is going to find those balls of his that he lost.”