What the UFC president does know is that the channel of communication is open once again. After White was a no-show for Ngannou’s win and the post-fight press conference at UFC 270, he said they recently broke bread before the champ returned home to Africa.
“We had dinner with Francis before he went back to Cameroon, and he gets back in a few weeks, and we’re going to meet again when he comes home,” White told reporters at the UFC 271 pre-fight press conference on Thursday.
White blasted critics of his absence this past month despite the undeniably bad optics at play for the last fight of Ngannou’s contract. The heavyweight champion has said he won’t fight under the terms of his previous deal and has complained about unfair pay and treatment, drawing support from UFC vets like Randy Couture.
Ngannou has said he wants to re-sign with the UFC but has put it on the promotion to agree to his demands, which include better pay, more flexibility, and the potential of boxing.
It’s believed that despite his contract’s end, Ngannou remains bound to the UFC by a champion’s clause that will expire either in one year or with three additional fights. Details of his deal, including the start date of what he said is a five-year contract, is unknown.
In outpointing Ciryl Gane at UFC 270, Ngannou put himself in uncharted territory as an active UFC champion who’d fought out his contract. He also injured his knee, potentially delaying the resolution of his status with the promotion.
White confirmed Ngannou will need surgery to repair his knee. As to whether the promotion puts up an interim title, as it did when the champ’s scheduling issues led to a fight between Gane and Derrick Lewis at UFC 265, the UFC exec was less sure.
“I don’t know yet,” White said. “We’ll see how it plays out.”
On Saturday, Lewis faces fellow heavyweight slugger Tai Tuivasa. As a two-time UFC title challenger, Lewis seeks to keep his place in line while Tuivasa tries to make his case for a title shot. White said the winner will certainly be in a good position, but stopped short of promising anything more.