Israel Adesanya and Francis Ngannou combine to make up two-thirds of the “Three Kings,” a self-styled nickname for the UFC’s three African-born champions. With Kamaru Usman rounding out the group, the trio are widely viewed as three of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the sport and have helped to usher in a boom era for African MMA.
But the road has been rocky in recent months for Ngannou. The UFC heavyweight champion has been at an impasse with the promotion since his UFC 270 title defense over Ciryl Gane, publicly airing his grievances with many of the UFC’s longstanding business practices and indicating a willingness to explore free agency in 2023 if the situation does not improve as he recovers from surgery to repair torn ligaments in his knee.
For Adesanya, it’s been an unfortunate state of affairs to watch.
“I felt like some of the stuff that was happening before the Francis fight, I was not a fan of,” Adesanya said Wednesday during an in-studio appearance on The MMA Hour.
“I just felt like certain things should — like I said, this is business, man. You can’t get too personal. This is just business. And money’s always around, there’s money everywhere. You can find money everywhere. So for the heavyweight champion of the world in the UFC to be getting paid what he was getting paid was atrocious.”
Ngannou earned a purse of $600,000 for his UFC 270 title defense over Gane, which he won via unanimous decision despite essentially fighting on one leg.
Aside from money, one major point of contention for Ngannou has been the heavyweight champion’s desire to box against Tyson Fury. Ngannou reiterated that desire after UFC 270, and he and Fury have repeatedly bantered about a potential matchup on social media over recent months. Ngannou’s team believes his contract will expire at the end of 2022 regardless of Ngannou holding the belt, and the champ has expressed a readiness to test the open market if the UFC refuses to let him test himself in the boxing ring.
Adesanya hopes it doesn’t come to that.
“I don’t want him to leave the UFC. It’d just be sad,” Adesanya said. “I just, I feel like this is the guy, you know? Look at him. And he’s one of the three kings. I just don’t [want him to leave]. Maybe I’m being selfish. But I just feel like I don’t even want him to box. Well, he wants to box — if he does, he should box. He can figure out something with the UFC and the contract. They let [Conor] McGregor do it, so they can figure something out.
“But I just don’t him want to box. I’m like, you’re the baddest motherf*cker on the planet. You know? I don’t want him to just use his hands. If you really want to fight Francis, fight him. You know? And Tyson’s the kind of guy that might do that. He’s crazy. ‘Gypsy King,’ he might do that. I just feel like this is the top level of fighting. I’m not being biased. I don’t care about kickboxing, jiu-jitsu, boxing — whatever style of fighting that you do alone, if it’s singular, it’s a limited form of fighting. If you want to fight legally, this is the way to do it. The UFC is the place to do it, where it’s like the highest level of fighting.”