Francis Ngannou is no longer the UFC heavyweight champion, and in fact is no longer in the UFC.
That’s according to UFC President Dana White, who on Saturday confirmed that the promotion failed to come to an agreement with Ngannou on a new contract after he fought out his previous deal with a win over Ciryl Gane at UFC 270. As a result, White said, Ngannou is officially a free agent with the UFC waiving all rights to match any other offers.
That means the now-former UFC champ is clear to sign with any other organization.
“We offered Francis a deal that would have made him the highest paid heavyweight in the history of the company,” White said. “More than [Brock] Lesnar, more than anybody, and he turned the deal down. We get to this point where I’ve told you guys before, if you don’t want to be here, you don’t have to be here.
“I think Francis is in a place right now where he doesn’t want to take a lot of risk. [He] feels he’s in a good position where he could fight lesser opponents and make more money. So we’re going to let him do that.
“We’re going to release him from his contract, we’re going to give up our right to match, and he can go wherever he wants and do whatever he wants. That’s where we’re at.”
White said the UFC had been in talks with Ngannou on a new deal for the better part of the last two years but the two sides could never find a middle ground on contract terms.
Ngannou said numerous times in the past that any new deal would have to give him freedom to pursue outside interests, including a potential future in boxing after he flirted with a possible matchup against heavyweight champion Tyson Fury.
White opined that an opponent like Jon Jones, which was Ngannou’s proposed next opponent, wasn’t enough to compel him to stay.
“We did everything we could to try to make this fight happen and try to give him the fight, but he’s got it in his head that there’s bigger opportunities outside the UFC with lesser opponents,” White said.
“You’re going to fight arguably the greatest fighter of all time. You’d be the highest paid heavyweight ever in heavyweight history, or you think there’s more money out there to fight somebody who isn’t the greatest of all time, somebody who is a lesser opponent. You’ll have to ask Francis that question, but in my opinion, that’s what it is.”
White said the Ngannou release is one of only two times during his tenure with the UFC where he’s done everything possible to sign an athlete and yet still came up short.
“He’s the second guy that we couldn’t come to a deal with – now it’s him and Fedor [Emelianenko],” White said. “We did everything we could to get him to take the deal. I think [UFC COO] Hunter [Campbell] went to 350 dinners with him. We did what we could do. It just didn’t work out.”
With Ngannou out, the UFC moved quickly to book Jones vs. Gane, which takes place at UFC 285 on March 4 in Las Vegas. The vacant heavyweight title is on the line.
“I think he doesn’t want to take the risk,” White said of Ngannou. “You’re going in against Jon Jones, the best of all time, and at the end of the day there’s nothing wrong with that, that’s just not what we do here. The best fight the best here.
“There’s plenty of places where you can do that, and that’s where he’ll end up. He’ll end up somewhere where somebody will throw some money at him, and he’s going to fight fights he thinks he can win.”
White indicated he has no regrets about the way the whole situation played out, even if it meant losing one of the most ferocious heavyweights in the history of the sport.
“Whatever he decides to do, it’s been fun while he’s been here,” White said about Ngannou. “I wish him the best. It’s all good.”