Demetrious Johnson knows what it’s like to have a rocky relationship with the UFC.
Johnson, the greatest flyweight of all-time and the record-holder for the most consecutive UFC title defenses in history, parted ways with the promotion in 2018 when he was traded to ONE Championship in exchange for Ben Askren. The split followed an up-and-down eight-year journey behind-the-scenes between “Mighty Mouse” and the UFC brass, so Johnson can relate better than most to what Francis Ngannou was experiencing over the multi-year saga that ultimately resulted in his departure from the promotion this past January.
Earlier this week, Johnson reacted to the former UFC heavyweight champion’s video explaining why he left the promotion while still holding the title — and he couldn’t help but chuckle at UFC president Dana White’s suggestion at the press conference announcing Ngannou’s exit that “if you don’t want to be here, you don’t have to be here.”
“We all know that’s a lie,” Johnson said on his YouTube channel, laughing.
In the video, Johnson voiced support for Ngannou following White’s assertion that the ex-champ wanted to leave the UFC out of a desire to fight lesser competition.
Ngannou openly campaigned for the chance to fight Jon Jones as the former 205-pound champion’s heavyweight debut after capturing the title in March 2021, however the relationship between Ngannou and the UFC soured by early 2022. After his title defense over Ciryl Gane, Ngannou said he only wanted freedom from the UFC’s “one-sided” contract and that he did not feel respected by the company. He eventually left after UFC officials balked at his request for concessions outside of the usual framework for a UFC contract, including health insurance for all fighters, the right to seek his own in-cage sponsorships, and an advocate to represent UFC athletes in the company’s board meetings.
In Johnson’s eyes, the rhetoric coming from White about Ngannou “not wanting to take the risk” to fight competition at Jones’ level was nothing new.
“Dana [White] likes to say a lot of things to get fighters to do certain things,” Johnson said.
“Here’s a little behind-the-scenes: Eddie Alvarez tells me, each time he signs a contract his mindset is, ‘How can I get through this contract as fast as possible to become a free agent again?’ Because if you go through your whole contract winning and you end as a champion, you have all the leverage in your hands, especially if the organization wants you.’ So that’s what [Ngannou] is saying by that, he wanted to get through his contract and deliver all of his deliverables and to be able to get out of it to decide what he wants to do after that.”
In regards to what’s next for Ngannou, Johnson said he hopes the former UFC champ is able to parlay his free agency into a big-money opportunity in boxing. Ngannou and boxing champion Tyson Fury have publicly flirted with a matchup against one another, with Fury even recently calling for the marquee showdown to be a four-ounce glove boxing match “for big boy money” contested in a cage with Mike Tyson as the special guest referee.
Johnson said he hopes Ngannou uses the opportunity to springboard himself into a variety of one-off contracts to maximize his value across combat sports.
“I would love to see him in boxing,” Johnson said. “I would love to see him try to do stand-up boxing. He’s always stated he wants to do boxing, and I think for him to be able to have that freedom, as a boxer, he’s going to be able to have that. Right? So he can sign a one-fight deal against Tyson Fury, fight that fight. Either win, loss, draw, he can move onto the next one and go, ‘You know what? I’m going to do mixed martial arts.’ Or, ‘You know what? I’m going to do bare-knuckle fighting.’ Or, ‘You know what? I’m going to do this.’ If he truly wants that freedom, I think him going around and just doing this signing one-contract deals, you’ll always have that freedom. That way you can come and go as you please.”
Watch Johnson’s complete reaction video to Ngannou’s UFC exit below.