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Francis Ngannou signs with PFL, debut expected in 2024

UFC 270: Ngannou v Gane Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

PFL has won the Francis Ngannou sweepstakes.

The tournament-based promotion announced its major signing on Tuesday via The New York Times, ending four months of speculation over Ngannou’s next move after he relinquished the UFC heavyweight title in January to become a free agent.

Ngannou signed what’s being called a “strategic partnership” that gives him equity and leadership roles in the PFL. He plans to debut for the promotion in mid 2024 after an expected boxing match to take place in 2023.

“Let’s just say, all-in my deal with PFL is more than anyone else offered,” Ngannou said to the New York Times. “The past few months have been a very interesting time to understand and see the landscape but I’m very excited about this deal with the PFL because they basically showed what I was expecting.

“They didn’t just show up as a promotion that was looking for a fighter, but really came as a partner that sees more value in you as a person.”

Ngannou will compete in the PFL as part of the “superfight” division that has been launched to feature athletes in high-profile fights, most likely on pay-per-view with the fighters receiving a bigger share of the profits.

As part of his deal, Ngannou also becomes the new chairman of PFL Africa, as the promotion plans to expand to the continent in the near future. Ngannou will also have a role on the PFL advisory board to represent the athlete’s interests.

“This is not an athlete deal,” PFL CEO Peter Murray told the Times. “Francis is an icon today in the sport, he is the best in the world at what he does, but he’s in business with the PFL. We’re in business together.”

Ngannou’s signing represents a major coup for the PFL, one of several MMA promotions to bid for his services.

The promotion’s deal with Ngannou gives him the right to pursue a longtime dream of professional boxing; “The Predator” has tried to book a fight with Tyson Fury this summer and has been linked to fights with ex-champs Deontay Wilder and Anthony Joshua.

In his failed negotiations with the UFC, Ngannou sought not only to box but gain other concessions that included health insurance for fighters and a fighter’s rep in contract negotiations. He said his demands were a non-starter for the industry-leader, though he didn’t expect all of them to be met. After announcing Ngannou’s departure, UFC President Dana White said Ngannou would never again fight in the promotion.

Ngannou’s UFC exit as an active champion was virtually unprecedented.

The 36-year-old Cameroon native last appeared in the octagon at UFC 270, where he unified the heavyweight title with a win over former training partner Ciryl Gane, overcoming a severe knee injury that later required surgery. He was bound to the UFC for one year or three fights under a champion’s clause, but he officially became a free agent under a five-year sunset clause that was put in UFC contracts in response to an ongoing anti-trust lawsuit against the promotion.

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