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Junior dos Santos praises Francis Ngannou for making a difference in MMA: ‘Many others would have bent to the system’

UFC Fight Night: Ngannou v Dos Santos
Francis Ngannou embraces Junior dos Santos after their fight in Minneapolis.
Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Junior dos Santos was happy to see his former opponent Francis Ngannou sign a major deal to resume his MMA career in 2024 — and possibly start one in boxing later this year.

Ngannou, who in 2019 beat “Cigano” by knockout in his rise to the UFC heavyweight championship, inked a deal with the Professional Fighters League that reportedly gives him equity and a role on the PFL advisory board — plus a chairman role with PFL Africa, freedom to compete in boxing, and a seven-figure payday for he and his opponents.

For dos Santos, a former UFC champion and current free agent, the fact that Ngannou sought better deals not only for himself, but for future opponents and athletes in general, is rare in a sport like MMA.

“Ngannou’s actions are admirable, because you know for sure it comes from a person that has values and won’t change those values for small gifts of whatever it may be,” dos Santos said this week on Trocação Franca. “Why did anything like this never happen before? Because people focus on themselves first. [They say], ‘I’ll get something for me and screw the rest.’ It didn’t feel that way with Francis Ngannou. It felt important for him to make a difference.”

Many MMA fighters have complained about the UFC and other major promotions in the past, but no one was able to pull off what Ngannou has accomplished: Walk away from the UFC as heavyweight champion and secure what seems to be the exact type of deal he was hoping for.

“Cigano” feels it was only possible because Ngannou “has absurd leverage power for being the man in heavyweight division today.”

“MMA fighters and martial artists in general are very happy to hear what he’s saying,” dos Santos said of Ngannou. “To see him open new doors and break barriers that were always there, and no one questioned — he’s questioning them, and he’s managing to break many of them. This is so cool of him.”

“It seems like the biggest negotiation we’ve ever seen in MMA, in financial terms,” he continued. “Honestly, I don’t care to know how much he’s making, what really matters is that it’s being done, and it’s being done in such a cool way. The least we can do is congratulate Francis Ngannou for his actions and for sticking to them. Many others would have bent to the system, like we’ve seen many times before. He wanted it on his terms, and he’s doing it on his terms.

“The UFC has its merits, Dana White also has his merits for going there and making things happen and taking the sport to the level it is today. It’s a partnership, but at this point someone had to shake things up or slap it on the face to remember [MMA promotions that] we need each other. No one is more valuable than the other. Maybe athletes are more important than organizations, but that doesn’t take merit away from them because with no events, there are no place for athletes to fight. Both are valuable and need to respect one another.

“The fact that promotions have grown so much made them forget the value of athletes, and Ngannou is giving them that slap to the face, shaking things up to remind them that, ‘Hey, we’d not part of the show, we are the show.’”

The 39-year-old Brazilian hopes to compete again in 2023 after suffering a shoulder injury in a fight with Yorgan de Castro under the Eagle FC banner in 2022, his first bout since parting ways with the UFC on a four-fight skid.

Dos Santos said he will be one of the fans watching Ngannou compete in boxing and MMA, and “if he needs me, I can be his first opponent to test himself in boxing.”

“I’m 100 percent in,” he said with a laugh, responding to Ngannou’s demand that no one that fights him in PFL gets paid less than $2 million. “That shows his values. He wants change. He knows there’s no point changing things only for him, it has to change the system. … Work together to make things better for promoters and make sure fighters have the support and special attention they need.”

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