Former UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou says the UFC’s contract offer did not give him enough freedom, which is why he rejected it.
In an interview Tuesday on “The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani,” Ngannou said he requested many things from the UFC, including a three-fight deal, the promotion waiving extension clauses and even health insurance for all fighters.
Ngannou estimated the new deal would pay him “around” $8 million to fight Jon Jones at UFC 285. He then expected to complete trilogy with Stipe Miocic and then rematch Jones before his move to boxing, where high-dollar matchups with Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua loomed.
Most requests, he said, were not met, and Ngannou is now a free agent.
“In that contract, I’m not free,” Ngannou said. “In that contract, I’m not an independent contractor. In that contract, I have no rights, I have no power. I hand over all the power to you guys, and I’ve seen in the past how you can utilize that power.”
Ngannou is adamant that he made the right choice to depart the UFC.
While he doesn’t rule out a possible return to the promotion, he said it must be under his terms, which at this point potentially include permission to solicit outside sponsors, health insurance and a fighter advocate at the promotion’s negotiating table.
UFC president Dana White said last Saturday that the promotion had released Ngannou, including waiving an exclusive negotiating window and one-year matching rights clause, and stripped him of the heavyweight title.
Ngannou disputes that characterization, saying that his contract with the UFC expired in early-to-mid December and he was already a free agent.
“I know that I did everything right,” he said. “I don’t have any regrets. I wouldn’t do anything different if I had to do it again.”
White also said at a news conference over the weekend that Ngannou was choosing to get more money to face lesser competition. Ngannou said more money was one of the things he was seeking, but he scoffed at the “lesser competition” narrative.
“They didn’t want anything to do with boxing,” he said. “They were like, if, and only if, and in good faith, and I’m like, I’m not betting on that. Maybe Tyson Fury is a lesser opponent for Dana White.”
Of the specific value of the deal, which White previously said made “The Predator” the highest-paid heavyweight in UFC history, Ngannou said he couldn’t be sure because he couldn’t verify what he was being told.
“It’s all their narrative, which is their narrative, and it can’t be proven,” he said. “I wish it could work. I really do. I really wanted, but not at any cost.”
Going into the negotiations with the UFC, Ngannou said he asked the promotion for all fighters to get in-cage sponsorships and health insurance.
He also wanted an athlete advocate positioned to assist fighters. While he knew those were long-shot terms, the Cameroonian-born fighter said he believed he at least needed to try, even though he knows he can pay for his own health insurance at this stage in his career.
“How about those guys at the bottom?” Ngannou said. “They can’t really afford that health insurance. I have been there, so it’s something I still carry in my heart.”
“At some time, I feel like I was slapped in the face by money, like, ‘Take the money and shut up.’ And that couldn’t happen.
“It was just a matter of principle, and at that time, I knew this was it. They didn’t say on the phone, ‘This is what’s going to happen,’ but I knew.”
“I think I just need some respect,” Ngannou said. “More respect, at least. It’s very important. I need some respect. I need some freedom. I need to feel like a man. Own my freedom, control my destiny. Decide what I’m gonna do. I don’t want anybody to decide for me.”
“Dana is Dana,” Ngannou said. “I don’s care about what he says. Dana cannot hurt me. From where I come from, I have heard a lot worse than that, and I’m still here. … What I know is that I’m here, and I have a good future.
“He’s upset. He’s not happy about this situation. He saw his champion go away, which is something that probably never happened.”