LAS VEGAS — UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou will go into his title defense against Ciryl Gane at UFC 270 on Jan. 22 with a lot of uncertainty around his future contractual status with the promotion. But one thing he says he knows for sure is that he will not fight again under the terms of his current deal.
“No,” Ngannou said, when asked if he would keep fighting under the deal. “I will not fight for $500,000 [or] $600,000 anymore. It’s over. I took this fight for personal reasons, because I want to make sure that regardless of [whether] it’s fair, I can make my case that I have completed the fights.”
For Ngannou (16-3), the Gane bout will be his eighth appearance on an eight-fight deal he signed in December 2017. If he were to lose to Gane at UFC 270 in Anaheim, California, he would immediately become a restricted free agent, which would allow him to negotiate outside of the UFC following a 90-day exclusivity period.
Should he retain the UFC’s heavyweight title, he would be subject to a champion’s clause in his contract. That clause would keep him under contract for either three fights or one year. But Ngannou, who was born in Cameroon and now fights out of Las Vegas, said that in the absence of a new deal, he would hold out on accepting any fight.
The reality of when the contract would legally end under that scenario is unclear. Ngannou’s situation is unprecedented in modern MMA. According to him and his manager, Marquel Martin, there is language in the contract stating it can not last longer than five years; however, the UFC also holds extending rights if Ngannou turns down a fight.
The two sides have failed to reach a new deal in multiple efforts over the last several years, and it does not seem likely the issue will be resolved prior to Jan. 22.
“You don’t always come to terms with people,” UFC president Dana White told ESPN last month. “Listen, if you want to be with us, we’d love to have you. If you don’t want to be with us, no problem. All good.”
In addition to negotiating financial compensation and the length of his next contract, Ngannou, 35, has made it clear he wishes to compete in a professional boxing match in the near future. For his part, he has said he wishes to stay in the UFC and that negotiations are not contentious from his perspective.
“100 percent [I need to box],” Ngannou said. “We’ve been having discussions for years. It seems like they are OK with it. Let’s be honest, I do believe that whatever you are doing — whatever the event is — if the UFC is involved, it’s just going to make it bigger. There is no question. So, yes, if I box, I would like the UFC to be on-board.
“Honestly, the only reason we are here is that at some point, there wasn’t good faith in this. I don’t understand why we can’t come to an agreement.”
Ngannou has drawn interest, at least on social media, from professional heavyweight boxers — namely, WBC champion Tyson Fury, who tweeted at him last week.
The title fight between Ngannou and Gane is a competitive one on paper. Oddsmakers currently have Ngannou as a slight underdog. The two are familiar with one another, as they trained briefly together at MMA Factory in France. Gane (10-0) is the UFC’s interim heavyweight champion. He won the belt by knocking out Derrick Lewis in August.
If Ngannou and the UFC do not come to terms on a new deal before Jan. 22, the outcome of the fight will have a major impact on his next career move. According to Martin, the two sides have not reengaged in negotiations recently, but Martin remains open to doing so.
“We’ve tried to get a deal done with the UFC, but we haven’t seen eye to eye,” Martin said. “At the end of the day, it’s Dana’s decision, it’s the UFC’s decision — whether they want to come back to the table and have a conversation.”