Francis Ngannou leaves UFC: Three best options for the former heavyweight champion to consider in free agency

view original post
Getty Images

This past Saturday saw the shocking news that Jon Jones would finally debut at heavyweight by fighting Ciryl Gane for the suddenly vacant UFC heavyweight championship, a title that became vacant when the UFC and champion Francis Ngannou parted ways.

Ngannou and the UFC had publicly been at odds over pay in the past, but it was unexpected that the relationship would come to such a sudden end, with Ngannou as champion. UFC president Dana White attempted to shift the blame for the split to Ngannou, claiming he was willing to offer a contract that would make Ngannou the highest-paid heavyweight in UFC history. However, White also claimed that Ngannou wanted to look for easier fights for more money.

Setting aside White’s statement that Ngannou wanted to pursue “lesser fights for more money” being something that strikes the heart of the greater debate over fighter pay, White also said that they waived their right to match any Ngannou offer and that he was free to go where he wants and do what he wants.

So, what is next for the best heavyweight in the world? Let’s take a look at the top three options for Ngannou’s next move.

Can’t get enough boxing and MMA? Get the latest in the world of combat sports from two of the best in the business. Subscribe to Morning Kombat with Luke Thomas and Brian Campbell for the best analysis and in-depth news.

Bellator MMA

The pitch: The highest level of heavyweight competition outside the UFC

Bellator president Scott Coker had expressed a willingness to bring Ngannou to the promotion in February 2022, as Ngannou’s public dispute with the UFC was ramping up. After Ngannou’s release, Coker tweeted out an article from that time, seeming to again suggest that the company would be willing to sign Ngannou.

Bellator has the most interesting heavyweight roster outside of the UFC in terms of familiar names. From heavyweight champion Ryan Bader to Fedor Emelianenko — who is set to retire following his upcoming rematch with Bader but might be intrigued by the prospect of a fight with the best heavyweight in the world  — to other former UFC stars like Cheick Kongo and Tim Johnson.

From a competitive standpoint, it has to be believed Bellator would draw some interest from Ngannou, who no doubt wants to continue fighting big fights and proving his place in heavyweight history.

Professional Fighters League

The pitch: Big paydays and revenue sharing for fighters in the “Super Fight Division”

PFL doesn’t have the deepest roster of heavyweights, nor are there many big names or fighters who would be considered anywhere near the elite level of the sport. What they do have, however, is money.

PFL’s season format also crowns a champion who wins a $1 million prize, in addition to fight purses collected along the way. For reference, Ngannou made $600,000 in his win over Gane in his final UFC outing, according to the disclosed purse information released by the California State Athletic Commission. Ngannou only fought once per year the previous three years. Participating in a PFL season would likely lead to more money in a year than Ngannou had made in the UFC in any of those years.

PFL also has a “Pay-per-view Super Fight Division,” which features fighters who are not a part of the regular season roster, which may be a more likely landing spot should Ngannou sign a PFL deal. That division got a big, splashy addition earlier this month when social media superstar and professional boxer Jake Paul signed with the promotion. That division also features a 50-50 revenue split between the promotion and fighters.

Whether a spot in the “Super Fight Division” or in the regular season, PFL is an appealing destination for Ngannou as a fighter whose falling out with the UFC came over feeling he was not paid his worth.

A trip to the boxing ring

The pitch: The biggest possible paydays and a chance to reach a career goal

Ngannou has teased a desire to box in the past, most notably talking up a potential clash with heavyweight champion Tyson Fury. During Ngannou’s falling out with the UFC, both Ngannou and Fury repeatedly brought up the potential of a crossover clash.

Fury went so far as to call out Ngannou in the ring after his April 2022 knockout win over Dillian Whyte.

The idea of Fury vs. Ngannou in the boxing ring may sound silly. Fury would be a heavy favorite in a true competitive bout as a lifelong boxer and the best heavyweight of his era against a mixed martial artist who is trying to transition to the ring at 36 years old.

But Ngannou has said he wants to give boxing a go before retiring and he clearly wants to make big money and there’s no single option that would provide a bigger payday than a fight with Fury. Even fights against lesser competition to familiarize himself with boxing would likely provide huge paydays for Ngannou. And, should the Fury fight not come about, there likely are other big name boxers who would be willing to share a massive payday with Ngannou, such as former champion Deontay Wilder.

The chance to test himself, as well as life-changing pay, would certainly appeal to Ngannou — which is why he has talked up the idea so much in the past.