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Francis Ngannou’s PFL Deal: A Win-Win for MMA Enthusiasts

Heorhii Rysak

PFL Emerges Victorious in Securing Francis Ngannou’s Signature.

In a long-awaited announcement, the tournament-based promotion has officially secured the highly sought-after signing of Francis Ngannou. The deal brings an end to months of speculation about Ngannou’s next career move after he voluntarily relinquished the UFC heavyweight title in January, transitioning into a free agent status.

Ngannou has inked what has been termed a “strategic partnership” with the PFL, a venture that grants him both leadership roles and equity within the organization. Following an anticipated boxing match scheduled for 2023, Ngannou is set to make his debut for the PFL in mid-2024.

When reflecting on his decision, Ngannou shared: “Let’s just say that, all in all, the deal with the PFL surpasses any other offer I received. These past few months have been a fascinating period of exploring and assessing the landscape, but I am genuinely thrilled about this partnership with the PFL because they not only presented themselves as a promotion seeking a fighter but rather as a partner who recognizes and values the full extent of my worth as an individual.”

Ngannou’s sentiments underscore the significance of the PFL’s approach, which resonated with his expectations and demonstrated a genuine understanding of his value beyond being just a fighter.

Breaking the Mold: Proof of Alternatives to the UFC in MMA

Gone are the days when being signed to the UFC was the only path to a successful career as an MMA fighter. The transition began with notable moves like Benson Henderson’s switch to Bellator in 2016, signaling a shift in the sport’s dynamics. Today, it is evident that fighters can forge prosperous careers without ever entering the Octagon.

Francis Ngannou’s recent agreement with the PFL serves as concrete evidence that fighters can flourish outside the confines of the UFC. The deal encompasses generous purses, a share of pay-per-view sales, and even a stake in the PFL’s African subsidiary. It showcases the potential for fighters to thrive in alternative avenues.

This development is undeniably positive. Previously, when the UFC held a monopoly, it could dictate terms without much resistance. Although the promotion still wields considerable control, fighters now possess viable alternatives if they disagree with its business practices.

Simultaneously, fans have an increasing array of high-quality options to choose from. Personally, as a writer, witnessing Ngannou’s fights against any opponent is far more enticing than the recent events hosted at the UFC Apex.

The MMA landscape has undergone a remarkable transformation, and fighters’ ability to succeed beyond the UFC is a testament to this shift.

Raising the Heat: UFC Faces Increasing Pressure

We have already established that Francis Ngannou’s transition to the PFL confirms the availability of numerous favorable options for fighters outside the UFC. However, this move also adds pressure on the promotion to improve its treatment of fighters on its roster.

UFC President Dana White will likely never openly admit regret for not meeting Ngannou’s demands or express a desire for the former champion to still be under contract with the UFC.

It’s possible that he genuinely doesn’t care about Ngannou’s departure. Nevertheless, when a significant number of prominent stars leave, it begins to negatively impact the company, especially considering that contract disputes tend to be public, contentious, and unpleasant.

Undoubtedly, numerous discontented UFC fighters are now observing Ngannou’s move to the PFL. Many of them probably also admire the favorable treatment received by former UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson at ONE Championship, as well as the care provided to ex-UFC stars such as Ryan Bader, Sergio Pettis, and Cris Cyborg by Bellator.

If the UFC intends to prevent fighters like the aforementioned from seeking alternatives in the future, it must ensure competitive pay and fair treatment for its current roster.

On the other hand, the promotion’s response to the Ngannou situation might lead to even more restrictive contracts. In that case, aspiring fighters should ideally think twice before committing themselves by signing such agreements.

Ngannou’s Influence: How His Decision Benefits Fellow Fighters

When Francis Ngannou made the decision to leave the UFC, he wasn’t solely focused on his own interests. His goal was to advocate for improvements that would benefit all fighters, and he presented some ambitious demands in that regard.

In a promising move, the PFL has seemingly addressed some of these demands, albeit partially, by granting Ngannou a position on their athlete advisory board. This indicates that he will have a voice in shaping the league’s treatment of its fighters.

The true extent of his influence remains to be seen, as it could potentially be a symbolic role. Nonetheless, having active fighters contribute to league decisions is undoubtedly a positive development.

As previously mentioned, Ngannou’s agreement with the PFL also emphasizes the importance of fair compensation for his opponents. The former UFC champion had previously insisted on a $1 million guarantee for his adversaries. While it is unclear if the PFL precisely met that figure, it appears they came close.

Time will reveal the actual impact Ngannou will have within the PFL, but the inclusion of fighters in decision-making and the pursuit of equitable purses for opponents signify steps in the right direction.

Fostering Prosperity for African MMA

Until recently, the UFC boasted three African-born champions, with Francis Ngannou, Kamaru Usman from Nigeria, and Israel Adesanya holding the heavyweight, welterweight, and middleweight belts, respectively.

During their title reigns, the UFC expressed interest in hosting an event in Africa. Regrettably, the promotion missed that opportunity when Usman and Adesanya lost their titles (although Adesanya has since reclaimed his). Subsequently, they allowed Ngannou to part ways with the organization.

While the UFC could still potentially organize an event in Africa, it would do so with only one champion instead of three.

This is where the PFL has an opportunity to succeed where the UFC fell short.

With Ngannou serving on the board of PFL Africa, the league is well-positioned to become the first prominent international MMA promotion to make its mark on the continent.

Although it may not reach the same magnitude as a UFC event—given the UFC’s brand recognition and ticket sales—it would still be a significant occasion, especially with the presence of formidable fighters like Ngannou and his fellow Cameroonian and new PFL signee, Cédric Doumbé, on the fight card.

Francis Ngannou’s Contract: Significant Guarantees for Him and His Opponent

Francis Ngannou stated that he had secured a substantial guarantee for himself, along with a notable guarantee for his opponent. He mentioned that his opponent would receive a base salary with a $2 million guarantee for their fight, with the possibility of negotiating for more. Regarding his own compensation, Ngannou indicated that he would be receiving slightly more than his opponent’s guaranteed amount.

Ngannou explained that he didn’t want to face an opponent who had worked hard to reach that position and then take all the money for himself. He believed that if someone was stepping into the ring with him, they must be considered “the guy” and that, despite being opponents, they were on the same side. Ngannou expressed the importance of fairness, ensuring that his opponent would be able to afford everything necessary to compete at that level.

Ngannou’s relationship with the UFC became strained in recent years due to the company’s refusal to entertain his desire to pursue boxing, according to the Cameroonian fighter. His most recent fight took place in January 2022, when he successfully defended his UFC heavyweight title against former teammate Ciryl Gane.

This victory marked the first decision win of Ngannou’s career, bringing his professional record to 17-3. Out of his 17 wins, 12 have come by knockout, with eight of them occurring in the first round and three within the first minute.

Ngannou initially won the UFC heavyweight title by knocking out Stipe Miocic in 2021. Miocic, widely regarded as one of the greatest heavyweights in UFC history, had previously defended the title against Ngannou by winning a decision in their 2018 encounter.