- MMA columnist for ESPN.com
- Analyst for “MMA Live”
- Covered MMA for Las Vegas Sun
Former UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou has signed an expansive, multi-fight deal with the Professional Fighters League, he and the organization jointly announced on Tuesday.
Ngannou (17-3) is expected to make his PFL debut on pay-per-view in 2024 against an opponent to be announced. The 36-year-old is also keen on a professional boxing match, which his new contract with the PFL allows. Ngannou fought out his UFC contract in 2022 to become one of the biggest free agents in MMA history.
“The PFL is excited to announce its groundbreaking strategic partnership with Francis Ngannou, the greatest heavyweight fighter in the world,” PFL CEO Peter Murray said in a statement. “Ngannou will anchor the PFL’s star-studded PPV Super Fight Division, serve on PFL’s Global Athlete Advisory Board and will be a Chairman and equity owner in PFL Africa.”
Originally born in Cameroon, now fighting out of Las Vegas, Ngannou has a long-standing interest in the development of African talent in combat sports and athletics in general. The PFL intends to launch multiple leagues across different continents in the coming years, with PFL Africa expected as soon as 2025. It launched PFL Europe earlier this year.
In January, UFC president Dana White announced the promotion was moving on from Ngannou as its heavyweight champion and would not pursue any further contract negotiations, following more than a year of failed discussions. White said the UFC offered Ngannou a deal that would have made him the highest-paid heavyweight in the company’s history.
During that time, Ngannou made it clear in numerous interviews that discussions with the UFC broke down primarily over non-financial issues, including length of contract and universal health care for athletes. Had Ngannou re-signed with the UFC, he was expected to face arguably the greatest fighter of all time in Jon Jones. Jones won Ngannou’s vacated title in March by submitting Ciryl Gane at UFC 285.
Ngannou hasn’t fought since he defended his heavyweight title against Gane in January 2022. He was expected to sit out the rest of 2022 regardless of his contract situation, due to a knee injury.
“You have to give a ton of credit to Francis,” said Marquel Martin, Ngannou’s former manager who still serves in an advisory role and runs a brand management company. “Most fighters couldn’t go through what he went through this past year. He understands his value and has been extremely patient to get to this point. Now, not only is he the best heavyweight in the world, but he has a deal that is unmatched and will set him up for life.”
Despite Jones’ win at UFC 285, Ngannou is virtually universally recognized as the No. 1 heavyweight in the world. He holds notable knockout wins over Stipe Miocic, Jairzinho Rozenstruik, Junior Dos Santos, Cain Velasquez, Curtis Blaydes and Alistair Overeem.
Ngannou was born into extreme poverty in Cameroon and eventually emigrated to Paris, where he began his combat sports career. He fought professionally for only two years before signing with the UFC in 2015.
Over the past two years, Ngannou has expressed interest and been linked to potential boxing matches against the likes of Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder. But nothing concrete has materialized.
Amongst the PFL’s current heavyweight roster, Ngannou’s most likely opponents would include a name like former PFL champion Bruno Cappelozza. The PFL could also pursue another free agent before mid-2024.
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