UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou is willing to sit out the rest of 2022 if he defeats Ciryl Gane and cannot agree with his promoter over a new contract that will increase his salary and allow him to box.
Ngannou told ESPN.com on Thursday that he believes he will have fulfilled his current contract with the UFC when he faces interim champion Ciryl Gane in a title unifier at UFC 270 on January 22. But he also acknowledges that a championship clause could delay his next move, whatever that may be.
All he is sure of is that things have to change.
“No, I won’t fight for $500,000, $600,000 again,” Ngannou said when asked if he would fight under the terms of an extended contract with the UFC. “I mean, it’s over. It is over. I just did this. I took this fight for a personal reason, and I want to make sure that despite that, even if it’s unfairly mishandled, I can defend my case by saying I’ve completed the eight fights. But no.”
Ngannou said he signed a deal with the UFC in December 2017 – ahead of his first heavyweight title in a fight against Stipe Miocic at UFC 220 – that was on a five-year term. However, he said the champion’s clause in his contract also states that if he kept the title on expiry, he would be tied to the promotion for a year or three fights.
“All that makes me think it’s optional,” Ngannou said.
Ngannou seemed unclear about his status given the general term of the contract and the champion’s clause, at one point saying he would not be under contract until January 2023 “because the global UFC contract from inception to completion end cannot last five years.”
“The UFC contract is very difficult,” he said. “That’s why you sign [a 40-month] contract and you notice that you are still working on that after four years, even though you have been active.”
The UFC’s standard contracts typically include a “tolling” clause that also allows the promotion to extend them for six months in the event that a fighter is unable to accept an offered fight due to injury or other circumstances. Earlier this year, Ngannou turned down a title fight with Derrick Lewis at UFC 265 due to scheduling conflicts. The UFC then promoted an interim title fight between Gane, his former training partner, and Lewis.
Ngannou’s manager Marquel Martin, whose CAA agency is a direct competitor to UFC dam Endeavour, told ESPN that negotiations on a new deal have not resumed. Martin recently said he hadn’t spoken to the promotion for six months, despite a desire to strike a new deal.
UFC President Dana White downplayed the conflict, saying it was up to Ngannou to stay on or not.
“If you want to be with us, we’d love to have you,” he said. “If you don’t want to be with us, no problem. Everything good.”
Ngannou was not much encouraged by those words. He said any new deal he makes must include an option to box. He and heavyweight boxing champion Tyson Fury recently discussed a possible fight, and Fury’s promoter Top Rank welcomed the idea of a crossover event.
“We’ve had this discussion for over a year and it seems they were okay with it,” Ngannou said of the UFC’s stance on boxing. “When the UFC is involved, it just gets bigger. So yes, if I want to box, I want the UFC to be involved.”
But, he added, he wasn’t sure what to make of the promotion’s current level of interest.
“Sometimes I say yes, sometimes I don’t know,” he said.
One outcome at UFC 270 would certainly bring clarity to Ngannou’s status: a loss to Gane. At that point, he would be subject to an exclusive negotiation period with the UFC, typically 90 days, followed by a period during which other promoters can make offers with the UFC given the option to match them.
Whatever happens, Ngannou disproved the idea that he is betting on his career, saying that a loss will not define his legacy.
“Let’s make something very clear,” he said. “The reason I’m here is because I’ve earned it. Nobody gave me anything. So I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, but I’m sure I’ll make it. I keep making it. I want to win this fight, but if I lose, it’s fine. I don’t think that takes anything from me as a man. I’ve done a lot as a man.
“Even if this was the end, well, I’ll say I did it. Not many people in their lives, even those who have better opportunities than me, can tell the same story as I do. I am happy where I am.”
Watch Ngannou’s full interview below.