Former Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight champion Francis Nagano has signed an unusual multifight deal with rival promotion company the Professional Fighters League. Mixed Martial Arts.
Ngannou and the PFL were expected to announce on Tuesday that they had agreed to what they labeled a “strategic partnership.” After competing in a boxing ring sometime this year, Ngannou wants to fight mixed martial arts in the PFL by mid-2024.
None of Nagano’s fights are set.
Terms of the deal, including funding and its duration, were not disclosed by Ngannou or the PFL.
As part of the deal, Ngannou will become president of PFL Africa, an expansion effort to develop events on the continent, and will serve on the organization’s advisory board to represent fighting interests.
“The last few months have been a very interesting time to understand and see the landscape, but I’m very excited about this deal with the PFL because they’ve shown basically what I expected,” Ngannou said in an interview. “They didn’t just come across as an ad looking for a fighter, but they really came across as a partner who sees a lot of value in you as a person..”
Ngannou will fight in the league’s new Super Fight division, which was created to attract fighters to sign contracts with more favorable terms than are typically available in the sport, including bigger guarantees and bigger cuts in pay-per-view revenue.
Social media influencer-turned-boxer Jake Ball, who signed a similar deal with the league in January, and two-time PFL champion and Olympic gold medalist Kyla Harrison, the league’s most popular fighter in judo, signed the super deal. Sectarianism.
By entering the PFL, Ngannou and Paul, two of the UFC’s biggest critics of how it pays its athletes, join one of its biggest rivals.
Ngannou, a 36-year-old native of Cameroon, moved to the United States after starting his mixed martial arts career in France, entered the UFC in 2015 and became the heavyweight champion in 2021. But Ngannou has said he’s ready to leave the promotion if he can’t reach an agreement on a new contract before the last fight on his UFC contract in January 2022.
Among the conditions he wanted were salary increases and the ability to box. Ngannou has teased a crossover bout with World Boxing Council heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, but athletes under contract with the UFC must fight exclusively within the promotion.
Ngannou won his final UFC fight, successfully defending his belt against Cyril Kane, and the two sides continued to negotiate with hopes of agreeing to a new contract and a match with Jon Jones, who moved up to heavyweight after a three-year layoff. One of the greatest fighters in UFC history. But Ngannou and the UFC reached an impasse, and in January, the company released Ngannou and stripped him of his title.
“We’re getting to this point, and I’ve told you this before, if you don’t want to be here, you don’t have to be here,” UFC president Dana White told reporters in January. “I think Francis is in a place right now where he doesn’t want to take a lot of risks. He feels he’s in a good position where he can fight less opponents and make more money, so we’re going to let him do that.
Recently valued at $12.1 billion and owned by media and entertainment company Endeavor, the UFC is considered the world’s most powerful mixed martial arts promotion with a deep roster of athletes. But some critics, including current and former fighters, have blasted the company for its pay and control contracts.
Fighters earn less than 20 percent of gross revenue, which includes pay-per-view sales and other sources of cash flow such as ticket sales and sponsorships. In the NFL, athletes are unionized, for example, with players receiving approximately 50 percent of league revenue.
Athletes are not unified in combat sports, including mixed martial arts and boxing. In 2014 and 2021, a group of fighters filed lawsuits against the UFC, accusing it of operating an illegal monopoly. The case continues.
The Professional Fighters League debuted in 2018, and while it doesn’t yet rival the UFC, it has gained a fan base thanks to its television deal with ESPN and its season-like format, which is unusual for combat sports.
Peter Murray, the league’s chief executive, said Ngannou and the PFL began negotiations after he became a free agent. Ngannou said he was only in advanced talks with one other promotion, Singapore-based ONE Championship, but executives from Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship and Bellator MMA said they had exploratory conversations with Ngannou.
“They don’t have anything to offer beyond a fight and a promotion deal, which is something I’m not interested in,” Ngannou said of ONE’s contract offer. “I was looking at the value and the impact and what I could bring to it and connect it to my legacy.”
He added: “I think there was a lot of media play and a lot of people knew the game wasn’t good enough for this kind of deal, so they left.”
Popular fighters like Jones, Jorge Masvidal and Henry Cejudo have threatened to retire to create leverage for higher pay. Conor McGregor, the sport’s biggest and highest-paid star, with white Media interviews As to whether he should be given shares in the company.
“This is not an athletic contract. “Francis is an icon in the game today, he’s the best in the world at what he does, but he’s in business with the PFL,” Murray said. “We’re in business together.”
Murray said the PFL’s expansion to Africa will begin in 2024 with the hope of events staged in 2025. The process, which Ngannou is leading in part, involves taking fights to continents and countries for fighters. Nganno said Cameroon, Nigeria, Senegal and South Africa were seen as initial targets. In the meantime, he said he wants to have a boxing match this year before fighting again in mixed martial arts.
The challenge now for Murray and PFL executives is to successfully build the league’s pay-per-view division and find opponents for Ngannou, Harrison and Paul that will attract fans – to watch and pay.
While the PFL is funded through its media rights deals, sponsorships and ticket sales, pay-per-view is one of the biggest financial drivers in mixed martial arts. Harrison headlined the PFL’s first and only pay-per-view event last November. By comparison, the UFC held 13 pay-per-view fights in 2022.
“Starting a pay-per-view system in conjunction with starting regional leagues — that’s going to increase the volume and focus the league,” Murray said.
The PFL had to reschedule parts of its 2023 season on Friday after a group of wrestlers were suspended by the Nevada State Athletic Commission. The league and commission have not officially released the reason, but the PFL has a “zero tolerance policy regarding the use of banned substances” in a statement.
During his free agency, Ngannou became a polarizing figure among fans and fighters alike, who said he made a mistake by turning down offers from the UFC. On Twitter, He posted his picture Perched atop a luxury Mercedes-Benz sport utility vehicle, he said his decision was worth it, now with the PFL with a caption mocking their claims that he “tripped the bag”.
“When people don’t understand you, what you do, there’s obviously a lot of criticism., But when you’re confident and determined in what you’re doing and where you’re going, you have to feel the sense of accomplishment, be patient, and welcome the time when everyone is watching,” he said.