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Francis Ngannou walking away from UFC, Jon Jones fight is both a commendable and frightening risk | Opinion

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The rarest of situations occurred on Saturday, when the president of the UFC Dana White announced that Francis Ngannouthe current promotional heavyweight champion has parted ways with the company and is unlikely to ever return.

Development cleared the way for whites to book fight for vacant title between John Jones and Cyril Gein as the main event for UFC 285which will take place on March 4 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

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As the UFC celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2023, we can only point to one previous occasion where this happened: BJ Penn left the organization as welterweight champion in 2004 due to contract disagreements, but in the end he found his way back and spent another ten plus years fighting in the octagon.

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Others have struggled for years to break free from the tight grip of the world’s best MMA promotions. Randy Couture is the most prominent of these figures and even went to court hoping to terminate the contract, but this did not happen. Whether a mutual decision was reached or the athlete simply couldn’t afford to take it any longer, the UFC has a history of getting its way in these situations.

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But not at this time.

For those who have been following the past 18 months closely, the news of Ngannou’s departure should not come as a complete surprise. In fact, this seems to be exactly what Ngannou wanted. He felt misused, mistreated and inadequately paid The UFC has been around for some time, and has expressed this opinion over and over again.

Ngannou wanted him respect. Whether it’s only in dollars and cents or in a grander scheme, only he really knows.

The 36-year-old boxer is certainly not the only UFC champion who thought so, but he is one of the few who was ready to openly state this and bet on himself to get freedom. And this is a very important detail in all of this.

Ngannou entered his UFC 270 fight with Cyril Gein in January 2022 with a broken knee and the last fight on his contract, knowing that if he can secure a win, he will have options and negotiating leverage that few people enjoy.

Whether these options will be the best remains to be seen. PFL, Bellator and BKFC are already showing interest in his services. A boxing match with Tyson Fury is also scheduled. high on Ngannou’s wishlist. There are things he can do, and perhaps for greater financial gain.

The choice to determine your own path in the future is ultimately what Ngannou wanted from this. He has yet to reveal this chapter of the story, but when he does, we will have a clearer picture of his decision-making process.

But for now, all we have are White’s statements from Saturday’s post-fight press conference at UFC Fight Night 217. And if you believe them at face value, it’s a bit puzzling that Ngannou turned down his belt, record-breaking contract offer and significant generations of confrontation with Jones. But these are the keywords: If you believe.

It should not be pointed out that White has no experience in providing a full narrative in such situations, nor should we expect him to. He has a history of willingly defeating fighters who don’t follow the company line, but in this case, he was actually quite level-headed.

It’s also White’s job to present himself and the UFC in the best possible light and try to minimize the external damage to his company at a less-than-ideal moment like this. However, this does not mean that we should take his words as gospel.

So, in light of that, let’s analyze some of White’s key quotes from Saturday’s press conference.

“Highest Paid Heavyweight”

Brock Lesnar

“We offered Francis a deal that would make him the highest paid heavyweight in the history of the company – more than (Brock) Lesnar, more than anyone. And he backed out of the deal.”

This seems like a bold statement, but the vagueness of this comment is probably exactly what White was aiming for. If he is referring to the one-time payment that Lesnar received for his return to UFC 200 in July 2016, that is reportedly in the $8 million range., then this is one. To refuse such guaranteed money would be a bold and, frankly, shocking move on Ngannou’s part.

However, if that’s closer to the $2-3 million per fight that Lesnar was reportedly paid during his original tenure with the UFC from 2008 to 2011, then that’s a different story.

Any number would be above average by UFC standards, especially when compared to $600,000 flat wallet that Ngannou received to face Gein in his final fight. However, there is a significant discrepancy between the payments to Lesnar quoted above, and White also confirmed that Ngannou’s hopes for contract flexibility for boxing did not materialize during negotiations, raising questions about the overall wiggle room available in the negotiations.

“Fight smaller opponents and earn more money”

Francis Ngannou

“We’ve come to the point where I’ve already told you guys that if you don’t want to be here, you don’t have to be here. I think Francis is now in a state where he doesn’t want to take too many risks. He feels he is in a good position to be able to fight smaller opponents and earn more money. So we’re going to let him do it. We’re going to release him from his contract. We’re going to give up our right to the match and he can sign where he wants and do whatever he wants.”

“… you are going to fight maybe the greatest fighter of all time, you will be the highest paid heavyweight in UFC history, or you think there is more money to fight someone who is not the greatest fighter of all time, someone who is the lesser opponent. You’ll have to ask Francis that question, but I think that’s the way it is. What happens here is not the first time. This is not something that has never happened before. There were other guys who came to us and said: “I don’t want to compete at this level anymore.”

The line “if you don’t want to be here, you don’t have to be here” conveniently overlooks that Ngannou had to fight tooth and nail to end his UFC contract, and his own decisions are in many ways what brought us to this place. Dozens of UFC fighters have been asking for their release over the years, but the huge difference is that Ngannou wasn’t captured by his contract agreement like so many others, as he claims to have fulfilled the terms.

Also, the above quotes are White’s classic game as a promoter. Look at this tweet as proof of how many times he’s said this over the years to top stars who didn’t abide by the UFC and didn’t agree with his pay structure.

Finished reading? Good. Then we don’t need to trust this quote anymore. Ngannou fought killer after killer during his UFC run. He has gone through unimaginable experiences outside of the cage during his life and the idea that he suddenly couldn’t muster the courage to fight Jones or any other high-profile contender is insane and a narrative that will be accepted by far too many MMA fans when they put it together. . with White’s comments about the lucrative contract, Ngannou declined.

“He’s not getting any younger”

Francis Ngannou

“Even now this guy weighed just over 300 pounds, had just had knee surgery, he didn’t have a real training camp. I think it has a lot to do with Francis as well. He doesn’t know what will happen to his knee. He is not getting younger. So I don’t even think it would be ready by March. We can’t keep holding up the division without coming to an agreement with this guy. We did our best to make this fight happen and tried to give him this fight, but he got it into his head that there are big opportunities outside of the UFC with smaller opponents.”

This is one of White’s quotes where it’s hard to deny the shards of truth. While Ngannou seems to be slowly returning to fighting form, judging by the videos he’s been posting in recent weeks, what is the state of his knee?

Even if White speaks on the facts, and Ngannou’s knee still worries, is it worth it to blame him for making the business decision himself? If Ngannou can fight Fury or get big money from another promotion where there is less risk of re-injuring his knee, it might make sense to do so.

It’s not the same as avoiding a fight with Jones.

“Do not be sorry”

Francis Ngannou and Dana White

“He is the second guy with whom we could not agree. Now it’s him and Fedor (Emelianenko). We did everything we could to get him to agree to the deal. I think Hunter (Campbell) went to 350 dinners with him. We did everything we could and it didn’t work.”

“… I didn’t think it would end like this. I thought that in the end we would agree with him. I don’t have any regrets. Hunter can, but I can’t.

It was a moment of genuine honesty on White’s part. First, he admits he was minimally involved in Ngannou’s contract negotiations, which were led by Chief Commercial Officer Hunter Campbell. And secondly, despite his contribution to broken relationship with Ngannou, he has no regrets about how things turned out.

Final Thoughts

Francis Ngannou vs. John Jones

No matter how you want to cut it, it doesn’t look like any group other than the fans who wanted to see Ngannou vs. Jones are dejected by the way things are.

Ngannou is free and free from the UFC to take any opportunity he wants. He can get the respect he thinks he deserves. I hope that suits him, and the grass on the other side will be greener.

For the UFC, this is obviously a huge loss, but it will bounce back soon. For better or worse, the UFC brand is bigger than any one fighter. And if you don’t believe it’s truer than ever, the company is making record profits in a world where its biggest stars like Jones and Conor…


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