Former Ultimate Fighting Championship Heavyweight Champion Francis Ngannou has signed an unusual multi-fight deal with rival promotions firm Professional Fighters League to reward fighters and influence athletes in an evolving world. It ended a highly publicized free agency period that highlighted controversial themes. of mixed martial arts.
Ngannou and the PFL announced on Tuesday that they had agreed to what they dubbed a “strategic partnership”. The deal gives Ngannou a stake and leadership role in a mixed martial arts company, while also allowing him to work outside of boxing matches. Ngannou plans to enter a mixed martial arts match in the PFL in mid-2024 after stepping into the boxing ring later this year.
None of Ngannou’s battles is decided.
Terms of the deal, including funding and duration, were not disclosed by either Ngannou or the PFL, but said, “I can tell you that my deal with the PFL is more expensive overall than anyone else has offered. ‘ said Ngannou.
As part of the agreement, Ngannou will become chairman of PFL Africa, an expanded initiative to produce events on the African continent, and serve on the company’s advisory board, which represents the fighter’s interests.
“The past few months have been a very interesting time to understand and watch the situation, but I’m very excited about this deal with the PFL. They basically showed what I expected. Because they gave it to me,” Ngannou said in an interview. “They didn’t just show up as a promotion looking for a fighter, they came as a partner who really values you more as a person.”“
Ngannou will compete in the league’s early-stage superfight division. The division was created to attract fighters to sign on more favorable terms than are generally available in the sport, such as higher pay or significant cuts in pay-per-view income. Thing.
Social media influencer-turned-boxer Jake Paul, who signed a similar deal with the league in January, and Kayla, a two-time PFL champion, Olympic gold medalist in judo and the league’s most popular martial arts fighter. Harrison is also signed to Super. combat department.
Ngannou and Paul, two of the most critical of the way the UFC pays its players, join one of its biggest competitors by entering the PFL.
Originally from Cameroon, the 36-year-old Ngannou began his mixed martial arts career in France before moving to the United States to join the UFC in 2015 and become heavyweight champion in 2021. But ahead of his final UFC contract fight in January 2022, Ngannou said he was prepared to leave the promotions company if no deal was reached on a new deal.
Among his wishes were a higher salary and boxing ability. Ngannou teased a crossover bout with World Boxing Council heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, but fighters under contract to the UFC must only fight within the promotion.
Ngannou wins his last UFC fight, successfully defending the belt against Cyril Gaine, and both agree to a new deal and fight Jon Jones, who has been promoted to heavyweight after a three-year layoff. We continued negotiations in anticipation of One of the greatest fighters in UFC history. However, Ngannou and the UFC got stuck, and in January the company released Ngannou and stripped him of his title.
“We’ve come this far. Like I said 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 situation where he doesn’t want to take too much risk right now. I’m going to let you do it.”
With a recent valuation of $12.1 billion and owned by media and entertainment agency Endeavor, UFC is considered the most powerful mixed martial arts promotion in the world with the richest fighter base. However, some critics, including current and former fighters, have lashed out at the company’s salaries and restrictive contracts.
Fighters’ total revenues, which include pay-per-view sales and other cash flow sources such as ticket sales and sponsorships, account for less than 20%. For example, in the NFL, where athletes are unionized, players receive about 50 percent of league earnings.
In combat sports such as mixed martial arts and boxing, athletes are not unionized. In 2014 and 2021, groups of fighters sued the UFC for illegal monopolies. Lawsuits continue.
The Pro Fighters League, which debuted in 2018 and still isn’t as big as the UFC, has built a fanbase through a TV deal with ESPN and a seasonal format that’s unusual for a fighting sport.
Ngannou and the PFL began talks shortly after becoming free agents, league chief executive Peter Murray said. Ngannou said he had preliminary discussions only with another promotion, Singapore-based ONE Championship, but executives at Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship and Bellator MMA held exploratory conversations with Ngannou. said.
“They didn’t have much to offer other than fighters and promotional deals, and I wasn’t interested in that,” Ngannou said of ONE’s contract offer. “I was looking at value and impact and what I could bring to it and add to my legacy.”
He added, “I think there’s been a lot of media coverage, and a lot of people just know that this match isn’t big enough to make this kind of deal, and they’re just going to get their hands on it. I just pulled,” he added.
Popular fighters such as Jones, Jorge Masvidal and Henry Cejudo have threatened to retire to create leverage for higher prize money.Conor McGregor, sports’ biggest and highest-paid star, quarrels with White media interview over whether to give him stock in the company.
“This is not an athlete deal. Francis is an icon in the sport today, the best in the world at what he does, but he is in business with the PFL,” Murray said. “We do business together.”
Murray said the PFL’s expansion into Africa is scheduled to begin in 2024, with the event expected to take place in 2025. Led by some of Ngannou, the process involves searching across Africa for fighters and countries to host the games. Ngannou said he believed Cameroon, Nigeria, Senegal and South Africa would be early targets. In the meantime, he said he would like to have a boxing match this year before fighting again in mixed martial arts.
The challenge for Murray and the PFL executives now is to successfully build the league’s pay-per-view division and find opponents for Ngannou, Harrison and Paul that fans will watch and pay for.
The PFL is funded through media rights deals, sponsorships and ticket sales, but pay-per-view purchases are 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 will host 13 pay-per-view fights in 2022.
“Launching pay-per-view combined with launching regional leagues is what drives scale and that’s what the league is focused on,” Murray said.
The PFL was forced to rearrange portions of its 2023 season Friday after its team was suspended by the Nevada State Athletic Commission. The league and committee did not formally say why, but the PFL said in a statement that it has a “no tolerance policy regarding the use of prohibited substances”.
During his free agency days, Ngannu became a polarizing figure between fans and fighters, claiming he made a mistake turning down offers from the UFC to stay. on his Twitter he posted a picture of himself Sitting on top of a luxury Mercedes-Benz sport utility vehicle, the caption mocked their claim that they had “tampered with their bags.” He is now in the PFL and said his decision was worth it.
“When people don’t understand you or what you’re doing, there’s naturally a lot of criticism., But when you’re confident and sure of what you’re doing, where you’re headed, and recognize your accomplishments, you need to be patient and welcome the moment when everyone sees it. There is,’ he said.