The UFC recently announced a bout between Derrick Lewis and Ciryl Gane, which would be for the interim heavyweight championship. Right off the bat, it seemed like an obvious power play and a sign of troubling negotiations, as the current champion Francis Ngannou had just won the belt a mere three months ago.
Shortly after news broke, there was also a heated back and forth between UFC President Dana White and Ngannou’s representatives from CAA, a top Hollywood talent agency.
Ariel Helwani, who seems to be able to speak more freely now that he is no longer employed by the UFC’s partners in ESPN, reports that this is a pretty common tactic used by UFC executive Hunter Campbell in fighter negotiations. He reveals that threatening to strip the title or create an interim belt is “constantly” done to get UFC champions to do what they want.
“Regarding today’s interim news, you’d be shocked how often they threaten this &/or how often they threaten to strip. And while most of the criticism has been directed towards Dana White - he is the face after all - it’s really been the M.O. of Hunter Campbell since he took over,” Helwani wrote.
“For those that don’t know, Campbell is the UFC’s chief business officer. He took over shortly after the sale. He does most, if not all the deals these days. Some love him - he’s a lot more like Lorenzo in that he isn’t emotional - but he also threatens to strip constantly.
“Campbell is the “lawyer” White often refers to. Hardly ever mentions him by name. Not sure why. He’s way more valuable to UFc than just being a lawyer. In fact, I’d argue he’s the third most important person in the company behind Ari and White. Again, he does all the big deals,” he explained.
“Think of him as the UFC’s general manager if they were a sports team. Yet, he never speaks publicly or has to explain moves like a GM would from time to time. Good gig! Anyway, some enjoy dealing with him but this is right up his alley. It happens way more than fans think.”
Helwani also gave a more specific example, in former champion Stipe Miocic, who has had some issues with the UFC in the past.
“I can think of at least five occasions they threatened to strip Stipe,” he said. “Never went through with it, but he got it worse than anyone.”
UFC has repeatedly used a “take it or leave it” approach during fighter negotiations, seemingly prioritizing control over short-term monetary gain, especially during this ESPN era. This was also evident during the many public dealings that included the likes of Georges St-Pierre, and more recently, Jon Jones and Francis Ngannou.