When Francis Ngannou got his hand raised after defeating Ciryl Gane at UFC 270, Dana White’s absence seemed telling. In the midst of a prolonged contract battle with the promotion, was the UFC president trying to send the ‘Predator’ a message?
For his part, White denied any idea that he had intentionally snubbed the promotion’s heavyweight champion, instead telling fans during an ESPN Q&A that “there was stuff going on backstage” that required his attention at the time.
If that’s his story, however, not everyone seems to be buying it. At the very least, former top-ranked lightweight and Ultimate Fighter finalist Al Iaquinta appears to feel that a better explanation than ‘stuff’ may be required. In a recent interview with the MMA Hour, Iaquinta gave his opinion on Francis Ngannou’s battle with the UFC.
“Good for Francis,” Iaquinta said, speaking of Ngannou’s desire to get a better contract from the UFC. “Guy stuck to his guns. Francis is the guy that should be going nuts right now. He’s such a nice guy, that he’s like—you ask him a question and he’s kinda like, ‘Yeah, well, you know, Dana wasn’t there to put the belt on, it’s all good.’”
“What the hell was going on in the back!” Iaquinta continued. “What was going on? Who was in the back? Ariel, we’ve gotta find out. I want to know what happened, I need to know. That must have been something crazy going on back there. It must have been a fight. Someone else must have fought back there. ... Something must have happened. We’ve got to find out what happened.”
“Nah, it couldn’t be that,” Iaquinta added when Helwani suggested that White just didn’t want to put the belt around Ngannou’s waist.
Iaquinta also talked about his retirement, suggesting that the temptation to return to MMA was still there, but that his current focus is “on getting healthy, being happy with what I’m doing.” ‘Raging’ Al last competed in November of 2021, losing to Bobby Green via first round TKO. That fight was his first since dropping decisions to Dan Hooker and Donald Cerrone in 2019.
For Ngannou, his current 2022 plans appear to involve a long layoff due to knee surgery and the potential that he may not compete again this year. Not just due to injury, but because he’ll need to wait out the ‘Champion’s Clause’ in his contract in order to become a free agent. If he and the UFC can’t come to terms over the next few months, it may just be that fans will have to wait until 2023 to see Ngannou compete again.