It’s hard to know just what’s next for the UFC heavyweight title picture, or even the title holder for that matter. Francis Ngannou’s relationship with the UFC has been on rocky ground ever since the Cameroonian fighter picked up the belt, with a second round knockout of Stipe Miocic at UFC 260 last March.
The UFC had hoped to swing the ‘Predator’ into a quick title defense against Derrick Lewis in early August. But, when the newly minted champ balked at the timeline, the UFC tossed together an interim title fight instead. And with the end of Ngannou’s contract on the horizon, the result has been months of stalled negotiations between the Xtreme Couture talent and the UFC.
All that came to a head at UFC 270, when Ngannou defeated Cyril Gane to once again unify the heavyweight belt—and was seemingly snubbed by Dana White for his trouble. White later claimed his absence after the bout was due to a problem, backstage, that required his attention. And while that may not have been the most convincing excuse, it sounds like the UFC president is still fairly confident that the two sides will get a deal done in the coming months.
“He’s been in Cameroon visiting his family, so he’s supposed to get back here in the next couple of weeks and we’re supposed to get together,” White said in a recent interview with ESPN (transcript via MMA Mania). “Listen, in the history of this company, the only guy that we’ve ever not signed was Fedor [Emelianenko]. I mean, it’s the only guy we could never sign. So, you know, I’m hopeful and confident that we can get a deal done with Francis.”
Putting aside the long list of other MMA notables who failed to come to terms with the UFC, Ngannou is set to undergo knee surgery sometime in March—to repair a damage ACL and torn MCL suffered in training for his bout against Gane this past January. Recovery for those injuries is expected to keep the champion sidelined for the rest of 2022. Coincidentally, that will also put him at the end of the 1-year ‘champion’s clause’ contract extension, triggered by winning his latest title defense.
The 35-year-old has stated several times that one of the key components to a potential new UFC deal would be a clause allowing him opportunities to compete in professional boxing bouts alongside his fights in the Octagon. Most specifically, Tyson Fury has issued Ngannou a standing offer for a boxing superfight spectacle, that could net both men millions of dollars in PPV revenue. It’s the kind of agreement that the UFC has only struck once before, with Conor McGregor, but it remains to be seen if that’s the key to getting both sides back to the bargaining table.