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Francis Ngannou could have been the highest paid UFC HW, but for how long?

Dana White’s claims that the UFC made the now-former heavyweight champ a record breaking offer seem like they lacked some important context.

Francis Ngannou left the UFC as a free agent in January - after UFC stripped him of the heavyweight title
Francis Ngannou left the UFC as a free agent in January - after UFC stripped him of the heavyweight title
Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

Before he redlined the bus so he could throw the man under it, UFC president Dana White told assembled media at UFC Vegas 67 that the promotion had parted ways with heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou. In the process, White announced that the ‘Predator’ had turned down “a deal that would’ve made him the highest-paid heavyweight in the history of the company—more than (Brock) Lesnar, more than anybody.”

White didn’t follow that statement with any details. Facts, figures, numbers, terms or guarantees were all missing. It was enough for people just to know that it was a big deal. The media—knowing their role in a situation like this—transcribed and reported White’s incredulous bafflement that Ngannou would have the audacity to turn down such an offer, and didn’t bother to ask what the amount was or point out that Lesnar hadn’t fought for the UFC since 2016 or held the UFC title since 2010.

One person who did not miss that White’s statement was soft on details was Ngannou’s coach, Eric Nicksick. Speaking to John Eric Poli of MyMMANews, Nicksick filled in some of the particulars that White left out.

“He (Ngannou) was like, man, if I lose this fight, I lose all my protection,” said Nicksick. “The number was drastically dropped. Yes, he was gonna get paid great money to fight Jon Jones but the next question was, what happens if you were to lose? Then it’s like he’s back down at the bottom again, you know the number was, I think for him, the number that they gave just didn’t seem fair, it didn’t make any sense. Basically, he was gonna get paid a little bit more than Alistair Overeem was being paid… If you were to lose to Jon Jones you’re dropping pay was quite exponential, so it didn’t make any sense for him.”

The last disclosed payout for Overeem was the $400,000 he made at UFC on ESPN 8. Overeem defeated Walt Harris by knockout in that main event contest. Overeem fought twice after beating Harris. He went 1-1 in those fights, both main event outings. Both of those fights occurred in Nevada, which ceased disclosing fighter pay as of July 2020.

Because many athletic commissions do not disclose fighter pay, there’s a limited number of former champions to look at to back Nicksick’s claim, but the available numbers support what he had to say.

Tyron Woodley was paid $500,000 for his UFC welterweight title fight at UFC 253. He lost that contest to Kamaru Usman. In his next outing, a non-title fight main event against Gilbert Burns, Woodley earned $200,000 in a loss.

Junior dos Santos lost the UFC heavyweight title at UFC 155. His disclosed pay that night was $400,000. Dos Santos’ next fight was a non-title, co-main event matchup against Mark Hunt. ‘Cigano’ won that fight, earning $240,000 in total. Just $120,000 of that was ‘show money,’ the other $120,000 was conditional on his victory. Had he lost that fight, JDS would have made a disclosed $120,000.

Luke Rockhold took home $250,000 when he lost his UFC middleweight title to Michael Bisping at UFC 199. Rockhold’s next disclosed payout didn’t come until he lost to Jan Blachowicz at UFC 239. He had gone 1-1 between the Bisping fight and the Blachowicz matchup, and made a disclosed $200,000 at UFC 239.

The final, relatively recent example that I could find came at UFC 201, where Robbie Lawler lost his welterweight title. ‘Ruthless’ earned a purse of $500,000 for that fight against Tyron Woodley. His next bout, a non-title fight and non-main event win over Donald Cerrone, saw Lawler net a disclosed $300,000 ($200,000/$100,000 in show/win money).

All of this is to say that White’s proclamation that Ngannou would have been “the highest-paid heavyweight in the history of the company” likely felt a lot less like a ground-breaking offer to Ngannou than the UFC president made it sound. Especially given that the heavyweight title has been the most difficult to defend belt in the promotion’s history.

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