Former Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou has signed an unusual multi-fighter contract with a rival promotion, the Professional Fighters Association, ending a highly publicized free agency stint and highlighting controversial topics about fighter salaries and the impact of athletes in the world of wrestling. Development. mixed martial arts.
Ngannou and the PFL were expected to announce on Tuesday that they had agreed to what they described as a “strategic partnership,” a deal that would give Ngannou equity and leadership roles in the mixed martial arts company while also allowing him to pursue overseas boxing fights. Ngannou plans to fight a mixed martial arts bout in the PFL in mid-2024, after competing in the boxing circuit sometime this year.
None of the Ngannou battles are set.
The terms of the deal, including finances and its duration, were not disclosed by Ngannou or the PFL “Let’s just say, all I have with the PFL is more than anyone else has offered,” Ngannou said.
As part of the agreement, Ngannou will become president of PFL Africa, an expansion initiative to produce events on the continent, and will serve on the company’s advisory board to represent the interests of fighters.
“The last few months have been a very interesting time to really understand and see the landscape, but I’m really excited about this deal with the PFL because they basically showed what I expected,” Nganuu said in an interview. “Not only did they appear as a promotion that was looking for a fighter, but they really came as a partner who sees more value in you as a person.. “
Ngannou will fight in the league’s nascent Super Fight division, which was created to entice fighters to sign deals on more favorable terms than are generally available in the sport, including larger guarantees and larger cuts in pay-per-view royalties.
Jake Paul, a social media influencer turned boxer who signed a similar deal with the league in January, and Kayla Harrison, a two-time PFL champion and Olympic gold medalist in judo who is the most popular fighter in the league, are also signed to the Super Fight split.
By entering the PFL, Ngannou and Paul, two of the biggest critics of how the UFC pays its athletes, join one of its biggest competitors.
Ngannou, 36, a Cameroonian who moved to the US after starting his mixed martial arts career in France, entered the UFC in 2015 and became the heavyweight champion in 2021. But before the final fight on his UFC contract in January 2022, he said Nganno said he was ready to leave the promotional company if they could not come to an agreement on a new contract.
He said that among the conditions he wanted were a salary increase and the ability to box. Ngannou had teased a crossover match with WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, but athletes under contract with the UFC must fight exclusively within the promotion.
Ngannou won his last fight in the UFC, defending his belt against Cyril Gane, and the two sides continued to negotiate in the hope of agreeing to a new deal and a match with Jon Jones, who moved to heavyweight after three years of layoffs and is one of the greatest fighters in UFC history. But Ngannou and the UFC were deadlocked, and in January, the company released Ngannou and stripped him of his title.
“We’ve come to this point, and I’ve told you guys this 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 place now where he doesn’t want to take too much risk. He feels he’s in a good position where he can fight fewer opponents and make more money, so we’ll let him do that.”
Recently valued at $12.1 billion and owned by media and entertainment agency Endeavor, the UFC is considered the world’s strongest mixed martial arts promotion with the deepest roster of athletes. But some critics, including current and former fighters, hound the company for its restrictive salaries and contracts.
Fighters earn less than 20 percent of all revenue, which includes pay-per-view sales and other sources of cash flow such as ticket sales and sponsorships. In the NFL, where athletes form unions, for example, the players receive nearly 50 percent of the league’s revenue.
Athletes are not affiliated with unions in combat sports, including mixed martial arts and boxing. In 2014 and 2021, a group of fighters filed lawsuits against the UFC, accusing it of running an illegal monopoly. Litigation continues.
The Professional Fighters League debuted in 2018, and while it doesn’t yet rival the UFC in stature, it has garnered a fanbase through its television deal with ESPN and its season-like format, which is not uncommon for combat sports.
Peter Murray, the league’s chief executive, said Ngannou and the PFL began negotiating shortly after he became a free agent. Ngannou said he was in advanced talks with only one other promotion, the Singapore-based ONE Championship, though executives of Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship and Bellator MMA said they were in exploratory talks with Ngannou.
“They didn’t have much to offer more than a fighter contract and a promotion, which I wasn’t interested in,” Ngannou said of ONE’s contract offer. “I was looking at the value and the impact and what I could achieve and attach that as well.”
He added, “I think there was a lot of media play, and a lot of people just knew this game wasn’t big enough for this kind of deal, so they just walked out.”
Famous fighters such as Jones, Jorge Masvidal and Henry Cejudo have threatened to retire to create leverage to earn larger payouts. Conor McGregor, the biggest and highest-paid star in sports, is spiky in white Media interviews on whether he should be granted equity shares in the company.
“This isn’t a sporting deal. Francis is the icon of the day in the sport, he’s the best in the world at what he does, but he works with the PFL,” said Murray. “We’re in business together.”
Murray said PFL’s expansion into Africa is set to begin in 2024, with the hope that events will take place in 2025. The operation, which will be led in part by Ngannou, includes scouring the continent for fighters and for countries to host fights. Nganuu said he sees Cameroon, Nigeria, Senegal and South Africa as early targets. Meanwhile, he said he would like to have a boxing match this year before fighting again in mixed martial arts.
The challenge now for Murray and PFL executives is to successfully build the league’s pay-per-view division and find opponents for Ngannou, Harrison and Paul who will be draws for fans – to watch and to pay for.
Although the PFL is funded through media rights deals, sponsorships, and ticket sales, pay-per-view buys are one of the biggest financial drivers in mixed martial arts. Harrison headlined the PFL’s first and only pay-per-view event the previous November. By comparison, the UFC has staged 13 pay-per-view fights in 2022.
“Launching pay-per-views along with launching regional leagues – that’s what’s going to drive volume and that’s what the league is focused on,” said Murray.
The FAPLA was forced to adjust parts of its 2023 season on Friday after a group of fighters were suspended by the Nevada State Athletic Commission. The league and commission have not officially disclosed the reason, but the PFA said in a statement that it has a “zero tolerance policy regarding the use of banned substances”.
During his free agency, Ngannou became a polarizing figure among fans and fighters, who said he made a mistake by turning down UFC offers to stay. on twitter, Post a picture of himself Sitting atop a luxury Mercedes-Benz SUV, with a caption mocking their claims that he “flopped in the bag.” Now with the PFL, he said his decision was worth it.
“When people don’t understand you, what you do, there’s obviously a lot of criticismAnd But when you’re confident and sure of what you’re doing and where you’re going and realize the achievement, you just have to be patient and welcome the time when everyone sees it.”
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