Francis Ngannou’s reign as one of the top heavyweights in MMA will continue in the Professional Fighters League following the former champion’s contentious split with UFC.
Ngannou was still UFC heavyweight champion when contract talks collapsed once the African fighter said his demands for health insurance and personal sponsorships were rejected. UFC President Dana White stripped Ngannou of the belt in January.
The 36-year-old Ngannou will fight exclusively for PFL in its pay-per-view super fight division. Ngannou, who defeated Stipe Miocic in 2021 to win the UFC crown, also will serve as chairman and equity owner in PFL Africa.
Terms of the deal were not announced.
“I believe in the PFL’s `fighter first’ culture and global vision including developing the sport in Africa,” Ngannou said Tuesday in a statement. “With that, I am also proud to announce that I will serve as Chairman of PFL Africa which will be the leading MMA organization on the continent providing great African fighters the opportunity to compete on a global platform.”
PFL CEO Peter Murray told The Associated Press that Ngannou’s first scheduled fight will be in early 2024.
Murray said talks with Ngannou began when “he was no longer encumbered” and the fighter was expected to play a pivotal role in the company’s planned global expansion. Ngannou also wants to box and the PFL will not stand in his way.
“We’re supportive of Francis taking on boxing,” Murray said.
Ngannou (17-3) also will serve in a leadership role on the PFL global advisory board, making him the first active fighter to serve on the board and represent fighters’ interests.
While the PFL has a unique MMA competition format that includes a regular season, a postseason and a championship event, Ngannou will only fight in a planned PPV division that includes other stars such as Kayla Harrison and Jake Paul.
“This is a new model and it’s a transformational deal,” Murray said. “This is not just an athlete signing. This is a strategic partnership. Francis has all the capabilities not only as an elite MMA fighter but as a businessperson and we’re excited to be in business with him.”
Ngannou had dropped a teaser video on social media that he planned to make a big announcement on May 16. He rebounded from consecutive losses in UFC to win six straight bouts, that included the championship fight and one successful title defense. Ngannou hasn’t fought since he defeated Ciryl Gane by unanimous decision at UFC 270 in January 2022.
His relationship with UFC frayed to the point that White vowed Ngannou would “never be in the UFC again.”
“I never say never, but I’ll give you a never on that one. We tried,” White said.
Ngannou negotiated with ONE Championship but those talks flamed out shortly before the Singapore-based league made it’s United States debut last week in Denver.
“Francis had a number of options and we were determined to get something done,” Ngannou said.
PFL has made a splash by signing outside stars before, with fighters such as Paul and Olympic gold medal boxer Claressa Shields. The PFL also last week signed French fighter and former kickboxing world champion Cedric Doumbe But none of the signings packed a punch quite like Ngannou.
“This is the No. 1 signing that this company in MMA has ever made,” Murray said. “It’s perfectly timed. We’re now focused on our next phase of growth and launching our pay-per-view business and expanding internationally with regional leagues.”
Murray said details on Paul’s PFL debut would be announced after he fights Nate Diaz in August and that Harrison will indeed fight in 2023.
“I can assure you that fighters who want to get out of their contracts are looking to the PFL as a major global stage with the very best talent in the world,” Murray said.