In a surprising turn of events, the Professional Fighters League (PFL) has emerged victorious in what has been dubbed the "Francis Ngannou sweepstakes."
The tournament-based promotion announced its major signing on Tuesday, bringing an end to months of speculation over Ngannou's next move after relinquishing the UFC heavyweight title in January. Ngannou's decision to join the PFL comes with a unique strategic partnership that offers equity and leadership roles, solidifying his position as a trailblazer in the world of mixed martial arts (MMA).
“I believe in the PFL’s 'fighter first' culture and global vision, including developing the sport in Africa.
"With that, I am also proud to announce that I will serve as Chairman of PFL Africa which will be the leading MMA organisation on the continent providing great African fighters the opportunity to compete on a global platform.”
Ngannou refused to get into the specifics of his contract with PFL but did claim it’s worth more than any other offer he’s received during his time as a free agent.
“Let’s just say, all-in, my deal with PFL is more than anyone else offered,” he said during a separate conversation with The New York Times.
The PFL's Strategic Partnership
Ngannou's signing with the PFL marks a significant milestone for the promotion, which has successfully attracted one of the most formidable fighters in the world. The partnership extends beyond a standard athlete deal, as Ngannou assumes leadership roles within the organization. The PFL has demonstrated a clear commitment to valuing Ngannou as both a fighter and an individual. This groundbreaking agreement highlights the PFL's innovative approach and sets them apart as more than just a promotion-seeking fighters.
As part of the partnership, Ngannou will compete in the PFL's newly launched "superfight" division, designed to showcase high-profile fights that are likely to be featured on pay-per-view platforms. This move positions Ngannou to secure a more significant share of the profits, providing him with both financial and career growth opportunities. Moreover, Ngannou's influence will extend beyond the ring, as he takes on the role of chairman for PFL Africa, playing a vital part in the promotion's expansion plans for the continent. Additionally, Ngannou will represent the athlete's interests as a member of the PFL advisory board.
According to PFL CEO Peter Murray, Ngannou's signing is a testament to the mutually beneficial partnership forged between the fighter and the promotion. Murray emphasizes that Ngannou's involvement represents a business collaboration rather than a traditional athlete contract. By aligning their interests, the PFL aims to create an enduring relationship with Ngannou, leveraging his status as an icon and the best in the world in his weight class.
Ngannou's Journey and UFC Departure
Ngannou's departure from the UFC as an active champion was a rare occurrence in the MMA world. After unifying the heavyweight title at UFC 270 with a victory over Ciryl Gane, Ngannou's contract obligated him to one year or three fights under a champion's clause. However, due to a sunset clause implemented by the UFC in response to an ongoing anti-trust lawsuit, Ngannou became a free agent after five years.
His departure from the UFC was not without controversy, as he sought concessions that included health insurance for fighters and increased representation in contract negotiations. UFC President Dana White declared that Ngannou would never fight in the promotion again.
During the period of uncertainty surrounding Ngannou's decision, fellow fighters, fans, and even Conor McGregor voiced their doubts and questioned his choice to leave the UFC. However, Ngannou remained steadfast and focused on his vision.
He responded to the criticism, stating that those doubting his decision lacked a comprehensive understanding of his situation and were reacting based on general speculation. Ngannou expressed confidence in the deal he secured with the PFL, asserting that it represented the best opportunity for his career.
He told DAZN: “It wasn’t hard [to ignore criticism] because I knew what I was working on.
“I knew that I had the best deal. I knew they were just talking out of ignorance.
"They didn’t know what was going on and was just [reacting to] general speculation.
“When you are doing stuff that people don’t understand your vision or where you are coming from and where you are going, it’s hard for people, they are questioning if you are wrong or if it’s the right thing.
“They don’t have all the ups and downs of the situation. They are not in your shoes.
"So, unless you explained to them, they will not know, there will be a lot of speculation, a lot of doubt.”