Francis Ngannou was well aware of the UFC's efforts to secure the highly anticipated superfight with Tyson Fury, a bout that eventually landed in the hands of MMA's lineal heavyweight champion.
Ngannou is scheduled to take on the undefeated WBC champion, Tyson Fury, in a momentous boxing match set for October 28 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The opportunity to step into the ring with Fury is something the former UFC heavyweight champion has long desired. In fact, it played a significant role in his decision to part ways with the promotion in January, as the UFC officials refused to allow Ngannou to pursue a lucrative boxing opportunity while under contract.
Interestingly, last month, after Ngannou signed a lucrative contract to resume his MMA career with the PFL, something unexpected occurred. UFC president Dana White suddenly displayed keen interest in arranging a fight between Fury and the new UFC heavyweight champion, Jon Jones.
What made this situation even more intriguing was the fact that White's interest emerged shortly after he criticized Ngannou's desire to compete against high-profile boxers and stated his aversion to booking "gimmick fights."
According to Ngannou's long-time representative, Marquel Martin, White's contradictory statements spoke volumes.
“I think for everyone that has been initiated within the UFC and kind of really understands it, it’s no surprise, right?” Martin said this week on The MMA Hour. “Dana is one of the best promoters that we’ve ever seen. I’ll always say that. So when we saw it, we just kind of [were] like, ‘Of course.’ Right? Of course you would say, on one end, it’s a gimmick fight. ... And then on the other hand, it comes to where it’s like, ‘Oh no, we’ll put that on.’ So I’m sure that they wanted that fight.
“I think they really wanted to just mess up our chances, to be quite honest. I think, for whatever reason, there’s a sour taste in their mouth when it comes to Francis. And yeah, they don’t want Francis to be able to have that opportunity. Right? I think that was clear to us for a while. For what reason? I don’t know, you have to ask them. But it’s a moot point.”
Throughout its history, the UFC has undeniably promoted several matchups that could be categorized as "gimmick fights." Examples range from signing notable figures like James Toney and CM Punk to the co-promotion of the immensely profitable boxing match between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor in 2017. Notably, the Mayweather-McGregor bout stands as one of the highest-selling pay-per-view events in history.
Ironically, according to Ngannou's representative, Marquel Martin, the recent turn of events is even more surprising because Ngannou had spent two years attempting to make the fight with Fury happen while still under the UFC's banner.
Fury, who is promoted by Top Rank, has a streaming deal with ESPN+, the same platform as the UFC. When talks first arose between Ngannou and Fury after Ngannou's title win over Stipe Miocic in 2021, Martin stated that he engaged with UFC officials to explore a path that would lead to two blockbuster fights: one against Jon Jones for Ngannou's UFC heavyweight title, and then a showdown with Fury to determine the "Baddest Man on the Planet." However, Martin claims that they were consistently met with resistance at every step. He suspects that the significant wealth generated by Conor McGregor from his bout with Mayweather, and the subsequent impact it had on McGregor's UFC career, influenced the promotion's decision-making process.
“After Stipe [Miocic], it was supposed to be Jon Jones, right?” Martin said. “I think I tweeted something long ago, somebody may be able to find it, but I literally wrote it down. I said, ‘Stipe, then we’re going to take care of Jon Jones, then we’re going to go for Tyson Fury.’ In that order. But they have their own plans and their own strategy, and for whatever reason, they just didn’t want to make it happen. I kind of feel like it was maybe the Conor McGregor effect. Like, Conor made so much money from that boxing fight, and maybe they didn’t want to do it again, so maybe they had some business reasons.
“So it’s hard to really pinpoint the exact reason. But I do know that, from our side, it would’ve been so easy and everyone would’ve been happy. We’d still probably be with the UFC today and they would be promoting this fight potentially, right?
“You have the king of the MMA division, Francis. No disrespect to Stipe, but we’d just beaten Stipe. So then if we were to beat, which I think Francis would have, knocked out Jon Jones, then what? You beat the heavyweight GOAT, then the GOAT of all GOATs. Then the next thing you do is, what? Go see who’s really the baddest man on the planet. But I don’t think they thought it that way. So no harm, no foul, but we’re going to prove it.”
For Martin, White’s words about not promoting “gimmick fights” are even more comical in retrospect because the UFC president immediately pivoted to pushing hard to host the potential battle between billionaires Mark Zuckerburg vs. Elon Musk shortly afterward.
“I used to spend a lot of time trying to unscramble the reasons of why they do things, and now I don’t spend too much time on it at all,” Martin said.
“I thought it was amazing to see that. Like, that is great. Maybe Zuckerberg and Elon Musk should come to [Ngannou’s new promotional arm] GIMIK Fight Promotions, maybe they could be on the co-main if they’re not able to get it done over there with the UFC. But I don’t know. If that’s not a gimmick fight, then I don’t know, what do you call it?”