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Former UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou has joined the Professional Fighters League (PFL), clarifying the Cameroonian’s MMA future after a high-profile departure from his previous promotion in January that has fuelled arguments about fighter pay.

The move is a coup for the PFL, whose previous marquee signings have included social media influencer Jake Paul — signed in January — and two-time Olympic Games judo gold medalist Kayla Harrison, who has fought 15 times for them since 2018 and twice won the company’s lightweight tournament.

Ngannou will fight in the PFL’s Super Fight division, a pay-per-view roster of fighters that gives 50% of event revenue to competitors and was co-founded by Paul, who has outspokenly criticised UFC pay and called for fighters to receive more money.

Part of the reason behind Ngannou’s UFC departure was the 36-year-old’s desire to compete in professional boxing, with the fighter known as ‘The Predator’ publicly agreeing in February 2023 to the terms set out by heavyweight boxing world champion Tyson Fury for a bout between the towering pair.

MORE: Follow Francis Ngannou in the PFL on DAZN

Francis Ngannou joins Professional Fighters League

Ngannou’s next move has been the subject of significant conjecture during his hiatus since his most recent fight, when he defended the UFC belt he had originally won against Stipe Miocic in March 2021 by beating Ciryl Gane at UFC 270 in January 2022.

Now he will become part of the PFL’s tournament format, which works in seasons as part of a knockout competition giving fighters the chance to reach a final with a prize of $1 million (£800,000) for the winners.

The PFL launched in 2018 and has continuously expanded, agreeing major deals with broadcasters including DAZN and ESPN and recently beginning its inaugural season in Europe.

Promotions including MMA organisations ONE Championship and Bellator MMA and Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship are thought to have tried to sign Ngannou, whose UFC deal expired in January 2023.

Ngannnou PFL contract: What are the details?

Ngannou will be given equity and chairmanship of PFL Africa, a “priority market” for the company and one of six new international leagues the PFL wants to introduce by 2026 to form what it is calling a Champions League of MMA.

He will be part of an advisory board representing fighter interests in a position harbouring parallels with the ‘head of fighter advocacy’ role handed to Paul.

The deal will be for two-to-three fights, guarantee a “seven-figure” purse per fight and a split of net event profits, and afford Ngannou a bonus or salary to serve as a PFL ambassador, according to Bloody Elbow, which also claimed he will have his own sponsors in the cage, no ‘champion’s clause’ or other extensions.

PFL CEO Peter Murray called Ngannou “the greatest heavyweight MMA fighter in the world” and pledged support for the fighter’s work with communities in Africa and around the world, including his charitable foundation.

“You have to give a ton of credit to Francis,” said Marquel Martin, the head of Ngannou’s management company. “Most fighters couldn’t go through what he went through this past year.

“He understands his value and has been extremely patient to get to this point. Now, not only is he the best heavyweight in the world, but he has a deal that is unmatched and will set him up for life.”

Francis Ngannou PFL move: What has the MMA star said?

Ngannou had teased that an announcement was imminent, causing some fans to speculate that one of the most popular MMA fighters in the world might be about to return to the UFC.

He has called his partnership with the PFL “game-changing” and described himself as “very excited” about the agreement. “I believe in the PFL’s ‘fighter-first’ culture and global vision, including developing the sport in Africa,” he added.

Will Francis Ngannou fight Tyson Fury?

The PFL announced that Ngannou will not make his debut for the promotion until mid-2024, leaving the door open for the boxing match he wants in 2023.

One of the reported stipulations in the contract Ngannou has signed is that he will not be exclusively tied to fighting for the PFL.

After Tyson Fury knocked out Dillian Whyte in a boxing match at Wembley Stadium in April 2022, the Englishman was joined by Ngannou for a live TV interview in the ring, when they spoke jovially about a bout both have said they want to happen.

In another interview, Fury said he wants the fight to take place in a cage using Queensbury rules and 4oz gloves, with former world heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson as referee.

Ngannou responded on social media agreeing to all of those conditions, and reports have suggested their showdown is close to being finalised in what would be Ngannou’s professional boxing debut.

Whether or not his opponent is Fury — a fighter known for his tendency to talk up huge fights that subsequently fall through — it looks likely that Ngannou will box before he appears for the PFL.

Ngannou next fight: Who could he face in the PFL?

PFL boss Donn Davis has said he wants the 2023 PFL season to be “the road to Francis”. “I want to see the heavyweight division fight it out,” he told Aaron Bronsteter in January 2023.

“Whoever wins the 2023 heavyweight division, challenge Francis at the end of this year or the beginning of next year.”

2022 heavyweight champion Ante Delija could be the man to face Ngannou if the Croat continues his winning streak in the next stage of the tournament in June 2023.

Delija had been due to fight Gane in the UFC in 2020. The fight was cancelled because of a contract dispute between the PFL and Delija, ESPN reported.

Why did Francis Ngannou leave UFC?

Ngannou had repeatedly said that he did not feel the terms the UFC offered to him and its wider roster of fighters were sufficient.

A three-fight deal had been discussed between Ngannou and the UFC, with a reported offer to fight fellow heavyweight great Jon Jones in return for $8m.

Bloody Elbow said that Ngannou would “very likely” have earned more money than he will with the PFL had he stayed with the UFC and not lost his title within his next three fights.

MORE: History of boxing vs MMA: How Mayweather, Shields and UFC stars have fared

However, his PFL deal will handsomely reimburse Ngannou and address the issues he was unhappy about, including a one-year exclusive negotiating window and matching rights clause following the expiry of any contract. He also wanted in-cage sponsorships and health insurance for fighters.

UFC president Dana White said the company had allowed Ngannou to leave, claiming their former fighter “doesn’t want to take a lot of risks” and “feels he’s in a good position where he can fight lesser opponents and make more money”.

“In that contract, I’m not free,” Ngannou told Ariel Helwani about the terms he said he had been offered. “In that contract, I’m not an independent contractor.

Francis Ngannou in PFL gloves

“In that contract, I have no rights, I have no power. I hand over all the power to you guys [UFC], and I’ve seen in the past how you can utilise that power.

“How about those guys at the bottom? They can’t really afford that health insurance. I have been there, so it’s something I still carry in my heart.

“I need some respect. I need some freedom. I need to feel like a man. Own my freedom, control my destiny. Decide what I’m going to do. I don’t want anybody to decide for me.”



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