In the wake of the UFC’s first event of 2023 last night, Dana White dropped a bombshell announcement that heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou has left the UFC after failing to come to terms with the company over a new deal.
It brings an end to a ‘will-he, won’t he’ saga that’s dragged on for well over a year, with Ngannou repeatedly stating that he wouldn’t re-sign unless his demands were met, including a far more lucrative deal and the option to take boxing fights outwith his UFC obligations.
For a long time it had felt like the two sides weren’t going to see eye-to-eye on the matter, but late last year both parties had started to publicly hint that a deal was on the verge of being completed, which makes last night’s revelation that Ngannou has left all the more surprising.
“We offered Francis a deal that would have made him the highest paid heavyweight in the history of the company,” White told reporters backstage after UFC Fight Night 217 last night. “More than [Brock] Lesnar, more than anybody, and he turned the deal down. We get to this point where I’ve told you guys before, if you don’t want to be here, you don’t have to be here.
“I think Francis is in a place right now where he doesn’t want to take a lot of risk. [He] feels he’s in a good position where he could fight lesser opponents and make more money. So we’re going to let him do that.
“We’re going to release him from his contract, we’re going to give up our right to match, and he can go wherever he wants and do whatever he wants. That’s where we’re at.”
White continued to hammer home his opinion that Ngannou is essentially running away from what would have been both the biggest fight and biggest payday of his life against Jon Jones.
“We did everything we could to try to make this fight happen and try to give him the fight, but he’s got it in his head that there’s bigger opportunities outside the UFC with lesser opponents,” White said.
“You’re going to fight arguably the greatest fighter of all time. You’d be the highest paid heavyweight ever in heavyweight history, or you think there’s more money out there to fight somebody who isn’t the greatest of all time, somebody who is a lesser opponent. You’ll have to ask Francis that question, but in my opinion, that’s what it is.”
Ngannou’s departure leaves the UFC’s heavyweight title up for grabs, paving the way for the announcement of a blockbuster title showdown for the vacant belt between Jon Jones and Ciryl Gane to be announced for UFC 285 on March 4th.