Francis Ngannou’s reign as one of MMA’s top heavyweights will continue in the Professional Fighters League following the former champion’s controversial split with the ufc.
Ngannou was still the UFC heavyweight champion when contract talks collapsed after the African fighter said his claims for health insurance and personal endorsements were rejected. UFC president Dana White stripped Ngannou of the belt in January.
Ngannou, 36, will fight exclusively for PFL in its pay-per-view superfight division. Ngannou, who defeated Stipe Miocic in 2021 to win the UFC crown, will also serve as president and share owner in PFL Africa.
Terms of the agreement were not announced.
“I believe in the ‘fighter first’ culture and the global vision of the PFL, including the development of the sport in Africa,” Ngannou said Tuesday in a statement. “With that, I am also proud to announce that I will serve as the President of PFL Africa, which will lead mixed martial arts organization on the continent that gives great African wrestlers the opportunity to compete on a global platform.”
PFL chief executive 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 support Francis taking on boxing,” Murray said.
Ngannou (17-3) will also serve in a leadership role on the PFL’s global advisory board, making him the first active fighter to serve on the board and represent fighter interests.
While the PFL has a unique MMA competition format that includes a regular season, postseason and championship event, Ngannou will only fight in a planned PPV division that includes other stars like Kayla Harrison and Jake Paul.
“This is a new model and it is 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 also as an entrepreneur and we are excited to be in business with him.”
Ngannou had released a teaser video on social media that he planned to make a big announcement on May 16. He rebounded from back-to-back losses in the UFC to win six straight fights, which included the championship fight and a successful title defense. Ngannou has not fought since he defeated Ciryl Gane by unanimous decision at UFC 270 in January 2022.
His relationship with the UFC frayed to the point where White vowed that Ngannou would “never be in the UFC again.”
“I never say never, but I’ll give you never on that. We tried,” White said.
Ngannou did negotiate with ONE Championship, but those talks fizzled out shortly before the Singapore-based league made its US debut last week in Denver.
“Francis had several options and we were determined to do something,” Ngannou said.
The PFL has made a splash by signing outside stars before, with fighters like Paul and the Olympic gold medal boxer. Claressa Shields. The PFL also signed French fighter and former kickboxing world champion Cédric Doumbè last week. But none of the signings had as much impact as Ngannou.
“This is the number 1 signing this company has made in MMA,” Murray said. “It’s perfectly timed. We are now focused on our next phase of growth and launching our pay-per-view business and international expansion with regional leagues.”
Murray said details about Paul’s PFL debut will be announced after he fights Nate Diaz in August and that Harrison will fight in 2023.
“I can assure you that the fighters who want to get out of their contracts see the PFL as a great global stage with the best talent in the world,” Murray said.