For years, Francis Ngannouc has been viewed as the UFC’s up-and-coming superstar name, the man that is capable of touching the corners of the Earth in a way that only Conor McGregor has done before him.
On Saturday night, Ngannou’s journey with the UFC could be over, lightyears before his heavyweight reign truly started.
Ngannou and the UFC have been locked in a contract standoff for some time. His victory over Stipe Miocic last March was the seventh of an eight-fight agreement, meaning that his clash with Ciryl Gane this weekend is his final bout at this stage.
Francis Ngannou’s journey with the UFC could be over after his heavyweight fight at UFC 270
There appears to be no sign of a new deal being struck, with Ngannou last week publicly stating that he feels he has been ‘wrongly treated’ and now needs to be paid his worth.
‘No, I will not fight for $500,000, $600,000 any more,’ he told ESPN.
‘I mean, it’s over. It’s over. I just did this. I took this fight for a personal reason, and I want to make sure that regardless, even if it’s unfair, I have been wrongly treated, I can make my case to say I have completed the eight fights. But no.
He added: ‘The reason why I’m here is because I earned it. Nobody has given me anything.
‘So I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, but I’m sure I will make it. I will keep making it.
Ngannou, 35, is entering the final fight on his eight-bout deal with the MMA organisation
Ngannou (R) and his team are locked in talks with the UFC and Dana White (L) over a deal
‘I want to win this fight, but if I lost, it’s fine. I don’t think that takes anything out of me as a man. I have done a lot as a man.
‘Even if this was the end, well, I’ll say I did it. Not many people in their lifetime, even those who have better opportunities than I, can tell the same story as me. I’m happy where I am.’
What Ngannou wants is no secret. The Cameroonian, 35, has regularly expressed his desire to fulfil a life-long ambition and one day step in the boxing ring.
It has been reported that, during negotiations with the UFC, Ngannou has demanded a contractual provision that would permit him to compete in boxing bouts, outside of the UFC.
Unsurprisingly, that request has been met with resistance, and UFC chief Dana White has said that Ngannou is free to leave ‘if he doesn’t want to be with us’, and suggested that the Cameroonian is being poorly advised.
The 35-year-old would like the flexibility to be able to box while contracted with the UFC
‘Look, if you want to be with us, we’d love to have you. If you don’t want to be with us, no problem. It’s all good,’ he told ESPN.
‘I think his contract, and this is off the top of my head, if he wins he still has time with us after this fight. He’d probably have one more fight.
‘These things happen. Sometimes you don’t always come to terms with people.
‘When you’re a fighter, you have to be careful who represents you. I don’t think he’s had the best representation.’
So what happens next? Well, as things stand, Ngannou’s future is highly dependent on the outcome of his fight this weekend against Gane.
White, however, has been reluctant to grant permission and allow Ngannou to enter boxing
The first possibility is a simple one. If the undefeated interim champion Gane defeats Ngannou in Las Vegas, the 35-year-old will have fought his last UFC fight and will officially be a free agent – although the UFC are given an exclusive 90-day period to negotiate fresh terms with the Cameroonian.
However, a victory for Ngannou makes things slightly complicated.
Technically, it will still be his final fight on his current deal but every UFC fighter’s contract contains a ‘champion’s clause’ which states that when a champion wins his or her last fight on their existing deal, the UFC automatically renews their contract for another three fights, or a calendar year, whichever is the shorter period of time.
This is why, in his interview with ESPN, White says: ‘If he wins he still has time with us after this fight. He’d probably have one more fight.’
Ngannou is highly unlikely to fight three times in the space of a year, and White acknowledges that he could get one more fight out of him over 12 months.
If Ngannou loses to ex-team-mate Ciryl Gane, his contract will end and he will leave the UFC
However, victory would mean the UFC can enact his ‘champion’s clause’ keeping him within the organisation for another year
But as far as the Cameroonian is concerned, he wants to strike a deal that can account for his ambitions in boxing and UFC.
The Predator has been strongly linked with a fight against WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, and he said that the contractual provision he is seeking would allow him to fight a minimum of twice in the boxing ring.
‘I do think that is a good fight, it is two years that we have been having this back and forth and I think we should be doing this fight,’ he told ESPN when asked about Fury.
‘I hope so, yeah absolutely this is something that is going to happen. I know that I am definitely going to be in boxing, I don’t know when or how yet or the landscape at that moment.
‘But that is the only reason I can’t confirm it with Tyson Fury. I want to sign a contract with the UFC and have some boxing matches in my contract like a minimum of two times.
Ngannou has insisted that he wants to continue fighting in the UFC but also wants to box
‘It will help me get pay and live a good life and possibly have the championship!’
If Ngannou is to step in the boxing ring, Fury appears the more likely option to stand across from him. The pair have endured an engrossing back-and-forth on Twitter in recent weeks, with the Gypsy King seemingly open to the prospect of facing the Predator in an unusual crossover fight.
Earlier this month, Fury tweeted a picture of himself next to Ngannou with the words: ‘He tweeted: ‘Who would like to see me fight this beast boxing rules @ufc gloves?’
Ngannou then responded: ‘How about MMA rules with boxing gloves? I can do you that favor.
To which Fury replied: ‘You want to come in to my world calling me & Wilder out to a boxing match. What I can guarantee is you would be knocked out & also paid your highest purse to be so! So have a think.’
Ngannou’s position is precarious and Saturday night will hopefully see a clearer outcome
‘After I handle business on Jan. 22,’ Ngannou retorted, ‘I’ll fight you under any special rule set you want. In a ring, an octagon or a phone booth.’
There also remains a huge demand for Ngannou to meet Jon Jones in the Octagon, and the pair could meet later this year if the 35-year-old defends his championship on Saturday night.
Ultimately, Ngannou is in a precarious position. On the face of it, a defeat may better serve his boxing ambitions, but no fighter – especially one of the Predator’s destructive power – ever enters a fight with a losing mindset.
UFC 270 will see a foggy, crossroads moment, made slightly clearer.