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LAS VEGAS – Francis Ngannou turned down an historic offer according to UFC president Dana White.
Saturday, it was announced that the dispute in negotiations between the UFC and its heavyweight champion had come to an end. Ngannou turned down the UFC’s offer for a contract renewal, White said, and left behind his heavyweight title for the chance to become arguably the biggest free agent in combat sports.
And according to White, Ngannou also left a lot of money on the table.
“We offered Francis a deal that would’ve made him the highest paid heavyweight in the history of the company – more than (Brock) Lesnar, more than anybody – and he turned the deal down,” White told reporters at the UFC Fight Night 217 post-fight news conference.
“We get to this point, and I’ve told you guys this 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 risks. He feels he’s in a good position where he can fight lesser opponents and make more money.
“So we’re going to let him do that. We’re going to release him for his contract. We’re going to give up our right to match, and he can go and do whatever he wants. That’s where we’re at.”
Ngannou now can sign with any other promotion and officially is a free agent. The native of Cameroon has yet to speak publicly about the decision, but White thinks he made it wanting to fight lesser opposition – and not MMA great Jon Jones, who will make his heavyweight debut March 4 at UFC 285 in Las Vegas for the vacant title against former interim champ Ciryl Gane.
“I think that you’re looking at that, you’re going to fight arguably the greatest fighter of all time, you’d be the highest paid heavyweight ever in UFC history, or you think there’s more money out there to fight someone who isn’t the greatest of all time, somebody who’s a lesser opponent,” White said. “You’ll have to ask Francis that question, but in my opinion that’s what it is.
“… The guy was weighing over 300 pounds, just had knee surgery, hasn’t had a real training camp. And I think that probably has a lot to do with it as far as Francis is concerned. He doesn’t know what’s going to happen with his knee. He’s not getting any younger. I don’t even think he would’ve been ready for March.
“We can’t continue to hold up the division and not come to an agreement with this guy. We did everything we could to try to make this fight happen, but he’s got it in his head that there’s bigger opportunities outside the UFC with lesser opponents.”
Ngannou leaves the promotion with plenty of momentum. He’s on a six-fight wining streak and hasn’t lost since July 2018. He knocked out Stipe Miocic, the most successful heavyweight in UFC history, to become champion in March 2021, then completed his first title defense when he outpointed Gane in a unanimous decision at UFC 270 in January 2022.
The 36-year-old has defeated many other notable names under the UFC banner, including Alistair Overeem, Cain Velasquez, Junior Dos Santos and Curtis Blaydes.
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