Ngannou pins UFC conflict on unfair contracts: 'They hold you in captivity'

FREDERIC J. BROWN / AFP / Getty

Francis Ngannou took a deeper dive into his conflict with the UFC on Monday.

The heavyweight champion and his management have had a poor relationship with the promotion since he won the title in 2021. Ngannou's win over Ciryl Gane last weekend at UFC 270 marked the final bout on his current deal, though he remains under contract because of a champion's clause. He has said he believes the contract expires in late 2022, meaning he could become a free agent within a year.

Ngannou said his biggest issue with the UFC is the structure of its contracts, describing the deals as restrictive and "one-sided" while speaking with Ariel Helwani on "The MMA Hour." Ngannou, who has long expressed a desire to cross over to boxing but has been unable to do so while under UFC contract, hopes the promotion makes changes.

"They hold you in captivity," Ngannou said. "You can't do anything. You have no rights. The contract is one-sided. Although, you still don't have nothing. You don't even have health insurance while you're doing this, putting your body on the line to provide, to put on a show. You're risking everything."

UFC fighters are classified as independent contractors. However, Ngannou said some aspects of UFC contracts make it seem like the fighters are employees. He thinks there should be a more obvious difference.

"I just want to be free," Ngannou said. "We are supposedly independent contractors. Independent contractors, technically, is a free person. ... They need some adjustments in that contract. That's what I be fighting for."

Ngannou added that he believes the UFC has tried to "damage (his) brand" since his title win over Stipe Miocic in 2021, though he wasn't clear whether he meant it happened directly after that fight, ahead of an interim heavyweight title bout between Gane and Derrick Lewis last August, or going into his fight with Gane.

"That's probably the thing that I hated the most about this - how they hold all the cards, the power to just destroy you," Ngannou said. "As soon as you don't say yes ... they just take you down.

"There's something wrong with me with those kinds of things," he continued. "I can't just take it."

Ngannou estimated that he's left $7 million on the table by not agreeing to a new contract since beating Miocic 10 months ago, and he reiterated that his conflict with the UFC isn't about money.

"Freedom doesn't work with money. ... You give up one to gain one," Ngannou said.

The Cameroon native said a fighters' union or association could fix several of the issues in the UFC related to pay and treatment, but he seemed doubtful that fighters will organize anytime soon. He said low-earning fighters need to focus on competing so they can make a living. Other fighters who speak out against the UFC often end up getting released, Ngannou said.

"We don't have power at all," Ngannou said. "The UFC, the company, is so big. Even though we are hundreds of fighters, we are divided, and they treat everyone individually. Nobody can stand against them."

As far as the next year is concerned, Ngannou wants to stay with the promotion "if they make things right." But he's open to leaving otherwise, and he said he'd be satisfied if Saturday was his last fight in the UFC.

"From where I came from, I have done a lot," Ngannou said. "Some people might not see that, but I have done it, and I'm very happy about that. I'm proud of myself, man."

The victory over Gane marked the first time Ngannou went five rounds and got his hand raised. He showed a new side of his skill set by using wrestling and grappling techniques to win down the stretch.

Ngannou said beating Gane was the greatest moment of his career - but not because of his actual performance.

"This wasn't just a fight," Ngannou said. "I was just not fighting in the Octagon. ... I was fighting for everything that I stand for."

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Ngannou pins UFC conflict on unfair contracts: 'They hold you in captivity'
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