On Saturday night Francis Ngannou vanquished what was supposed to be his toughest fight to date, and with relative ease, the first 2 close rounds notwithstanding. Ngannou took very little damage, if any, and besides his pre-existing knee injuries, left the fight in good health.
Now he has another fight on his hands, one against his promotor and employer for the past 6+ years. Saturday’s unanimous decision victory came in the final bout of Ngannou’s seven-fight contract, but what’s commonly referred to as a champion’s clause ties him to the UFC for three more fights or one year. Ngannou made it clear last week that he will choose Option B, telling all who cared to listen that he will not compete again for the UFC under his current deal.
But who has the real leverage here? Is Ngannou the big draw that he thinks he is? Is he really the next big cash cow for the UFC to justify huge paydays? Do people really shell out the ppv money to see him fight? Can the UFC afford to let their Heavyweight Champion walk away?
This writer is of the belief that Ngannou can be replaced and forgotten about fairly quickly. Yes he is truly a scary heavyweight mma fighter, but do mma fans give him any thought prior to his fight week? He has no real presence on social media so he is out of sight out of mind for more months of the year than he is on their radar. Does he have that true rivalry that lifts champions to another level? I would think a 3rd fight with Stipe could do that for him. And it might do big numbers. But who else besides Jon Jones gets the mma world buzzing?
It just seems to me that many mma fans are not going to lose sleep over Ngannou leaving to fight elsewhere and dabble in the crazy wealthy game of Heavyweight boxing.
Ngannou has bigger ambitions than just fighting in the UFC though. He wants to pursue his original fighting dream of competing in professional boxing. Ngannou has engaged in a social media back-and-forth with boxing champion Tyson Fury and has his eye on that big (and big-money) challenge. And who can blame him for that.
The UFC uses all types of data to see how popular their fighters are. They use online data, search engine data, social media data. It seems Ngannou does not move the ppv needle as much as he thinks he does to deserve a industry changing contract.
The UFC for their part, if they chose to let Ngannou leave, would have a few options available.
1 – Stipe vs Gane for the HW Title
2 – A small tournament – Maybe Stipe – Gane – Jon Jones and Derrick Lewis in a 4 man 2 night tourney?
3 – get crazy and mix in a 1 yearlong 8-man tournament – fought over 4 ppv cards in the year – first 2 cards get 2 fights each – the late summer – fall card gets the next 2 fights, and the last ppv of the year gets the finals. Now you would mix in the 4 previously mentioned fighters with 4 others in the top 10, maybe 3 in the top 10 and maybe throw in an undefeated newcomer in as a long shot. You bill it as the biggest tournament in MMA History.
When Stipe had the belt, he was showing up and NBA games, MLB games, NFL games, TV commercials, he seemed to be ever present in our crazy lives. Jon Jones is not yet at heavyweight but he refuses to let mma fans forget about him regardless. But Ngannou disappears from public view between his fights, he is not popping up on our TVs every weekend during other sports events, he is not popping up on our social media very often, he becomes invisible, and that is not something you can do if you want to be the highest paid fighter in the UFC.
And Ngannou might make more money in a smaller promotion and be permitted to live out his dream of boxing, and set up his family for generations, and that is a wonderful opportunity. But the UFC will be fine as well, they will be just fine without Ngannou.