Francis Ngannou was confused to hear certain comments from promoters during his free agency.
How does the saying go? Promoters are going to promote. From Ngannou’s perspective, that’s exactly what Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship (BKFC) President, David Feldman, and ONE Championship Founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Chatri Sityodtong, did when discussing his free agency.
The former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight champion officially signed with Professional Fighters League (PFL) this week (Tues., May 16, 2023). Before that, there were alleged discussions with BKFC and ONE that went nowhere and were never close to materializing. According to Ngannou, however, BKFC wasn’t even in contact with him at any point despite Feldman claiming that the free agent had demanded “unrealistic money.”
“I just think he assumed that I’m so expensive, obviously because he had to take a loan on his house to put on a show, I think he assumed that loan couldn’t pay me, because I never spoke to him. My team never spoke to him,” Ngannou told The MMA Hour. “When I saw his comment, I was like, ‘Where is this guy coming from?’ Then I checked my phone, I called my team, like, ‘Did somebody talk to this guy that I’m not aware of?’ And everyone ... was like, ‘No, we haven’t talked with this guy.’ So I don’t know where this came from. That’s why I didn’t talk about it. This guy is just a joke.
“At some point, he was promoting his show, his event,” he continued. “He’s going to do anything to get a little bit of PR here and there, anything he can do. But I never talked to that guy, we never asked him anything, and he never even reached out. Not to say we were interested — we weren’t — but he never even reached out, so he didn’t know if we were interested. That’s why I say some promoters out there, two-faced. Crazy stuff.”
Unlike Feldman and BKFC, Ngannou at least spoke with Sityodtong and ONE. The promotion’s frontman openly shared his intent to possibly bring in “The Predator” ahead of ONE’s United States debut, ONE Fight Night 10, in Denver, Colorado. Ultimately, the whole experience was a little too much show for Heavyweight’s finest.
“I think Chatri was just performing,” Ngannou said. “... I told him and Matt Hume that I got the best offer from PFL and I don’t think, I’m not going to do any negotiation with you guys. That was like back, six weeks before that [meeting in Los Angeles]. And he was like, ‘Oh, I can fly you to Singapore, I can fly to Cameroon! I got this!’ He was all in. I was like, this is too much. I don’t know how to handle this. How are you going to fly to Cameroon? What for? I just told the guy the situation and then he kept pushing. Then I sent it to my team, ‘I can’t handle this pressure from Chatri.’ Then he kept pushing, kept pushing. ... So I have to see him, for respect. We had a talk, I respect the guy. Matter of fact, I love Chatri. Before this, I was like, I like this guy, I like his story. Now I even question if that story is true. But I used to love that story.
“So we met in L.A. and I was just upfront before anything started. ‘Listen, this is the thing. I have told you this. I’m favoring PFL right now.’ Then he was like, ‘Why did you get me here?’ I’m like, ‘To listen. First of all, I respect you. And even if I sign with PFL, someday comes that you say, I want to meet you, Francis. You didn’t say that you want to meet me on business. You were with my team, talking business, and then you said you want to meet me. So sounds like it’s not business anymore, right?’
“So then he starts to show me all this stuff, screenshots — I think he showed me 13 screenshots — all these statistics how ONE FC is the second-most viewed in the sport,” he continued. “He has more views on YouTube than Premiere League, than NFL, than NBA,” Ngannou continued. “He has a lot of those. I’m like, hold on a minute. Anyway, that was the whole meeting. At some point I was like, OK, it’s good, I respect this guy, and I took this meeting, I don’t want to be rude, but I was just coming out of an 11-hour flight and I had another flight to take to go back home. I thought it would be like a one-hour [meeting], and I find myself over two hours. I have to drink three or four cups of coffee, listening to all those statistics, how ONE FC is in Asia, Asia is 4.6 billion people, they’re going to do this, they showed me how ONE FC is going to explode, I’m going to be like Nelson Mandela. Bro, it was a hell of a performance. I applaud Chatri for his performance.”
Ngannou is expected to make his PFL debut in 2024, leading many to believe his return to action will still be his desired professional boxing debut. Outside of the cage, Ngannou will remain busy as he fills brand ambassador and roster development roles for PFL. He last fought in Jan. 2022, earning his lone title defense against Ciryl Gane via a unanimous decision (watch highlights).
Despite any games that may have been played throughout his roughly five-month free agency, Ngannou has no vitriol towards names like Feldman or Sityodtong (especially the latter).
“I was respectful. ... You have a guy you admire and was talking, even though you weren’t in, you were listening,” Ngannou said. “I was listening, I gave the time. ... We talked. Nice. Then next day, Andrew sent me a screenshot of ONE FC decided to withdraw their offer. I’m like, which offer are you talking about? The offer wasn’t taken in consideration. You can’t withdraw an offer that wasn’t taken. ‘Not financially related, I just didn’t feel the energy.’ Really? You sit there and speak for three hours, and you didn’t feel the energy? You could have cut that meeting at any time.
“I know that at the end of the day, I’m going to come out and I’m going to call him out if he does something in that regard. If he lied, I’m going to call him out along the way. That’s why the next day I started seeing, he switched on his own. It went from ‘withdraw’ to ‘Francis was asking too much.’ How do you withdraw a deal that somebody was asking too much? Which one is it? Which one is the truth? It can’t be both together.
“I saw that and that’s when I thought, ‘Oh, this guy’s a performer,’” he concluded. “That’s when I put out the tweet, ‘Some of those promoters out there, they are two-faced.’ But at least for Chatri, I spoke with him. I can’t deny that. I spoke with him, I met him in person, we exchanged text messages, but this guy David Feldman, I don’t know that guy.”