Francis Ngannou’s new contract was a big day for MMA fighters if the only lens through which they were viewed was the total dollars that would end up in Ngannou’s bank account.
Ngannou posted a financial windfall on Tuesday when He announced the signing of a promotional agreement with the Professional Fighters League He said he would pay him more than the best UFC show. Ngannou was the UFC heavyweight champion, however The UFC waived his right to a match deal in January, severing ties with him.
The UFC has offered Ngannou $8 million to fight Jon Jones, plus pay-per-view points that could potentially bring his total earnings to nearly $10 million. One of the main problems on Ngannou’s part is what he would have achieved in the UFC deal had he lost to Jones.
Ngannou said Tuesday in announcing his deal that he would make more than the UFC would have paid him, so let’s say it’s $10 million for a fight. So for his next three matches in MMA, under these terms, he will cash out the $30 million – this is significant from his point of view – that the PFL will allow him to box. Ngannou’s surgically-repaired knee is still reluctant, his trainer and close friend, Eric Nixic, tells Yahoo Sports, and he’ll do his boxing match first before fighting in the NFL because boxing reduces wear and tear.
Ngannou has his eyes set on taking on former WBC champion Tyson Fury, former WBC champion Deontay Wilder and former unified champion Anthony Joshua in what is likely to be his only boxing match. He’d be a massive underdog in any of those games, and he’d likely get sent off. But he added another two million to his tally.
He won’t make his PFL debut until mid-2024, when he will be 37 years old. The PFL doesn’t have anyone on their roster that would make a good PPV dance partner for Ngannou. Ante Delija, a PRIDE camper and former UFC fighter Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic, won the 2022 PFL Heavyweight Championship. Ngannou has not been a big seller with his UFC fights against famous opposition and with the undisputed best promoter in combat sports, the UFC, promoting it. Say what you will about the UFC and its controversial president, Dana White, and no honest person can argue that the UFC promotes pay-per-views better than anyone else.
The PFL season 10 tournament is primarily on PPV and, according to multiple sources, has less than 50,000 sales.
Let’s say that when Ngannou is ready to fight in the PFL by mid-summer 2024, he will have to compete with the ongoing UFC PPV shows while facing a relatively unknown opponent. The PFL will have to sign someone with name value and skill to fight it out so it doesn’t take a full bath. He will presumably receive 50 percent of all PPV points, as does influencer Jake Paul who signed with the PFL in January. Having Ngannou and Paul on the same card would give the PFL the best chance of success, but with both fighters getting 50 percent PPV, the PFL can’t do that.
Sources said Bellator paid one-time MMA star Fedor Emelianenko more than $1 million to face Ryan Bader at Bellator 290 in Inglewood, Calif., on Feb. 4, in a show that aired on CBS. California State Athletic Commission records show Emelianenko made $100,000, but it’s often more than what’s listed on the payroll. Bader has said publicly that he made far more than the $150,000 listed by CSAC.
According to the commission, Bellator 290’s live gate of $790,144 did not cover the cost of Emelianenko’s $1 million salary. The attendance at the Great Western Forum that night was 16,459, but tickets sold were only 6,048.
So, even with one of the biggest names in MMA history, the show wasn’t a hit and, of course, lost money. The Bellator was put up for sale and a notable MMA personality not involved in the promotion told Yahoo Sports that “everyone in MMA is trying to get out of the Bellator business, including Bellator.”
This may be a stretch, but not by much. And PFL is pretty much the same. It has been trying to raise capital, seeking up to $300 million from the V.I.G The State of Qatar.
But the PFL didn’t make it at the gate, PPV failed and overpaid in the free market to get mediocre fighters that didn’t affect its bottom line.
The news of Ngannou signing would be huge for all MMA fighters if it indicated that the PFL is financially viable in the long run. It must be able to fulfill the ability to regularly draw in a large share of the best fighters in the world in order to get depth in its cards and elite opponents for its biggest stars.
If the PFL is solvent and goes head-to-head with the UFC for the best fighters and, most importantly, the biggest stars and potential stars, Tuesday’s news changes the outlook for all MMA fighters, not just Ngannou.
At this point, though, that is not the case. Neither Bellator nor Championship One. They all have good fighters – I like Bellator’s Vadim Nemkov as a fighter and think he can make noise in the UFC – but they lack depth and have to overpay massively for the few big names they get.
Nexic said that part of Ngannou’s interest in the deal with the PFL was his desire to be allowed to start the PFL Africa initiative. The PFL will allow Ngannou to try and develop talent from African countries and hopefully sign these fighters to its roster.
“Francis is very excited about this part of the deal,” Niksic said.
It is undoubtedly a noble gesture on the part of Ngan’u. But when starting PFL Africa, it will have to compete with the UFC which plans to build a performance institute on the continent with the same goal, which is to develop elite talents from the region and bring them into the UFC.
The deal is good for Ngannou, no doubt, and any time a fighter who risks his life any time he steps into the ring gets a big score, it’s cool.
But it won’t change the game dramatically unless the PFL, or one of its other competitors, shows that it can be financially solvent and attract elite fighters.
That and only will determine if this is a red letter day in MMA history for his hard working fighters or if it is just cause for celebration at Ngannou’s house.