All the details on Francis Ngannou's game changing new PFL contract
John S. Nash breaks down how Ngannou's deal not only make him one of the highest paid fighters but also give him an unprecedented level of freedom.
Francis Ngannou has officially signed a multi-fight agreement with the Professional Fighters League, giving them the exclusive right to promote his mixed martial arts matches.
This probably comes as little surprise to most fans as there have been rumors for weeks that he will be signing with the PFL. What may be surprising to some though are the terms of this agreement, which was described to me as unprecedented for MMA.
Multiple sources that had knowledge of his negotiations and the agreement has informed Bloody Elbow that this deal would not only make him one of the highest paid fighters but also give him an almost unheard of level of freedom and favorable terms.
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Some of the more noteworthy features of the deal include:
It is supposedly for only 2 or 3 fights
Guarantees a “high 7-figure” purse for each fight
A split of the events net profits
A signing bonus or salary to serve as a brand ambassador for PFL
The right to have his own sponsors in the cage
Non-exclusive with regards to boxing
No champions clause or other extensions
A minimum salary (possibly as high as $1 million) for his opponent. (Correction: according to Ngannou his opponent will receive a minimum of $2 million.)
The New York Times mentions several additional details that were not shared with me, including that Ngannou’s deal is to be a “strategic partnership,” that gives him equity and leadership roles in the company, including the position of chairman of their expansion inituitive P.F.L. Africa.
Regarding some of the demands Ngannou supposedly has made on behalf other fighters on the roster, including personal sponsorship opportunity, a fighter advocate, and health insurance, I have only been told there have been discussions, but received no further details.
Those familiar with the contents of the deal described it as “an incredible contract for Francis,” that was “more like a top boxer’s contract” than those of other MMA fighters. As for his “high 7-figure” guaranteed purse per fight, there was no info as to how much, if any, would be paid as equity in the company.
(Typically in MMA, when fighters receive a share of a pay-per-view they get a few dollars per buy after it hits a certain number of buys. But much like a top boxer’s, Ngnanou’s deal would call for him to get a large split of not only the pay-per-view, but also ticket sales and other revenues streams after the original expenses had been recouped.)
Ngannou would not be expected to take part in the PFL season or playoff tournament, but instead he would be fighting under the PFL’s PPV Super Fight brand, where he would receive a large share of potential any upside to his matches. His first bout in the promotion would not be until next year, after he had competed in a boxing match.
The PFL has also been vocal regarding plans to eventually host an event on the African continent. Ngannou seems like the perfect name to headline such an event, but I have yet to hear any word that is part of their plan for him.
Ngannou became the first champion to exit the UFC while he still held the title since BJ Penn back in 2004. In large part this was due to the introduction of a termination date (“sunset clause”) into UFC contracts back in 2017 (apparently in response to the ongoing antitrust lawsuit.) Even with extensions for his injuries and the triggering of the champion’s clause, which added 3 additional fights, Francis contract terminated in December of 2022, 5 years after he signed it.
Ngannou had been embroiled in tense contract negotiations with the UFC since winning the title against Stipe Miocic at UFC 260. The major sticking points have apparently been Ngannou’s desire to participate in a boxing match and his demands to not have any options or clauses, including a champion’s clause, that would extend his new deal beyond the original agreed upon fights and duration. The UFC apparently balked at these requests, and a month after his termination date had passed they ended negotiations with him, announcing that he was being “released” and stripped of his UFC heavyweight title.
Ngannou was the first active fighter to take advantage of this termination date, and maybe one of the last, as the UFC appears to have since made changes to their contracts, making it more difficult for other fighters to follow the same course.
Since entering the market several of the biggest boxing promoters have expressed interest in signing Ngannou for a match, but none have yet to materialize. Meanwhile he has had talks with the other major MMA promoters. Both Bellator and ONE have said that they could not come to terms with what he was asking for (although ONE CEO Chatri Sityadong did say they were willing to meet his price of $20 million which would be for two fights in the promotion.)
The PFL apparently does not have the same reservations as these other MMA promotions.
Since Ngannou left the UFC many fans and members of the industry have asked if he has made a mistake. Most have concluded that he will end up not making nearly as much money as he would have with the UFC, who, according to Dana White, offered to make him the highest paid heavyweight in the promotion’s history. Their original offer after he won the title supposedly called for Ngannou to get around $4 million a fight while champion (plus a pay-per-view bonus) and 1/4 that if not holding the title.
Later, around the time he defended at UFC 270, they supposedly upped their offer to $5 million or $6 million a fight while champion, but would not budge regarding some of Ngnanou’s other demands. For their final offer, just before parting ways, they agreed to a shorter, 3-fight deal that would have apparently paid him a similar mid mid-seven figures base (plus a pay-view-bonus) when defending, which would be increased to around $8 million if he fought Jon Jones. A loss though would have cut those payouts to less than half as much.
It is therefore very likely that this UFC offer would have paid more over those three fights than his new PFL deal will, as the Jones fight would have potentially paid him more than $10 million once his pay-per-view bonus was added (and sold as well as most people in the industry assume it would.) That is, it would have paid more as long as he fought Jones and did not lose the title during those three fights.
What the UFC contract did not do is allow for Ngannou to box if the opportunity presented itself. Nor would it allow him to cultivate his own sponsors by allowing him to promote them in the cage. It also contained a champions clause that would have added more fights to the deal if he retained the title. The PFL deal clearly offers more of the freedom and protections that Ngannou has been asking for himself.
It also leaves open the possibility of making much more than his UFC deal, if, by some chance ,the PFL is able to find him an opponent that can sell along the lines as a Jon Jones fight would have. Since the agreement calls for him to be paid an upside on successful events a very successful million buy pay-per-view event would potentially earn Ngannou “tens of million of dollars.” As one person put it, “a Jones fight with this deal would pay him that Deontay Wilder money.”
Looking at the fighters currently available to the PFL such a successful event seems very unlikely as of right now. The PFL, who are intent on producing pay-per-view cards may in fact be counting on word of the deal Ngannou received in order to entice other UFC star attractions to sign with them. They will have a year to do so before his first MMA fight. The value in this agreement for the PFL therefore may lie as much with the message it sends to fans and other fighters as it does in any money his fights can generate for them.
I believe Randy Couture was champion when he left Zuffa in 2007. Obviously that one didn't stick...
Very seldom do you see a done deal and still wonder if it's a good one or not. I'll put this in the "Promising but we'll see" column and praise him for the precedent while awaiting the results.