Former UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou has signed a major multi-fight contract with the Professional Fighters League, he and the organization jointly announced on Tuesday.
Ngannou (17-3), 36, is expected to make his PFL debut on a pay-per-view in 2024 against an opponent to be announced. He’s also dying for a professional boxing match, which his new contract with the PFL allows for. Ngannou fought for his UFC contract until 2022 to become one of the greatest free agents in MMA history.
“The PFL is pleased to announce its groundbreaking strategic partnership with Francis Ngannou, the greatest heavyweight fighter on the planet,” PFL CEO Peter Murray said in a statement. “Ngannou will lead the PFL’s star-studded PPV Super Fight Division, serve on the PFL’s Global Athlete Advisory Board and serve as Chairman and shareholder of PFL Africa.”
Ngannou was born in Cameroon and now fights in Las Vegas. He has long had an interest in the development of African talent in martial arts and athletics in general. The PFL intends to launch multiple leagues on different continents in the coming years, with the PFL Africa expected as early as 2025. The PFL Europe was launched earlier this year.
In January, UFC President Dana White announced that Ngannou would rise as the heavyweight champion and would step down from further contract negotiations after more than a year of failed talks. White said the UFC offered Ngannou a deal that would have made him the highest-paid heavyweight in the company’s history.
During this time, Ngannou made it clear in numerous interviews that non-financial issues, including contract length and overall athlete health care, stalled talks with the UFC. Had Ngannou re-signed with the UFC, he would have faced arguably the greatest fighter of all time in Jon Jones. Jones won Ngannou’s vacant title in March by subduing Ciryl Gane at UFC 285.
Ngannou has not fought since defending his heavyweight title against Gane in January 2022. He was expected to sit out the remainder of 2022 regardless of his contract situation due to a knee injury.
“A lot of credit has to be given to Francis,” said Marquel Martin, Ngannou’s former manager who still serves in an advisory capacity and runs a brand management firm. “Most of the fighters couldn’t go through what he went through last year. He understands his value and has been extremely patient to get to this point. Now not only is he the best heavyweight in the world, but he has a deal that is second to none and will set him up for life.”
Despite Jones’ win at UFC 285, Ngannou is virtually universally ranked as the No. 1 heavyweight in the world. He holds notable KO wins over Stipe Miocic, Jairzinho Rozenstruik, Junior Dos Santos, Cain Velasquez, Curtis Blaydes and Alistair Overeem.
Born into extreme poverty, Ngannou eventually immigrated to Paris where he began his martial arts career. He only fought professionally for two years before signing with the UFC in 2015.
Over the past two years, Ngannou has expressed interest and has been linked to possible boxing matches against the likes of Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder. But nothing concrete has come about.
Among Ngannou’s most likely opponents in the current PFL heavyweight roster is a name like former PFL champion Bruno Cappelozza. The PFL could also seek another free agent before mid-2024.