After defeating Stipe Miocic in March 2021, Ngannou opted to take some time off from competing. Intending to return in the fall, Ngannou was surprised to find out that the UFC booked an interim heavyweight title fight between contenders Derrick Lewis and Ciryl Gane at UFC 265.
“I have that feeling [I’m being disrespected],” Ngannou told GQ. “Just recently, they gave me the UFC heavyweight champion, and months later, they’re talking about someone else being the champion. Sometimes I’m not even sure if I’m really the champ or not. It’s really confusing.”
“I think it was all business, and the UFC wanted to do a pay-per-view in Houston,” Ngannou explained. “It wasn’t the right timing for me, but they wanted to do it no matter what. Just before that, they were asking me if I was ready to fight in September, and I told them I’d be more than ready.
“Then, suddenly, we just saw they had an interim title…I don’t know what truly happened. It’s all from the UFC’s end. They will be the only ones who know what happened.”
In an interview, Dana White said that if Ngannou didn’t want to fight, it was “no problem.”
“If you [Francis Ngannou] don’t want to fight, no problem. You can wait and go around the world on vacation. Whatever you do, knock yourself out. Whenever you’re ready, we’re here,” said White.
Dana White expressed similar sentiments when speaking to ESPN in regards to Ngannou’s future with the UFC after his scheduled championship bout with Gane at UFC 270 in January.
“Look, if you want to be with us, we’d love to have you if you don’t want to be with us, no problem. It’s all good,” White told ESPN. “I think his contract, and this is off the top of my head if he wins, he still has time with us after this fight. He’d probably have one more fight.”
If Ngannou successfully defends his heavyweight title, he would likely remain under contract with the UFC per the ‘champion’s clause.’ This allows the UFC to extend a fighter’s contract for as long as the athlete is a champion in his or her weight class. Preventing the fighter from financially benefiting from his or her championship status by soliciting competing bids from other organizations.
“These things happen. Sometimes you don’t always come to terms with people,” White said before taking a jab at Ngannou’s management team. “When you’re a fighter, you have to be careful who represents you. I don’t think he’s had the best representation.”
This certainly adds another layer of intrigue to the heavyweight showdown scheduled for January 22. Should Ngannou retain his title, he would likely remain under contract with the UFC, a contract he is no longer satisfied with.
Should Gane emerge victoriously, it is possible we could see Ngannou take his services elsewhere.