The UFC's heavyweight champion has made a shocking claim about the promotion after his fight with Cyril Gane
UFC heavyweight ruler Francis Ngannou has claimed that the elite MMA promotion threatened to sue his agent for holding talks with the business partner of YouTube prankster Jake Paul just hours before he fought Cyril Gane on Saturday.
In the first defense of the crown he won by knocking out Stipe Miocic in 2021, Ngannou earned plaudits for his wrestling skills on the way to a unanimous decision over former friend Gane in the headline bout at UFC 270 in Anaheim.
Going against usual tradition amid a contract and pay dispute, however, president Dana White refused to put the belt around the champion's waist with the Cameroonian revealing further details on the extent of the row to the MMA Hour on Monday.
According to the 35-year-old, he was getting dressed to head to the Honda Center when agent Marquel Martin - who also received an unverified racist text on the same evening - told Ngannou that the UFC had sent an email threatening to sue.
The grounds for the legal action, says Ngannou, were that the Creative Artists Agency's Martin had allegedly discussed the prospect of Ngannou crossing over to boxing with Nakisa Bidarian, who is Paul's business partner, while still under a UFC contract.
"I walked into the room waiting for my manager, my coach," Ngannou began. "And they were like, 'Wow.' I'm like, 'What's going on?' They told me they just received an email from the UFC saying they're going to sue [Martin] for talking with this guy, Nakisa. Yeah. I'm like, 'Who is Nakisa?'"
And while Ngannou admitted to talking about boxing with a number of people, he claims that he "wouldn't recognize" Nakisa - a former UFC chief financial officer and current adviser to Paul as well as the co-founder of his Most Valuable Promotions firm - "if you put him in front of me".
Going into the fight as an underdog with some Vegas bookies, Ngannou would have been a free agent had he lost to Gane.
Through his masterclass with a torn right MCL and damaged ACL, however, a "champions clause" automatically kicked in meaning he is now under a new contract with the UFC for an additional year or three fights.
Ngannou is prepared to hold out for a full 365 days rather than compete in the octagon again, where he receives $600,000 per fight, yet his motives for this aren't entirely financial given that he says he has turned down around $7 million as accepting such a proposal would have meant putting on more fights for White.
Above all, Ngannou wishes to stay with the UFC but also make a simultaneous foray into boxing where his counterpart Tyson Fury is interested in taking him on, which is something that the MMA promotion has never allowed its fighters to do with the exception of Conor McGregor's one-off against Floyd Mayweather in 2017.
"The term of the contract, everything that they put into, they hold you in captivity," said Ngannou, who seeks his freedom as the independent contractor that UFC athletes are legally classed as.
"You can't do anything. You have no rights. The contract is one-sided, although you still don't have nothing. You don't even have health insurance, even while you're putting your body on the line to provide to put on the show.
"You're risking everything. There's a lot of things. We have no insurance. Nothing. No guarantee, which I understand as an independent contractor, but treat me as such, if I am. Whether I'm going to be an employee or an independent contractor, make it very clear in the contract. It's very mixed up."
"That's probably the thing that I hated most about this, how they hold all the cards, the power to just destroy you," Ngannou said later on. "As soon as you don't say yes, they just take you down.
"There's something wrong with me with those kind of things, that I just can't take it."
His future now up in the air, Ngannou said that nobody from the UFC has reached out to either him or Martin as per his new contract with them.
"It doesn't look like they want to talk to me anymore," he said on this, while stating at another point in the chat that the latest offers were "not a good deal for me".
"More money, but it didn't carry any of the things that I have [asked for]... not really, not at all.
"The money was tempting, it was good, but this is not just about money. By this point, I think it's a lot more than just money. At this moment, it's more than money. Just money cannot fix this situation. I don't believe that."
"Even when they're trying to reach out for a deal, they came out with a good amount of money, but at this point that doesn't even matter," Ngannou elaborated.
"I left all that down on the table. I'm taking my $600,000, I'm going there, I'm doing this and I'm winning everything.
"I left a lot more on the table. Overall, I've been leaving a lot of money on the table even since the Stipe fight. By now, I might be down $7 million that I left on the table, but I'm still happy with my $600,000, because I still fight for what I care for.
"This is the thing. Freedom doesn't work with money. You give up one for [the other]. Whether you want freedom, whether you want money. You give up one to gain one," he concluded.