What's going on with UFC's heavyweight division after Ngannou's exit?

Francis Ngannou called Dana White’s bluff and departed the company in search of Tyson Fury, now the UFC boss has turned to exiled Jon Jones of all people! What’s going on with UFC’s heavyweight division after being left in limbo for TWO years

  • Heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou recently walked away from the UFC
  • He turned down one of the most lucrative deals in ‘the history of the company’ 
  • His departure may finally clear up the organisation’s heavyweight division
  • Veteran Jon Jones has announced his return to the UFC in a bout with Ciryl Gane 
  • Whereas Ngannou may face off with British boxer Tyson Fury in a crossover bout

Jon Jones sat out of the UFC for over three years because of pay. Francis Ngannou now departs the UFC as the heavyweight champion of the world, and the crux of his reasoning also lies in pay.

The heavyweight division has been in a state of flux over the past three years. Jones was last seen in an octagon successfully defending his UFC light heavyweight title against Dominick Reyes, by the thinnest of margins.

He vacated the title and moved up to heavyweight shortly after, following nearly a decade of dominance at 205lbs.

Francis Ngannou’s departure from the UFC has left the heavyweight division in a state of limbo

UFC president Dana White claimed Ngannou was offered a lucrative deal to stay with UFC

Ngannou would win the heavyweight title in February 2021 with a savage knockout of Stipe Miocic, commonly regarded as one of, if not the greatest heavyweight champion in the promotion’s history.

Immediately, mouths began to water at the prospect of Jones, a man easily in the conversation for the greatest mixed martial artist ever, and Ngannou, a man who has recorded the most powerful punch in the world, colliding.

At his peak, Jones is a force of nature that no opponent could find a way to stifle. Similarly, Ngannou has that lights-out power that makes him so exciting to watch.

As UFC boss Dana White once proudly revealed: ‘His punches are equivalent to 96 horsepower. That’s equal to getting hit by a Ford Escort going as fast as it can and it’s more powerful than a 12-pound sledgehammer from full force overhead. Holy s***.’

Ngannou had been a six-fight win-streak before choosing to step away from the organisation

A bout between Ngannou and UFC veteran Jon Jones (pictured) had been tipped for 2023

Understandably, both competitors wanted career-defining compensation for one of the most tantalising UFC bouts of all-time. White condemned Jones’ request for ‘Deontay Wilder money’, referencing the £25 million he made for his third fight with Tyson Fury.

As a result, the heavyweight division laboured. Ngannou managed just one defence of his crown with a decision victory over the talented Cyril Gane in January 2022. Once it emerged he would need surgery on his knee, it became apparent his UFC career could be over.

Not as a result of the injury, of course. Ngannou was only still contracted to UFC because he was the champion and that automatically locked him in for another year. 

His deal would have been up at the beginning of 2022 otherwise, but the gold around his waist only brought UFC another 12 months that they failed to use to keep one of their prized assets.

Dana White has told me on record that UFC have a history of keeping fighters they really want to. So what happened here?

The Cameroonian made just one defence of his heavyweight title – against Ciryl Gane

White says Ngannou’s contract offer surpassed record-figures set with Brock Lesnar’s deal

‘We offered Francis a deal that would’ve made him the highest paid heavyweight in the history of the company – more than (Brock) Lesnar, more than anybody – and he turned the deal down,’ White told reporters at the UFC Fight Night 217 post-fight news conference.

‘We get to this point, and I’ve told you guys this before, if you don’t want to be here, you don’t have to be here. I think Francis is in a place right now where he doesn’t want to take a lot of risks. He feels he’s in a good position where he can fight lesser opponents and make more money.’

The Predator has been linked to a boxing bout with Tyson Fury and even got in the ring after his victory over Dillian Whyte at Wembley Stadium last April. Boxing is Ngannou’s first love, but even Conor McGregor knew that to really make his fortune, he’d have to crossover into a boxing ring.

Ngannou knows the same thing. Fury is one of the biggest names in the sport today and putting the unbeaten heavyweight king against the UFC heavyweight champion who never lost the belt – and happens to pack the hardest punch in the world – is the recipe for a successful pay-per-view. Even if it’s not in the same world as McGregor’s dance with Floyd Mayweather.

Ngannou and British boxer Tyson Fury have teased a potential crossover bout between them

UFC star Conor McGregor previously transcended sports after fighting Floyd Mayweather

The only issue with banking on fighting Fury is predicting what the Gypsy King will do. Will he have another flirt with WWE? Almost certainly at their Money in the Bank PPV at The O2 in July. 

Is he busy taking ‘real’ fights? Yes, he’s almost certainly fighting Oleksandr Usyk in March. Would he make more money fighting Anthony Joshua? Again, almost certainly. Might he retire again? Absolutely!

After waiting on Ngannou and his next move, which in turn held up Jones’ heavyweight debut, UFC have finally made their next move. A bulkier, more dangerous Jones will finally make his heavyweight bow against Ngannou’s last UFC foe, Gane. A defeat which is the only one on the Frenchman’s resumé.

Miocic, who had long lobbied for a trilogy fight with Ngannou (he defeated the monstrous Cameroonian the first time they met) and also called out Jones in the interim, has already said he will fight the winner of the Jones and Gane showdown on March 4.

French heavyweight Ciryl Gane is set to face off with Jon Jones in a bout for the title belt

So UFC have lost the revolving part of their slew of blockbuster heavyweight matchups and, judging by White’s comments, bitterly so. But, with the sad loss of Ngannou, Jones comes in from the cold and picks quite possibly the next most-dangerous heavyweight available to make his bow – a fascinating prospect.

Elsewhere at heavyweight, England’s Tom Aspinall had been surging towards title contention before suffering a torn MCL, torn meniscus and damaged ACL during the last UFC London event.

Tai Tuivasa is another young heavyweight that has captured the imagination of the fans, but successive knockout losses to Gane and then Sergei Pavlovich – another promising name in the division – means he has some more work to do to crack the upper echelon.

English heavyweight Tom Aspinall had been on the rise prior to damaging his ACL last year

For a man that holds all the cards in the MMA world, White was led on by Ngannou and was then left to run back to his resident PR headache, Jones. 

Who, ironically, spent most of his time on the sidelines not making White money because the UFC boss wouldn’t pay him to fight Ngannou.

Perhaps Ngannou will have beaten White at his own game if he gets the massive payday with Fury, but his legacy won’t be the same without the Jones fight when it was right there for all parties. And for that, everyone deserves a share of the blame.

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