Francis Ngannou shook up the sport when he relinquished the UFC heavyweight title so he could test free agency, and he sent tremors once again after signing a first-of-its-kind deal with the PFL.
The contract, which PFL CEO Peter Murray has called the “most lucrative” deal in MMA, not only allows Ngannou the freedom to pursue a boxing match on his own terms but he gets equity in the company, a seat on the PFL’s athlete advisory board and he becomes the chairman of PFL Africa. Those kinds of concessions were considerations the UFC would have likely never given Ngannou, which was a huge part of the reason he sought to exit the promotion in the first place.
“It wasn’t about the money,” UFC Hall of Famer and current PFL color commentator Randy Couture told MMA Fighting. “The money the UFC was throwing at him was pretty good on the grand scale of what’s going on in our sport.
“It was about these other things and the PFL was happy to step up and make it more worth Francis’ while, to give him a voice, to make him part of the athlete’s advisory board, to make him the chairman of the PFL on the continent where he grew up. I think those were all huge factors for our sport.”
Couture knows from personal experience what it’s like to go to battle with the UFC over a contract when he tried to put together a fight on his own against former PRIDE heavyweight champion Fedor Emelianenko. The matchup never came together and Couture eventually finished his career in the UFC but he’s never stopped wishing that the fighters could eventually maintain more power when negotiating with the promotions.
While Ngannou may be a unicorn when it comes to the leverage he possessed as UFC heavyweight champion when he reached free agency, Couture sees this as a perfect sign that change is possible on a grander scale.
“It’s definitely a step in the right direction,” Couture said. “Hats off to the PFL. Obviously, I’ve enjoyed working with them for the last five years in this new format in the sport of mixed martial arts. I love the meritocracy of it.
“The money that Francis is getting, Kayla [Harrison] and so many others that are getting paid very, very well and taken care of very, very well and they have a voice with the athlete’s advisory board and how they’re regulated. Nowhere else in the sport are you seeing those things. Those are the things that Francis was trying to fight for with the UFC. They weren’t willing to work with him on that.”
When it comes to money, Ngannou not only secured a massive paycheck as part of his deal with the PFL but he did the same thing for any potential opponents.
As Ngannou first revealed when announcing the signing, he stated that the PFL agreed to pay his opponents a minimum of a $2 million payday, which is likely more guaranteed money than almost every other heavyweight is earning across the sport regardless of promotion.
Add to that, Ngannou isn’t set to debut in the PFL until mid-2024 so that could give a lot of high-profile heavyweights the time to potentially test free agency to seek out that fight with life changing money attached to it.
“I think it’s definitely going to get the attention of a lot of guys in the division,” Couture said. “Certainly, if they’re looking at free agency in the very near future [they have to consider it].
“Just like those million dollar checks did that first season in the [PFL] finals, six new millionaires walking out of the arena that night and some of them had fought for a long time and never got that kind of money. Some would probably fight their whole career and never see that kind of money.”
Of course, Couture still advocates for the heavyweights currently on the PFL roster to earn consideration as Ngannou’s first opponent as well.
But Couture knows the opportunity that Ngannou has presented should have a lot of heavyweights thinking about the future, especially if free agency is within striking range.
“I think you’re crazy if you don’t [consider it],” Couture said. “I think [the guaranteed money] definitely speaks volumes, and at the end of the day, it’s about taking care of the fighters.
“Doing this other stuff that Francis fought for and stood up for, that shines a light on some of the disparaging things in our sport that need to be fixed, and we’re headed in that direction hopefully.”