Francis Ngannou says setting a precedent for UFC fighter care was more important to him than earning a big payday. Ngannou opened up on Tuesday for the first time since his UFC split was announced on Saturday.
UFC president Dana White confirmed at the UFC Fight Night post-fight press conference that Ngannou was a free agent, leading to Jon Jones vs. Ciryl Gane being booked for the vacant heavyweight title at UFC 285 in March. White claimed UFC was waving its exclusive negotiating window and there would be no price matching clause. White accused Ngannou of wanting more money to fight lesser competition, something Ngannou disputes.
Ngannou told "The MMA Hour" on Tuesday that money was not the primary sticking point during his negotiations with UFC. Ngannou asked to have his own sponsors, health insurance and a fighter advocate at UFC board meetings. Ngannou subsequently clarified this was a request he wanted to be applied to all UFC fighters. The UFC, according to Ngannou, shot down all three talking points.
"I felt like I was slapped in the face with money," Ngannou said. "Like, 'Take the money and shut up.' That didn't work for me.
"In that contract, I'm not free, I'm not an independent contractor... I hand over all power to [UFC], and I've seen in the past how you hold that power over me. I don't want that again."
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Ngannou said he was offered around $8 million to fight Jones and to sign a three-fight contract with no extension. He had hoped to fight Jones twice and book a rubber match against former heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic.
"It was a multi-fight deal. It was for three fights," Ngannou said. "They said they would give that exception for me. No extension."
Ngannou said that "a lot of people have reached out" since news of his departure, particularly MMA promotions. Ngannou is hoping to return by July at the latest, most likely in a professional boxing match, and fight a second time by year's end. Despite his contentious relationship with UFC brass, he thanked the promotion for their time and left the door open on a return down the line.
"I am at peace. I did everything right," Ngannou said. "The only that really scares me is regret. It doesn't matter what happened. UFC gave me the platform to showcase and express myself. I'm grateful for that."