June 4, 2023

Cameroonian mixed martial artist Francis Ngannou speaks at a panel at the Bitcoin Conference, Thursday, April 7, 2022, in Miami Beach, Fla.  (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

Francis Ngannou signed a deal with the Professional Fighters League that gives him shares in the company and also allows him to box. (Rebecca Blackwell/Associated Press)

To almost no one’s surprise, former UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou agreed on Tuesday to a promotional deal with the Professional Fighter’s League and will fight for the organization for the first time in 2024. A key part of the deal is that it will allow Ngannou to box, which was a bone of contention in talks with the UFC.

The New York Times, which first reported the deal, reported that Ngannou will hold shares in the PFL and become president of PFL Africa. Born in Cameroon, Ngannou was one of three UFC champions born in Africa, along with middleweight champion Israel Adesanya and former welterweight champion Kamaru Usman.

The PFL has a league format that airs on ESPN and culminates with championship bouts in December in which the winners earn a $1 million prize. However, Ngannou is not expected to compete in the league format. Instead, he’s in the Super Fight division announced back in January when social media star Jake Paul signed with the promotion.

“The last few months have been a really interesting time to understand and see the landscape, but I’m really excited about this deal with the PFL because they basically showed what I expected,” Ngannou told The Times. “They didn’t just show up as a promotion looking for a fighter, but really showed up as a partner who sees more value in you as a person.”

Ngannou said he plans to box this year. None of the big five heavyweights – WBC champ Tyson Fury, WBA-WBO-IBF champ Oleksandr Usyk, former WBC champ Deontay Wilder, former unified champ Anthony Joshua and former unified champ Andy Ruiz – have any fights scheduled. However, they’ve all talked about fighting each other and Wilder and Joshua appear to be close to agreeing to the terms of a fight at the end of the year.

While talks have fallen through, representatives for Fury and Usyk are expected to reopen talks with the aim of competing for the undisputed championship.

None of the other boxing opponents would be particularly lucrative for a fight with Ngannou, who has no professional boxing experience. Conor McGregor was a much bigger star in 2017 when he boxed legendary multi-division champion Floyd Mayweather, who ended a two-year retirement to fight him. McGregor had no boxing experience and was dominated and eventually stopped by Mayweather.

Ngannou entered the ring at Wembley Stadium in London on December 3 after Fury’s last fight, a stoppage of Derek Chisora. That generated buzz, but no substantive conversations were made to make that fight.

Ngannou told The Times that he had important talks with ONE Championship and introductory talks with Bellator and Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship. PFL CEO Peter Murray hailed Ngannou as an iconic fighter and the best in the division. He described the deal to The Times as essentially a partnership.

“This is not an athlete’s deal,” said Murray. “Francis is an icon in the sport today, he’s the best in the world at what he does, but he’s in business with the PFL. We’re in business together.”

Ngannou has not fought since winning a five-round decision over Ciryl Gane at UFC 270 on January 22, 2022 in Anaheim, California. Shortly after that fight, he underwent knee surgery.