On Saturday night, for the first time in almost a year, UFC world heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou enters the octagon. The UFC 270 main event in Anaheim, California will mark his first title defense since capturing the belt in March 2021. His challenger is interim champion Cyril Gane.
If the almost year layoff between fights wasn’t enough, Ngannou has also had to deal with an ongoing contract dispute with the UFC throughout training camp. The relationship seems to have soured and Ngannou has claimed that Saturday could be the final time we see him in the UFC. Where this gets tricky lies in the result of the fight. If Ngannou loses, he would become a free agent following a 90-day exclusivity period. However, if he retains he will activate a clause in his contract that keeps him in the UFC for at least one more year or three more fights. Ngannou says the latter result would lead to a holdout until the contract dispute was resolved. While he says at one point he remained hopeful on a resolution, his mindset has changed as the tension appears to have mounted.
“I just let them go and we will see how it plays out. I’ve been hoping for so long, the past two years or more. At this point I don’t really know. A lot of things fell apart and I don’t really know exactly what to say,” says Ngannou. “I just wanna make sure that regardless I will be good.”
Despite the distractions, Ngannou has remained confident leading up to his title fight. He says the UFC 270 main event will end decisively in his favor, the same way 12 of his 16 career wins have, by knockout.
“They can expect the main event to end in an explosive way, by a knockout under the first two rounds,” he tells Complex over the phone.
In the lead up to his latest title defense, the world champion also recently kicked off a partnership with Gymshark. The campaign is a nod to his journey from the sand mines in Cameroon to MMA’s biggest stage and the community of supporters that has been with him along the way.
“Gymshark respects my journey in becoming the athlete that I am today and they want to inspire others and I hope to be an inspiration for those who follow me, especially people from my home country and the kids in Africa,” says Ngannou. “They care about what I care about. We share the same values. We are all about community.”
We caught up with Ngannou ahead of this weekend’s big fight to discuss his relationship with the UFC, if he wants to step into the boxing ring with Tyson Fury, why Bitcoin is the future, and more.
(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Is it still kind of surreal for you to look back on the journey that you’ve gone through in your life and see where you’ve gotten now as a main eventer, a UFC champion, and an inspiration to so many people?
Sometimes it seems surreal, but at the end of the day, it feels very real because I always dreamed about it. I always believed that it was gonna happen even when I was there. I didn’t just get here by mistake. I dreamed about it my whole life and believed in it, so it made it feel a little real even though it wasn’t real at the time. I imagined it in my mind for so long that it feels like I’ve been here already.
“They can expect the main event to end in an explosive way, by a knockout under the first two rounds.”
Focusing on the fight you have coming up this weekend, can you just talk a little bit about your opponent, Cyril Gane. What do you expect from him? How do you see the fight playing out on Saturday?
Knowing that he’s a striker, a very good striker for a heavyweight, very agile, the strategy is just to stop him, make him feel uncomfortable, put pressure on him anytime and get him open so you can put him to sleep.
He won the interim title this past summer. As the champion yourself, was any part of you offended that that interim title fight took place? Has that been any sort of extra motivation for you leading up to this weekend’s matchup?
I would not say extra motivation. But yeah, I was offended because that wasn’t a legit interim title. That was just leverage to pressure me. The UFC did the interim title for that reason. So, I do not recognize that.
Leading up to the fight, there’s also been a lot of talk on your contract and your future with the UFC following the fight. What do you hope your future is with the UFC?
Well, at this point I really stopped hoping. I just let them go and we will see how it plays out. I’ve been hoping for so long, the past two years or more. At this point I don’t really know. A lot of things fell apart and I don’t really know exactly what to say. I just wanna make sure that regardless I will be good.
It seems like at least part of that issue with your contract is pay. So I’m just gonna ask you point blank. Do you feel that fighters in the UFC are paid fairly today?
It seems like it’s just about the pay, but it’s about way more than the pay. It’s the contract, the terms, it’s everything about that contract. For me, it is not fair because it doesn’t commit the UFC with any type of responsibility. It’s way more beyond the pay. But I will just speak for myself, yes, I’m not fairly paid.
You’ve also been expressing a lot of interest in boxing. Can we expect Francis Ngannou’s next fight to be in a boxing ring?
That’s something that could happen. As for now, I don’t know the exact state of my situation with the UFC. But yeah, I will more than likely do something like that.
One of the people I’ve seen you go back and forth with on social media is Tyson Fury. Obviously, if you two met up in the ring that would be a really big fight. Is that something that actually interests you? Would you like to get in the ring with Tyson Fury? Is there another opponent that you would love to take on in a boxing match?
Well, if you’ve been on social media, as you said, you might know by now that yes, it’s something that interests me. [Laughs] Because even on social media, I was down for it. I’m definitely down for it with not only Tyson Fury, but other fighters like Deontay Wilder and Anthony Joshua. I’m down for those.
What are your thoughts on boxing right now in general? Floyd Mayweather having these exhibitions, guys like Tyron Woodley fighting Jake Paul. What are your overall thoughts on the status of boxing at the moment?
Boxing is not suffering from anything. I think the exhibitions, people need that. It has always existed and will always keep going. So I have no problem with that. I don’t think it takes anything away from real boxing at all.
Another aspect of your career I wanted to touch on real quick is, I know you made a cameo in the new Jackass movie coming out next month. Do you have any interest in exploring more opportunities in movies or acting? Is there anything else outside of fighting that you wanna try out in the future?
Well, with time, we’re gonna see how things play out, but I don’t wanna lose focus. For right now, I’m fighting. Maybe in the future, or when I’m retired from fighting, I can really get into that. But for now I’m focusing on fighting.
How was your experience with the guys on set? Was that a fun experience for you?
It was a nervous experience because those people do a lot of crazy shit and it’s very scary. When you see it on TV, you don’t really realize that is the truth. But it is exactly how they do it. It’s true.
How can fans expect the main event of UFC 270 to end on Saturday night?
They can expect the main event to end in an explosive way, by a knockout under the first two rounds.
You have a partnership right now with Gymshark and part of the campaign is highlighting the importance of community. Can you talk about that campaign real quick and why community is such an important thing for you?
I have a foundation, which is a place where kids can go to be together with other kids, train, share a moment since they don’t have a lot of things to do after school. They have basically nothing recreational to do after school. So we have that as a community for them to make every kid feel part of something and not alone out there being attracted by some dangerous stuff. That’s part of the community that we have out there. And far as the Gymshark campaign, it embodies that philosophy because their campaign is all about community. The brand is about socializing, getting together, supporting all this stuff by doing fitness and sports. That’s why it’s a good fit for me.