MMA/UFC

Francis Ngannou details breakdown with Dana White, says White’s ‘ego’ accusation ‘an excuse’

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Francis Ngannou details breakdown with Dana White, says White’s ‘ego’ accusation ‘an excuse’
Photo by Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC

Former UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou believes his fallout with UFC President Dana White stems from his desire to control his contract.

Five years before he ran out his UFC deal to become the sport’s highest-profile free agent, Ngannou said he was preparing to fight for the UFC belt against Stipe Miocic when he clashed with White.

“It was before the Stipe fight, because I negotiated,” Ngannou said Tuesday on The MMA Hour. “My last contract was negotiated at that moment. It took me almost three years to figure out what was the problem, but I think the problem was because during negotiations, I said something to Dana White.

“I completely [made a] mistake. I didn’t know what I meant at that time, but I think he felt threatened by that when I said, ‘Doesn’t matter, we can make a deal for this fight, we just focus on the Stipe fight,’ because I was making that deal like six weeks before the fight, and they were pushing me, and I didn’t even have time to find a manager. Then I’m like, ‘OK, I will do it on my own.’ And then, sitting there with him, I’m like, ‘Let’s just focus on this one. We can negotiate after every fight.’

“I think that was the thing that I said to Dana, and you shouldn’t say something like that to somebody like Dana White.”

When they first met, Ngannou said he talked himself up in a way that White found endearing. But when he referenced their first interaction later as contract negotiations stalled, White had reinterpreted his behavior.

“I first met Dana in Denver with [the Andrei] Arlovski [fight in 2017],” Ngannou said. “I couldn’t even speak English properly. But I tried to say to Dana, ‘When I get the belt, I’d like to go to France in the private jet.’ And he said, ‘You get it, my man.’ At that time, Dana was all Francis.

“So when I was going to fight Stipe, I think on the fight week, I saw him, but he was already pissed. I didn’t know that, but he was already pissed. Then I said, ‘Get that jet ready, my man,’ which is what we talked about. It was a promise.

“So when you say, [you mean] ‘Get that jet ready’ – get that jet that we talked about. I don’t see any ego in that. That couldn’t be a problem. That wasn’t a problem. That was an excuse.”

Ngannou went on to lose his first title shot against Miocic, smothered by the defending champ’s wrestling. He then lost to Derrick Lewis in an action-free snoozer that White immediately panned. Among the UFC exec’s criticisms was a claim that Ngannou’s ego had gotten out of control.

Ngannou said he did his best to understand what had gone wrong with White, gathering as much information as he could to figure out his role in the deteriorating partnership. Eventually, though, he boiled it down to his contract demand.

“I was ignoring it – I didn’t know what happened. Then, when time goes by, I have some information. I talked with them, with Hunter, they told me how Dana is mad about me, and why he’s mad, and what he said. Then after period of time, I collected all the information, and that was the only thing that could have been the cause.

“Because I tried, for the next two years, I tried to figure out what really happened. I felt really bad, like, ‘OK, I’m mistaken somewhere, I did something wrong.’ I tried to figure it out. We even asked for a meeting to go meet Dana at his office with [my then-agent] Marquel [Martin], and asked what happened, and [White] never said exactly what happened. I was busting my head for nothing until I found out exactly what it was.”

As his 2017 contract neared its end – the result of a five-year sunset clause inserted into UFC contracts amid an ongoing anti-trust lawsuit – there would be no confusion over the promotion’s unhappiness with its heavyweight champ. Ngannou said the UFC simply wanted him to sign the deal it wanted, and wasn’t willing to entertain any other concessions.

Ngannou said after fulfilling the final bout of his 2017 contract by defending the belt against Ciryl Gane at UFC 270, he had one more in-person meeting with White. After the UFC president had skipped the post-fight press conference, he requested a meeting through Ngannou’s coach, Eric Nicksick, to have dinner.

Ngannou listened to White’s pitch.

“They were trying to tell me that I want to be there, that they want me to stay in the UFC,” Ngannou said. “And I said, ‘I want to stay in the UFC. But I don’t feel like the UFC wants me any more.’

“It’s been a long time that I don’t have a promoter. I’m in the promotion, but I don’t have a promoter. I’ve been feeling that for the past three or four years. I don’t have a promoter.”

If the UFC wanted him, Ngannou said the promotion could have offered at least some of the concessions he sought – an option for boxing, health insurance, a fighter advocate at the negotiating table, or the ability to seek his own sponsors he could wear into the cage. Instead, he said he got a take-it-or-leave-it response. The rest is history.

White threw several thinly veiled barbs in Ngannou’s direction when announcing “The Predator” had been released from contract and stripped of the belt. Ngannou still didn’t write off a UFC return.

“Personally, I don’t take any of this personal,” Ngannou said. “I think I have come to a point in my life where I’m cool. I get past everything. I have seen a lot. One thing I have also learned is never say never. Maybe down the road, I have a boxing match, and maybe it goes well or not, but I know that even in that situation, it has to be in my own terms.”

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