Ngannou (16-3) is just a few weeks away from his first title defense at UFC 270, after winning the belt from heavyweight great Stipe Miocic in March. Since then, things have been turbulent between Team Ngannou and his employer. His manager Marquel Martin and UFC President Dana White publicly sparred after the promotion deciding to go with an interim title fight in August instead of Ngannou's first defense taking place the following month.
Things escalated last week when White was asked by ESPN MMA about the Cameroonian's future with the promotion. A question he now infamously answered by saying, "You wanna be with us? We’d love to have you. You don’t want to be with us, no problem. It’s all good.”
The heavyweight king's manager was asked about those comments on a recent appearance on the podcast Throwing Down with Renee & Meisha [h /t MMAFighting]. Explaining his disappointment in White's comments, and how it is all a part of a long-used strategy by the promotion to try and cause a schism between a manager and their fighter during difficult contract negotiations.
Francis Ngannou's manager says UFC is using 'divide and conquer' strategy in negotiations
“Yeah, that’s super unfortunate to hear from your promoter, like, ‘Hey, if you want to be here, great, if not, great. It’s kind of sad, but I think the playbook has been written for many years, long before I started representing fighters, right? And if you’re smart to look at how they operate and do things, one of the strategies -- I feel, and I could be wrong -- is they want to divide and conquer and try to put everything on the representation," Martin said.
"It’s just misinformed, unfortunately, and it’s really sad because, at the end of the day, it’s Francis that we’re talking about. ... I work for Francis, and he and I spent a lot of time chatting back and forth and trying to understand, okay, exactly what does that mean for his future, and we’ve had a lot of back and forth with the UFC. But to be honest with you, I haven’t heard back from the UFC since I want to say June.”
Negotiations between Ngannou's camp and the UFC are at 'standoff'
In his conversation with ESPN, the UFC boss suggested the hold-up in a new deal with Ngannou -- who currently has one fight left on his contract -- has been his "representation." It is a comment that Martin, a representative of CAA, doesn't understand. From his point of view, his job is to do all he can for his client and isn't there to be a friend to the UFC. Martin believes both sides have settled into a standoff as they have firm opinions of what a new accord should look like. Although he says he and his client would "love to do business with the UFC," how the organization is operating at the moment isn't sitting well with them.
“What does representation look like in your mind, UFC? To say yes to every single thing that you do. Am I supposed to take you out to dinner, be your best friend? No, I have a fiduciary obligation to my client, and the facts are, okay, if you want to judge me and try to put me out of business for whatever reason and bully me publicly, I don’t respond to that. CAA doesn’t respond to that. We know how to do our job. We’re very competent at what we do.”
“Now, know our position. We’re open to getting a deal done. But they also know my phone number. They know how to get ahold of me. If they had an offer that made sense for them and for Francis, we’re open to entertain it. But it’s a point for me to proactively say, ‘Hey, let’s get a deal done. Let’s get a deal done.’ Because at the end of the day, they know where we’re at. They’ve made it pretty clear where they’re at, so it’s unfortunate, and I hate to say this, but it feels like a standoff. But it’s really not.
"It’s just like, we would love to be with the UFC, we would love to do business with the UFC, but they’ve chosen to go about the way that they’ve gone, and the way that we don’t feel is right.”
Ngannou has one fight left on his deal and would likely become a free agent if he is unsuccessful in his title defense against interim champion Ciryl Gane on Jan. 22. However, White added last week that if he is victorious, a champions clause in his deal would lead to at least one more bout in the Octagon after UFC 270.
How do you think this situation will end? Will Ngannou eventually sign a new deal, or is him fighting elsewhere an eventuality?