Former UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou says he has “made amends” with his split from the promotion earlier this year and is focused on booking his professional boxing debut in 2023.
Ngannou, 36, was essentially stripped of the UFC heavyweight title in January, when the company said it had failed to come to terms with him on a new contract and would move the division forward with a vacant title fight between Jon Jones and Ciryl Gane. Jones defeated Gane via first-round submission last Saturday at UFC 285 to become the undisputed champ.
In an interview with ESPN on Friday, Ngannou (17-3) said he was not upset at all to see the division move on without him. He has acknowledged that a UFC fight against Jones will probably never happen because of the issues he has with the company’s contracts. Ngannou said he’s at peace with that but emphasized his view that he did everything in his power to make that fight happen.
“For three years I tried to fight Jon Jones,” Ngannou said. “I did everything to have that fight. I wanted that fight, but not at any cost.
“There is not a fight on Earth I would back down for. I would go there and whatever happens, happens. It’s the sport. Jon Jones is not the guy. He might be the best fighter ever, but he’s not the guy I’m running away from. Nah. Not him. I would fight Jon Jones twice a month.”
Ngannou has not fought since he defended his UFC title against Gane via unanimous decision in January 2022. He suffered a knee injury prior to that fight, and spent the rest of 2022 undergoing and recovering from surgery. He is still rehabilitating the knee, but says he is healthy enough to accept a fight at any point moving forward.
According to Ngannou, talks are already underway regarding his professional boxing debut. Although he has no boxing experience, he expects to jump straight into a blockbuster event against a marquee opponent. He has expressed interest in current or former champions Tyson Fury, Deontay Wilder and Anthony Joshua.
“My next step has to be boxing,” Ngannou said. “I want to do one boxing match first, and then maybe go back to MMA because I still enjoy MMA. I want to do a couple of fights in boxing. We are working on some stuff and hopefully in a month or two, I will be able to come out with an announcement on potential fight dates and locations. It’s taking a little longer than I expected but it’s coming along. Big things come with time.
“I’m considering everybody [as an opponent]. I talked to [promoter] Eddie Hearn about Anthony Joshua, I don’t know what’s going to happen. The most that we have spoken with is Deontay Wilder’s team. We’ve been having some exchanges, basically coming to some sort of verbal agreement.”
Regarding his MMA future, Ngannou said he is keeping options open. He confirmed he has talked with PFL, ONE Championship and, to a lesser extent, Bellator MMA.
Originally from Cameroon, Ngannou said a personal goal is to compete in boxing or MMA in Africa. He noted that next year will mark the 50th anniversary of the famous Rumble in the Jungle event between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in Kinshasa, Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo).
“I always wanted to have an event in Africa,” Ngannou said. “To fight at home but also to give my people a show, an opportunity to see all those big events and give a gift to the kids to believe in this sport and let them know that anything is possible. I’m still working to bring something to Africa and I will do that. That’s my personal mission.”