The UFC’s undisputed heavyweight champ alleges his manager was threatened with litigation.
Most of the time, a heavyweight championship fight sells itself. Whether it’s boxing, kickboxing, or MMA, nothing captures the imagination of the general public quite like a showdown between giants.
There was quite a compelling storyline between the fighters heading into UFC 270. Francis Ngannou and Ciryl Gane were former training partners who shared a head coach before a falling out sent the former to a different camp. They were stylistically different, with Ngannou being a power-punching phenom capable of sending large men airborne with uppercuts, while Gane represented a new breed of skilled striker who moved more like a welterweight than a heavyweight.
With all those compelling threads, you’d think that the main storyline of UFC 270 would surround those components. And yet, leading into the fight and days after its conclusion, the real story still surrounds Francis Ngannou’s public dispute with the UFC and president Dana White.
Francis Ngannou has not shied away from voicing his frustrations with his current contract with the UFC. While much of this relates to the controversial pay structure of the UFC, which pays its athletes a fraction of their revenue compared to other sports leagues, Ngannou has made it clear that the main frustrations lie within the terms of his deal.
During a recent interview with Ariel Helwani on the MMA Hour, Ngannou stated "I just want to be free. We are supposedly independent contractors. [An] independent contractor is technically a free person. That's the reason why they need some adjustments in that contract. That's what I've been fighting for."
After he successfully defended his title via unanimous decision, Dana White’s absence in the Octagon loomed over the entire situation. Normally, it’s White who places the belt around the champion’s waist. He did as much for newly-minted Flyweight champ Deiveson Figueiredo, who heard “And new!” just one fight before Francis’ showdown against Gane. Instead, UFC executive Mick Maynard placed the belt around Ngannou’s waist.
Adding fuel to the proverbial fire, Dana White was also absent from the event’s post-fight press conference. It’s not often that White misses the post-fight presser, with many speculating that he might have been particularly frustrated that Gane didn’t secure the belt. Some have even accused the UFC of favoring Gane in the fight’s promotion. The irony isn’t lost on those who remember Stipe Miocic voicing something similar in the build-up to his first fight with Ngannou, whom he beat in a unanimous decision.
While Dana White has yet to make a public statement since the conclusion of UFC 270, Francis Ngannou revealed more news during his Helwani interview that paints the UFC and its brass in a negative light.
Only a few hours before his fight, Ngannou’s manager Marquel Martin received an email from the UFC that stated they were intending to sue him for talking to Nakisa Bidarian, the business partner of youtuber-turned-boxer Jake Paul.
Ngannou stated that he doesn’t know Bidarian and that he couldn’t pick him out if you put him in front of him, pointing out that he isn’t even the promoter. During his interview with Helwani, Francis stated “They told me they just received an email from the UFC saying they're going to sue [Martin] for talking with this guy, Nakisa. Yeah. I'm like, 'Who is Nakisa?'"
The timing of that email seems particularly insidious, considering all of the adversity Ngannou was already facing. It’s just speculation, but it doesn’t seem outside the realm of possibility that the UFC wanted to throw one more curveball at Ngannou before he had to defend his title.
It gets even hairier when you consider Nakisa Bidarian’s former role within the UFC. Most people familiar with Jake Paul’s antics know that he’s been a very loud critic regarding fighter pay within the UFC. Some believe that it’s just part of Paul’s charade, who doesn’t actually care about fighter compensation and is just trying to make headlines. However, what many people don’t know is that Bidarian used to be the chief financial officer of the UFC.
I don’t believe it's a coincidence that Jake Paul has become such a vocal critic of the UFC’s fighter compensation when you factor in that his business partner is a person who had intimate knowledge of the promotion’s financial structures. Of all people who could understand the UFC’s financial inner workings, it’s Nakisa Baridian.
This is not a good look for Dana White or the UFC, who continue to make decisions that intensify the magnifying glass on the promotion when it comes to fighter pay and contracts. Ngannou stated during the UFC 270 post-fight press conference and during the Helwani interview that he has not been contacted by the UFC and is happy to sit out the necessary 12-months to be liberated from the “Champion’s Clause” that obligates him to remain in the UFC.