• Loading stock data...
Tuesday, April 16, 2024
  • -
    days
  • -
    hours
  • -
    minutes
  • -
    seconds

How Francis Ngannou and PFL Could Revolutionize Fighters’ Pay

  • Ngannou left UFC as the reigning UFC heavyweight champ, and signed with PFL last month.
  • Ngannou says his PFL deal is a 'huge signal to others' in the UFC seeking more money.
PFL
PFL

Francis Ngannou certainly experienced the kind of next-level notoriety that comes with holding the UFC heavyweight belt.

But his compensation — especially as the top fighter in the most dominant MMA league on the planet — wasn’t something the Cameroon native liked to discuss.

“It was embarrassing,” Ngannou told Front Office Sports. “I’d get to places with some athletes that are not even on my level, and they’re talking about their deals and their revenue. I’d just shut my mouth and try to sneak out. … For about five years, it was a topic that I wasn’t able to talk about out loud.”

Ngannou isn’t ashamed these days. The 36-year-old signed with the Professional Fighters League (PFL) last month, a deal that gave him financial security and something else he missed out on with UFC: a voice.

Ngannou lobbied the UFC for years to hold its first event in Africa, as did Nigerian fighters Israel Adesanya and Kamaru Usman.

“At least one show, one Fight Night, so I could fight on my continent,” Ngannou said. “I really want to bring something back home. For an athlete, you want to get something and bring it back to your people. But none of that was ever considered.”

PFL president Peter Murray did more than just promise a fight in Africa. The continent will be among the six international regional leagues PFL will launch over the next three years. The league’s first international series, PFL Europe, launched earlier this year.

Ngannou — who received an unspecified equity interest in PFL — will serve as chairman of PFL Africa when it launches in 2025.

“Fighters did not have a major global alternative before,” Murray told FOS. “This is a disruptive model. Today around the world, you know what the strategy is for the significant majority of pro fighters.”

PFL

Five-Year Plan

UFC has seen rivals come and go over the years — including those launched with big-name (and expensive) talent like Affliction MMA and the World Fighting Alliance. When challenged, UFC has managed to either outlast or simply acquire its adversaries, like it did with WEC, Pride, and Strikeforce. 

PFL grew out of the World Series of Fighting, an organization purchased in 2017 by an investment group that includes Washington Capitals, Wizards, and Mystics owner Ted Leonsis, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ investment arm Elysian Park Ventures, Washington Nationals managing owner Mark Lerner, and current Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin.

Officially launched in 2018, PFL has raised more than $200 million to date, the last round coming in May 2022 from a group that includes former MLB slugger and Timberwolves co-owner Alex Rodriguez.

The latest $30 million in funding pinned PFL’s valuation at $500 million — less than half of what UFC made in 2022 for parent company Endeavor.

While it doesn’t specifically break down financials for UFC alone, Endeavor’s sports group — for which UFC drives most of the profits — made $1.3 billion last year.

“We’re the No. 2 today after five years,” Murray said. “Obviously, we have a much broader vision. We are now on our next phase of growth, which is expanding our content franchises.”

Many within the MMA community consider Viacom-owned Bellator the No. 2 MMA outfit, even as PFL has increased its broadcast and streaming viewership on ESPN platforms by 45% over the last year, and whose broadcasts routinely reach 40% of UFC’s typical event viewership.

But the Bellator vs. PFL debate could be moot in the coming months. 

Bellator president Scott Coker told MMA Junkie on Thursday that PFL “is definitely in the conversation” when it came to would-be suitors. While Bellator isn’t on the market, it has been open to partnerships or a potential acquisition for a while.

One industry source told FOS that a PFL takeover of Bellator could hinge on a new round of investment, with PFL committing its focus and money to its international expansion effort.

Beyond fronting those worldwide plans, Ngannou is also critical of the league’s foray into the pay-per-view business. He will only fight in the new PPV Super Fight Division, not the regular-season and playoff format PFL has used since its launch.

November’s PFL Championship was the league’s first PPV event, offered for $49.99 on ESPN+. The Super Fight Division will make PPV events more common — a model that could prove to be the most lucrative for MMA fighters.

The first fighter to sign on with the league’s PPV Super Fight Division was social media influencer/boxer Jake Paul in January. While the first PPV Super Fight has yet to be scheduled, the revenue split has been determined: Fighters will get a 50% cut of the PPV buys.

Ngannou could be making more than $4 million per fight, according to one industry source. His future PFL opponents will make least $2 million. Ngannou made about $650,0000 when he defended his UFC heavyweight crown in January 2022, his last fight with the promotion.

PFL

Dirty Little Secret

As UFC grew in popularity, so did the number of sponsors the league accumulated. In most categories, those exclusive deals prevent fighters from signing agreements with competing brands.

“It wasn’t just Reebok and [current official apparel partner] Venom,” Ngannou said. “Nobody was happy about those deals. There were complaints from fighters, but nothing happened because we have no power.

“I was this close to signing with Coinbase for over $1 million a year. At the time, there wasn’t a million dollars in my bank account. I had never seen a million dollars, so that was a huge deal.”

Then UFC announced that it had signed a 10-year deal with Crypto.com worth $175 million in July 2021. 

“What did I get from the Crypto.com deal? Zero,” Ngannou said. “I was losing all that money on the side. Before, fighters used to have sponsors on their shirts and other things, but now you have nothing. You have no say about it. They are generating all this massive revenue out of sponsorships, but [the fighters] get nothing.”

It’s estimated that UFC fighters get about 20% of UFC’s revenues, according to a long-running lawsuit filed by several former fighters alleging UFC was artificially suppressing fighter pay.

UFC President Dana White has remained defiant on the pay issue. 

“Believe me, these guys get paid what they’re supposed to get paid,” White said last August. “They eat what they kill. They get a percentage of the pay-per-view buys. And the money is spread out amongst all the fighters.”

While settlements and verdicts in the multiple federal cases in federal could change how UFC operates, Ngannou mentioned another option.

“For so long there’s been only one destination,” he said. “Now it’s clear that they’re not the only destination. Look, I am the heavyweight champ, and I signed with PFL. I’m happy with that. I think this will send a huge signal to others out there that [UFC is] not the only option in the market. 

“Things will change. Things will definitely change.”

Linkedin
Whatsapp
Copy Link
Link Copied
Link Copied

What to Read

Wrestler Says He Was Offered $300K to Throw Match, Calls Judges ‘Corrupt’

Frank Chamizo said the offer was made the morning of the match.

Women’s Basketball Finally Has a TV Deal to Match the Excitement. Now What?

A lucrative new media-rights contract could rectify problems of the past, but the future of March Madness media rights is anyone’s guess.
Mar 16, 2024; Washington, D.C., USA; North Carolina State Wolfpack forward DJ Burns Jr. (30) cuts the net after defeating the North Carolina Tar Heels for the ACC Conference Championship at Capital One Arena.

How Two College Seniors Helped DJ Burns Cash In on a Final Four Run

Two college seniors are facilitating deals for NC State’s big man.

Endeavor’s Move to Go Private Will Form Media Company Targeting Sports

Silver Lake is set to provide $250 million in seed equity in the separate venture.
podcast thumbnail mobile
Front Office Sports Today

Inside the Most-Hyped WNBA Draft in History

0:00
0:00

Featured Today

Mar 31, 2024; Portland, OR, USA; NCAA officials measure the three point line while coaches from the Texas Longhorns and NC State Wolfpack watch with referees in the finals of the Portland Regional of the NCAA Tournament at the Moda Center center.

NCAA Has No One to Blame for Latest Women’s March Madness Transgressions

NCAA is still making avoidable mistakes three years after a complete overhaul.
Nov 16, 2015; Bloomington, IN, USA; General view of the championship banners at Assembly Hall prior to the game between Austin Peay and Indiana.
March 31, 2024

How to Make It in Basketball: Become a Manager at Indiana

Inside the Hoosiers’ unglamorous, profoundly rewarding incubator for basketball’s biggest names.
Mar 19, 2021; West Lafayette, Indiana, USA; Oral Roberts Golden Eagles forward Kevin Obanor (0) and guard Carlos Jurgens (11) and guard Max Abmas (3) and forward Francis Lacis (22) celebrate after an overtime victory over the Ohio State Buckeyes in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament at Mackey Arena.
March 30, 2024

Cinderella Runs Are Great in the Moment. Then Things Can Get Messy

Sustaining success can arguably be more challenging than beating Goliath.
Mar 10, 2024; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Southern California Trojans guard JuJu Watkins (12) cuts the net after the Pac-12 Tournament women's championship game against the Stanford Cardinal at MGM Grand Garden Arena.
March 28, 2024

The Pac-12 Built a Women’s Basketball Powerhouse. Then Realignment Hit

The breakup is happening at the worst time for the sport.

Careers

Powered By

Careers in Sports

Looking for a new job? Check out these featured listings and search for openings all over the world.
Nike
Multiple - USA Careers
NBA
Multiple - USA Careers
Dunham's Sports
Multiple - USA Careers

For Caitlin Clark and Other Rookies: Now a 29-Day Sprint to WNBA Debut

The league regular season starts swiftly after college basketball ends.
April 16, 2024

The WNBA Has Huge Ambitions as Caitlin Clark Finally Comes Aboard

Commissioner Cathy Engelbert is aware of the moment in front of the league.
April 16, 2024

WNBA Draft Fashion Has Come a Long Way From ‘Most Athletic Accountants’ Era

The WNBA draft used to have a strict dress code, a former top pick tells FOS.
Sponsored

Rapid Returns: How Technology Is Getting You Back to Your Seat

How Oracle’s POS technology is helping fans get back to their seats faster.
April 15, 2024

Caitlin Clark’s WNBA Chapter Officially Opens as No. 1 Overall Pick

Clark’s professional career is starting as a member of the Indiana Fever.
April 15, 2024

NBA’s Two Tourneys Drive Record Attendance

Total attendance for the 2023–24 season, which ended Sunday, was 22,538,518.
April 15, 2024

Wrexham, Leverkusen Write Hollywood Stories

The guaranteed payoff for Wrexham is modest but still significant.
April 15, 2024

Out of Her ‘Comfort Zone’: SNL Starts Caitlin Clark’s Whirlwind Draft Weekend

‘The Today Show,’ ESPN, and an Empire State Building photo opp.