Multiple MMA promotions are trying to land Francis Ngannou and boost their credentials against the UFC juggernaut. Singapore-based ONE Championship is about to present its closing offer to the exiled former heavyweight champion this weekend.
ONE President Chatri Sityodtong confirmed on The MMA Hour With Ariel Helwani that Ngannou is speaking to their organization, along with Bellator and PFL, although ONE is ready to ask for a commitment. In addition to competing under the ONE banner, Sityodtong wants to further a mutual interest–namely allowing Ngannou to pursue professional boxing matches.
“If we did boxing, we would be the co-promoter with him… It’s not just mixed martial arts. So we had a WBC boxing world title before in ONE. This was in 2017 or 2018. It was a regular ONE show, you saw Muay Thai, you saw the grappling, you saw MMA, and we had a boxing world title fight.”Chatri Sityodtong discusses ONE’s willingness to promote Ngannou in a boxing match
Ngannou was linked to potential bouts with the likes of heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, Deontay Wilder, and Anthony Joshua during his final days with the UFC. UFC President Dana White would refuse to entertain Ngannou’s requests to pursue a boxing match, among other issues the two had prior to his release earlier this year.
He has been inactive since defeating Ciryl Gane at UFC 270.
Francis Ngannou could help ONE penetrate the American market
ONE Championship may not be as well known as the UFC stateside, but the organization has a huge overseas audience and is beginning to make moves in the United States. Last year, ONE entered a deal to broadcast their fights through Amazon Prime. The results have been promising, with a 2021 report showing ONE ranking second only to the NBA in digital viewership for global sports.
As a matter of fact, ONE is in a better position than most to challenge the UFC. ONE Championship reaches 406 million in terms of global audience, whereas the UFC reached 259 million. ONE is also second in terms of market cap, sitting at $1.4 billion, comfortably behind the UFC’s massive $10 billion war chest. Putting Ngannou in a series of high-visibility matches, considering his messy divorce with the UFC, should be enough to drive casual fans to the promotion.
Strategically, ONE would match Ngannou up with softer opponents to get him a few wins before stepping up his competition. Sityodtong already mentioned Ngannou facing undefeated heavyweight Anatoly Malykhin but also believes Ngannou is not going to have it easy against ONE’s roster.
“I like Francis. I think he brings a lot to the table. I think that he’ll have a tough time in our heavyweight division, to be very frank, which I’ve said publicly and I think it’s a big challenge for Francis. I think that Francis will run through the heavyweight divisions of all the other organizations. The only heavyweight division that will give him a challenge [is ONE Championship].”Chatri Sityodtong on Francis Ngannou against the ONE heavyweight division.
It seems that we’re getting closer to Ngannou’s return. Be it with ONE or anyone else, expect it to be a massive event that will send shockwaves through the sport.