“This new project fascinates me”

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Multiple world heavyweight champion in the UFC, the queen organization of MMA, and superstar of the discipline, Francis Ngannou slammed the door of the institution with a bang last January. He joined the PFL a few days ago, an American organization competing with the UFC, in which the 36-year-old Cameroonian intends to promote the African continent, which he considered neglected until now.

RFI: Francis Ngannou, you slammed the door of the all-powerful UFC last January, and have just signed for the PFL, the rising little MMA league. What does this new contract represent for you?

Francis Ngannou: It represents everything I have fought for in recent years. And that kinda erases all that bad experience. After the UFC, it was about finding something better. It’s done at PFL. The biggest factor that convinced me in my new contract is PFL Africa. I’ve been fighting for years, asking the UFC to organize a fight in Africa. But I realized that would never happen. We’re just going to say that the UFC wasn’t committed enough, and didn’t really want to. But for me, it was something close to my heart! We launched PFL Africa, which will be a platform entirely based in Africa. The goal is already to help the fighters to develop, to have access to quality training. We will provide when we can coaches, rooms, material, equipment… And in a second step, we will try to set up fights.

Is the lack of ambitions of the UFC in Africa the reason for your departure?

It was part of the overall reason for my departure, which was this lack of consideration. I felt… not unwanted, but discredited in the UFC. There was no longer that connection. On the other hand, PFL gave me consideration. For me it was very important.

Precisely, you are going to be the boss of this African branch of the PFL. Can we hope soon for a fight in Cameroon or elsewhere on the continent?

Yes indeed ! But the first part of my job is to allow fighters to develop. In the meantime, we will also set up our structure in Africa because there, we have to do everything! We are looking at a fight by early 2025. But I am pushing for the first PFL Africa event to be launched at the end of 2024.

In concrete terms, will you be required to travel to the continent?

Not at all… Even if it’s one of my big projects. But with this new start for me, it’s no longer a project, it’s no longer a desire, it’s a duty.

With your friends, the Nigerians Israel Adesanya and Kamaru Usman, you are the three big stars of the African continent in your discipline. Africa is passionate about MMA, do you feel this enthusiasm ?

First of all, to get there, it took time. It takes years for the result to appear to the general public. It’s been five years that I have a foundation, I try to give training structures to children in Cameroon. In June, we will inaugurate the second hall of the Francis Ngannou foundation in Douala. It’s a large room, with a first level for training and a second for gala fights. Kamaru Usman also has his organization in Nigeria, which is called Africa KnockOut. It’s long-term work, it’s not easy, but we’re getting to something concrete. And the most fascinating thing is the enthusiasm! It’s motivating. We hope this is only the beginning, and that it will continue even when Israel, Kamaru and I no longer fight, because we are not eternal. However, the craze should not fall, it should even grow.

You don’t come to the PFL alone. Other fighters arrive, like Cédric Doumbé, Franco-Cameroonian kick-boxing star. This league is changing dimension?

Of course ! PFL’s vision of sport excites me. Some have minimized the African continent, but not them. This is the first point that fascinated me. Then they do a great job internally to grow the league. There have been a lot of signings lately. Cedric? He has potential. His mastery of kick-boxing is a very interesting asset. He follows the example of Israel Adesanya, who comes from the same discipline and who knew how to work his way through the UFC to sit on the throne. I think that if Cédric works on certain aspects, he will also have these capacities.

Your new contract with the PFL authorizes you to practice boxing. Have you started negotiations for a future fight in this discipline?

There is nothing concrete at the moment. Just negotiations.

Negotiations with a certain Tyson Fury (editor’s note : British world champion, undefeated among professionals)? It’s a possible fight that makes a lot of talk, would it be ideal for you to face it?

Oh yes, that would be ideal! But it’s not done. We’re working on it, but as we say here, it’s the “Wild West”. What is certain is that I would like to do a boxing match this year. Whether it’s with a big star or just a simple fight. And I would like to enter the cage again at the beginning of next year. In the octagon at the beginning of 2024!

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