With the recent and somewhat shocking news that heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou has severed ties with UFC, it has left many wondering what's next for the fighter.
With a 17-3 record and 12 of those victories coming via knockout, the Cameroon-born Ngannou has become one of the surest bets in the UFC, rattling off 6 consecutive victories (5 by knockout) since late 2018.
Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is the biggest mixed martial arts promotional company in the world. When the organization could not come to terms with Ngannou, whose contract expired in December, they stripped him of the heavyweight title, making the fighter an unrestricted free agent.
For a top 5 pound for pound fighter in his sport to part with his promotional company in what is seemingly the prime if not the tail end prime of his career is a rarity. From what is known, money was not the key issue with re-signing as he also was also requesting health insurance and for the ability to have sponsorships for all UFC fighters (something not currently permitted). Ngannou can look to bring his talent to another promotional company like Bellator or PFL but could just as easily end up switching combat sports all together as he has flirted with the idea of boxing many times over the last couple of years.
At 6 foot 4 inches and weighing around 257 pounds, Ngannou has the dimensions to compete as a professional boxer in the heavyweight division but at what level could he reach? 36 years of age isn't exactly the best period to cross over to a new sport in which one has never engaged in on a paid level.
He has always shown an excellent stand-up game in MMA and certainly packs a punch but comparing MMA and boxing is like comparing apples and oranges as each sport has a completely different skill set as well as duration of time in the matches.
Name recognition and marketability are very important factors in combat sports, so from a promotional aspect Ngannou would be turning pro with a leg up on anyone in a similar situation at his age. It would not be far-fetched to imagine a promoter like Top Rank, Matchroom Boxing, Golden Boy or Jake Paul’s Most Valuable Promotions taking a chance and signing the former MMA star. He brings a fan base and a level of credibility from his mixed martial arts accomplishments and curiosity seekers will be interested to see how he fares in the boxing world.
Sitting on top of the heavyweight division in boxing is Tyson Fury. Other top divisional players include Oleksandr Usyk, Deontay Wilder, Anthony Joshua, Joe Joyce and Andy Ruiz. The odds of Ngannou ever getting to a level of challenging any of the before named fighters in a boxing ring would be a long shot to say the least.
He would most likely start out fighting 4 rounders and special attraction type fights on the undercards of far more established and experienced boxers. He would have to maintain a busy schedule and fight as often as possible as time is not on his side with a 37th birthday coming late this year.
Assuming he gets the right boxing team around him and is aligned with the right promoter it would be realistic to have between 5 and 7 fights should he stay healthy and injury free. He would start out fighting 4 and 6 round bouts which allow for more activity as he navigates his way around the sport while acquiring much needed experience—-but how far can he go?
As previously mentioned age is not on his side and I liken the possible switch to boxing to another popular MMA fighter we saw make the transition a few years back by the name of Kimbo Slice.
Real name Kevin Ferguson, Slice rose to notoriety in the early 2000s by having unsanctioned mutually agreed upon street fights. These fights were recorded and distributed through the internet and various adult and fighting websites which made the street fighter a viral star. This would lead to a move to sanctioned fights in the MMA world.
Similar to the situation Ngannou may soon undergo, Kimbo Slice's new venture saw him enter the sport with an already established fanbase and reputation. Slice would have 4 fights for the now defunct Elite Xtreme Combat before being signed by the UFC, where he would fight twice.
A stand up fighter who liked to mix it up Kimbo Slice like Ngannou was fun to watch and always had the crowd on the edge of their seats in anticipation. In 2011 at the age of 37 he decided to make the transition to professional boxing.
Between August 2011 and January 2013 Kimbo had a total of 7 professional fights. With the exception of his final fight, these bouts would be 4 rounders taking place on small undercards in states like Oklahoma, Missouri and Nebraska.
Slice would beat a string of no-hopers, scoring four 1st round knockouts, a fourth round knockout and a 4 round decision victory. The final fight of his short career would take place in Australia on the undercard of a major promotion. He would be badly rocked and hurt on more than one occasion in the first round by boxer Shane Tilyard, who owned a 6-6 record. Slice would overcome the adversity and land a counter to the body of Tilyard in round 2 and pull out the victory. He would never enter a boxing ring again and finished his career with a 7-0, 6 KOs ledger.
The fame and popularity Kimbo Slice experienced in MMA didn't quite translate over to boxing. He would go back to MMA and have 2 more fights for Bellator between June 2015 and February 2016 before sadly passing away later that summer from heart failure at age 42.
Kimbo Slice was not as accomplished in MMA as Francis Ngannou. He had all of 8 MMA fights compared to Ngannou’s 20 and never reached a championship level. It became apparent early on when watching Slice that he was a very limited boxer who was completely reliant on punching power and toughness. This was not a far stretch from his MMA days as he depended on those same attributes.
Ngannou in turn has always shown to be a more cerebral fighter who will take his time to set his offence up. That patience can certainly be helpful in boxing should that be the path he chooses to follow but I would not expect a fairytale like ending for the former UFC Heavyweight Champion. He would have a Mount Everest like mountain to climb to get to a top 10 contender-like status and that takes time to do, it also takes talent. Those are two things he won’t have going for him in the boxing world. If history and Kimbo Slice taught us anything, then I would expect to see Ngannou right back in the cage and return to MMA sooner rather than later.