Ariel Helwani defends Francis Ngannou: ‘He’s a free agent, he wasn’t released’

Ariel Helwani expressed his opinion in response to Francis Ngannou leaving the UFC.

The MMA world was surprised on January 14 when Dana White revealed that Ngannou had been ‘released from his contract’. Before things went bad, the UFC heavyweight champion was in the middle of renegotiating with the organization.

During an episode of The MMA Hour, Helwani went on a long rant about Ngannou’s situation. He cited that White and the UFC perhaps mistreated their former heavyweight champion. He said the following:

“That press conference on Saturday was very hard to watch. What is the word to even use? Disgraceful? Pitiful? Embarrassing? Inaccurate? Uncomfortable? What is the best word? I don’t even know. I really don’t because what they were doing in that moment, in that press conference, if you want to be truly honest with yourself, was trying to hurt the man [Ngannou] on his way out…”

White stated that Ngannou declined the highest pay a heavyweight in the UFC had ever received. He also said that Ngannou is focused on competing against weaker opponents for more money. Helwani saw this as insulting as it implies that Ngannou is avoiding the other heavyweight contenders. The MMA journalist had a number of further complaints.

During the news conference for UFC Vegas 67, Dana White said that any athlete might quit the UFC if they wish to. Ariel Helwani doesn’t think that’s the case, particularly after Nate Diaz pleaded for his release from his contract last year. Helwani said the following:

“That right there is a bold-faced lie. That is a lie. Don’t you think Nathan Diaz didn’t want to be there? Do you think Al Iaquinta wants to be there? Do you think [Luke] Rockhold wants to be there? Do you think Francis Ngannou wanted to leave a long time ago?”

Helwani went on to say:

“You can’t call the UFC right now and say, ‘I don’t want to be here,’ and they will let you go. You can’t do that. So much so that if your contract is up, if the five years are up on your contract because every UFC contract now has a window of five years, there’s an extra year taxed on as a matching period.”

Additionally, White stated that the heavyweight division will move on. Jon Jones and Ciryl Gane will compete for the vacant title on March 4.