Francis Ngannou on possible MMA return in 2024: ‘I think it all depends on the time frame’

Francis Ngannou isn’t exactly sure what his next move is.

Earlier this month, Ngannou faced Anthony Joshua in a boxing match in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and was brutally knocked out in just the second round. The loss moved Ngannou to 0-2 in his professional boxing career and raised questions of whether the former UFC heavyweight champion will now return to MMA and finally compete for the PFL.

Truth be told, even Ngannou doesn’t know what’s next.

“Right now, I don’t know,” Ngannou said this week on The MMA Hour. “I started to feel like boxing now owes me something that I have to claim. The way that this fight happened is not the way that it’s supposed to or that it should have. I think now I need to do boxing now to claim something. To claim my respect, to claim my dignity, to claim everything.

“MMA is there. I don’t really know. It depends on the time frame of what’s happening. But maybe it could be MMA first. I don’t really know.”

Ngannou has not competed in MMA since his final UFC fight in January 2022, when he successfully defended his heavyweight title against Ciryl Gane. “The Predator” signed a lucrative partnership with the PFL in 2023, but has yet to compete for the promotion, instead focusing on his boxing endeavors. PFL co-founder Donn Davis told MMA Fighting on Wednesday’s The MMA Hour that he expects Ngannou to make his PFL debut against Renan Ferreira on a pay-per-view in Saudi Arabia “no later” than September.

Given his love of boxing, there’s been speculation on whether Ngannou will ever return to MMA, but the lineal heavyweight MMA champion shut those concerns down.

“I think I still get excited about the idea of fighting MMA,” Ngannou said. “MMA now is not like the easier one, but the usual one. … In any fight you can lose, but at least in MMA there are a lot of things I understand, a lot of things that can be controlled, unlike boxing, which is the wild west. And it’s a little bit more comfortable, to be honest. I have my own experience there.”

Despite not competing for PFL, Ngannou has been a fixture at its events, most recently sitting cageside at the PFL vs. Bellator card. The PFL announced that Ngannou would make his PFL debut against the winner of the main event fight between Ferreira and Ryan Bader, but after Ferreira won, Ngannou exited the arena, leaving some fans to speculate his disinterest in the matchup. But Ngannou says it was just a misunderstanding.

“It was a surprise. It came really fast and I didn’t have time to process, but I talked to [PFL CEO Peter Murray] and that wasn’t a problem,” Ngannou said, when asked about rumors that he was unhappy with the PFL announcement. “I didn’t go to get in the cage — when the fight finished, I was there and everybody went over to the cage, I was there on my own. I don’t know, it’s not my show. I don’t decide to walk and go into the cage. I sat there for a little while, applaud Renan Ferreira, and that was it. At some point, I was by myself and I realized I should leave. That’s what happened. It’s not like I was unhappy or something.

“Nobody told me to go to the cage.”

For Ngannou, the question of an MMA return seems to be entirely about timing. For the past year, Ngannou pursued boxing interests and the lucrative paychecks that come with them, but after the Joshua loss, there’s no obvious next step in the squared circle for the moment. That means 2024 could be the year Ngannou finally makes his PFL debut, so long as the timing works out.

“Everything can happen,” Ngannou said. “I think it all depends on the time frame. At first — because the winner of my fight was scheduled to fight the winner of Tyson Fury and [Oleksandr] Usyk — if I won the fight … then maybe I have to fight that first. But now, everything is possible. I have no obligation to fight anyone, so if the timing is right for MMA first, then I fight first. If it’s a boxing match that the timing comes first, then I’ll do it.

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