Francis Ngannou keeps true to himself in order to obtain the agreement and respect that he had long craved.

Despite the promoters’ constant doubts, Ngannou demonstrated his honesty by signing a lucrative contract with the PFL.

The issue with the court of public opinion is that it frequently relies on feelings rather than necessarily on the truth. Which means that a lot of MMA supporters may have to apologize to former UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou.

Ngannou (17-3) made his next step on Tuesday by signing a multi-year contract with PFL in their future PPV super fight category. In January, when discussions for his return to the Octagon failed miserably, Ngannou renounced his championship and formally parted relations with the promotion. The terms of the agreement give Ngannou, who will turn 37 in September, the freedom to pursue lucrative boxing matches, which was not permitted under his last UFC contract. Along with serving as the equity owner and chairman of the forthcoming PFL Africa, he will join the PFL Global Advisory Board to represent fighters.

If you’ve closely followed Ngannou’s adult life journey—which included a prison sentence in Spain for illegal entry and homelessness in Paris—you know that he left his native Cameroon at age 26 to pursue his professional boxing dreams in France. Tuesday’s news was just another remarkable development in a largely remarkable life.

It wasn’t enough for Ngannou to shield him from the constant abuse from fans online or even his ex-UFC compatriots who spoke publicly, as new narratives were quickly created, because he felt disrespected and lied about for years by the promotion, most notably by UFC president Dana White.

Ngannou is avaricious (despite turning down a $8 million record offer as part of a multi-fight UFC contract to face Jon Jones).

Ngannou is self-centered, despite the fact that many of his demands—which the UFC refused to even consider or address—centered on better fighter treatment and representation.

Ngannou wasted the opportunity because he is a fool, even if his whole tenure of free agency was only four months.

And finally, despite the fact that Jones waited until right after Ngannou’s departure to sign an amended contract and make a comeback, Ngannou is afraid to take on Jones.

Jones’ eventual comeback in March to defeat Cyril Gane, whom Ngannou valiantly outlasted in January 2022 to complete his UFC contract, and win the vacant heavyweight title allowed White to quickly turn the page. White not only declared that Ngannou would never compete in the Octagon again, but he also conveniently hailed Jones as the greatest fighter in MMA history, despite the fact that the two had previously argued over White’s refusal to pay Jones to upsize.

How awful of a person is Ngannou, then, that White would frequently tell the media things about him that were plainly untrue? And why, when it seemed like PFL was the front-runner, would rival promoters release what looked to be deceptive updates on their own unsuccessful negotiations with Ngannou?

Ngannou is a disruptor, but not in the ways UFC brass or fans are used to, which is perhaps why Daniel Cormier, a commentator and UFC Hall of Famer, recently attacked Ngannou and advised him to “bite the bullet” and return to the organization.

It’s difficult not to respect Ngannou’s acts, regardless of whether you think they are honorable or wrong.

He is one of the few fighters prepared to jeopardize his career and utilize his influence to improve the lives of MMA competitors. Ngannou’s plans to improve everything from health insurance to the abolition of draconian contracts are nothing short of a serious threat to the traditional business practices of major promoters like the UFC in an era where fighter pay is a hot subject.

A warning sign of the threat Ngannou poses to the UFC’s corporate structure is the fact that the organization immediately made several changes to all future contracts after Ngannou’s five-year “sunset clause” expired. These changes included adding more restrictions and requiring fighters to sign a waiver barring class-action lawsuits in the future.

The contrast between how corporate the UFC has grown while continuing to treat its athletes in such an antiquated way is difficult to ignore, especially in light of the historic ESPN output agreement that was inked in 2018 and the status transition to a publicly traded business under parent Endeavor in 2021. As a possible means of reducing costs, the new trend of watered-down matchmaking has also gained traction, precisely as Endeavor continues to accrue debt following its close to $10 billion acquisition of WWE.

The UFC attempted to put out the fire Ngannou started by offering him a record deal to fight Jones. Fires like the one Ngannou started in public are often put out with money. However, Ngannou’s problems with the UFC brass were never primarily about the money and were instead mostly about respect (or the lack of it for years), which made him dangerous to deal with when it became evident that his morals would take precedence over all other considerations.

Fans of mixed martial arts (MMA) can be angry at Ngannou for delaying such a historic showdown as the bout versus Jones, which could have been marketed as a confrontation between the most lethal heavyweight and finest all-around fighter in the history of the sport. However, the obnoxious and frequently contradictory White would never let any of them believe the full tale of how events had transpired.

The same promoter used UFC social media to advertise his budding Slap Fight league, where resistance is forbidden and head trauma is nearly a given, for the most of 2023. The same person that refused to wrap Ngannou’s title around his waist (and skipped the post-fight press conference) when Ngannou fought Gane on one leg while being nursing ruptured MCL and ACL.

Ngannou would have fought Jones already for money that could have changed his career if he had simply cared about himself. But he went about it in his own way because he knew that even if the PFL agreement or any other potential boxing offers never materialized, he would still be happy knowing that he left on his own terms, for the right reasons, with his head held high and no regrets.

Instead, Ngannou is able to have his cake and eat it too thanks to the news from Tuesday. All of this comes after Ngannou reportedly fought for his rivals during the free-agency season by attempting to negotiate a minimum salary for each so that his signing wouldn’t excessively tip the financial balances in his favor at the expense of everyone else.

That man has moral integrity.