As a sporting event, the idea of Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Conor McGregor fighting was bad. McGregor, who in 2017 had never boxed before, stood little chance against a former Olympic bronze medalist who had gone 49 for 49 as a professional boxer. As a business idea, however, it was a stroke of genius.
With Mayweather and McGregor as A-sides peddling the pay-per-view, it was a slam dunk that would do massive business. And it did: On August 26, 2017, at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, it sold 4.3 million pay-per-views, the second-best of all time, and generated more than 600 million dollars in total revenue.
In his five fights before fighting McGregor, Mayweather sold (in reverse order) 400,000 against Andre Berto; a record 4.6 million against Manny Pacquiao, 925,000 for the rematch with Marcos Maidana; 900,000 for the first fight with Maidana and 2.2 million for his fight with Canelo Alvarez. In his five fights before facing McGregor, Mayweather averaged 1.81 million in sales per fight.
McGregor had become the UFC’s biggest draw and had the numbers to prove it. Before Mayweather, he sold 1.3 million for a fight against Eddie Alvarez; 1.65 million for his rematch with Nate Diaz; 1.32 million for his first fight with Diaz; 1.2 million for a fight against Jose Aldo; and 825,000 for a fight with Chad Mendes. McGregor averaged 1.26 million in those five fights.
Social media was inundated with posts about a potential Mayweather-McGregor fight and UFC President Dana White was asked about his potential in almost every public appearance he made.
This brings us to the discussion – mostly from former UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou himself – about the viability of a pay-per-view fight between WBC boxing heavyweight champion Tyson Fury and Ngannou. Ngannou fought for his contract, couldn’t agree with the UFC on a new deal, and the sides parted ways on January 14, leaving Ngannou free to sign wherever he sees fit.
He entered the ring on April 23 in London after Fury stopped Dillian Whyte in a title fight. He was clearly trying to drum up interest in a fight with Fury and Fury, who ain’t nobody’s fool, thankfully obliged. He sees the opportunity for easy money and is not going to walk away from it easily.
From a sporting perspective, a Fury-Ngannou fight makes as little sense as a Mayweather-McGregor fight. MMA and boxing are different sports. Fury is one of the best heavyweights in boxing history and would handle Ngannou relatively easily. Mock, if you will, this depiction of the 6-foot-9, 270-pound Fury, but how many fighters from years past who are considered big, like the 5-foot-10, 190-pound Rocky Marciano, would have been able to defeat Fury?
Online sportsbooks that have a line on Fury-Ngannou have Fury as a 6-1 favorite, or better.
This, however, is no surprise. Anyone who has watched these boxer matches against MMA fighters in the last five years knows how it’s going to be. And, of course, if McGregor had fought Mayweather in MMA rather than boxing, Mayweather would have been lucky to walk out of the fight without a bump to the side of his head after coming to a quick stop.
But unlike Mayweather-McGregor, Fury-Ngannou has little business acumen. I wish I was wrong, but no one is going to pay Ngannou $30 million or more to box Fury with so much uncertainty. Ngannou headlined three UFC pay-per-view cards. The UFC does not release its PPV numbers, but none have reportedly made more than 400,000.
Due to his association with suspected Irish mob boss Daniel Kinahan, Fury is unable to enter the United States, so a theoretical Fury-Ngannou fight should take place in London or the Middle East. They would sell a lot of tickets in London, and a group from the Middle East could provide a big guarantee.
It would be mid-afternoon in the United States if it was in London and morning if it was in, say, Saudi Arabia. This would destroy hopes of a massive pay-per-view sale in the United States, where the bulk of the fight’s PPV revenue would come from. History tells us so.
Fury is currently negotiating to fight a legacy builder fight against unified champion Oleksandr Usyk, so a potential Ngannou fight should come after that. Ngannou hasn’t fought since UFC 270 on Jan. 22, 2022, and that would push a Fury fight back to the end of this year. That would mean Ngannou would have almost two years between fights.
For many reasons, this does not make sense. His best option would clearly be to stay in MMA. Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship president Dave Feldman likes to get cheap heat by insisting he’ll talk to every big-name MMA free agent, but there’s no way Ngannou will and again. less likely that Feldman can meet his asking price. And if by shock he did, he has no fighter that makes sense as a potential opponent for Ngannou.
The PFL and Bellator make the most sense, with ONE and Rizin also in the mix. The problem for Ngannou is that there are no compelling opponents for him to fight in any of these organizations. The UFC heavyweight division is now at an all-time high in terms of talent, with the likes of Jon Jones, Ciryl Gane, Sergei Pavlovich, Tom Aspinall, Curtis Blaydes and more in the hunt.
The PFL makes a lot of sense for Ngannou since he is on ESPN and he would have a good push for a fight in the PFL. The PFL is likely to offer him a big deal, but can he make a profit on a Ngannou PPV against Ante Delija, who won his heavyweight tournament in 2022? Delija is a solid fighter, but he’s virtually unknown outside of the sport’s toughest fans. The big pay-per-view numbers aren’t achieved by selling to hardcore fans, but to casual fans who have a reason to tune in.
The same goes for Bellator. His champion is Ryan Bader, who Friday on CBS defends his belt against Fedor Emelianenko in what is billed as Emelianenko’s final fight. If true, Bellator’s top four heavyweights other than Emelianenko at this point are Bader, Valentin Moldavsky, Linton Vassell and Cheick Kongo. How many PPVs would one of them sell against Ngannou?
The risk that Bellator or PFL would face in signing Ngannou is that they would stand to lose a huge amount of money because they don’t have anyone to put him against who would generate the business to make it make sense.
That’s why Ngannou made an effort to start a Fury fight.
Ngannou is a great fighter, but he is 36 years old and has just suffered a very serious knee injury. It is still not yet ready to fight.
It’s free, but its options aren’t great. There are risks associated with every path he may choose.
That would all change in the unlikely event that he landed a hay and stopped Fury. But how likely is someone with no professional boxing experience to knock out one of the biggest heavyweights while that heavyweight is still in his prime?
Francis Ngannou now has the freedom to do what he wants. The options, however, may not be what he once envisioned.