Sonnen, like many others, thought Ngannou would be way out of his depth when he stepped into the ring with WBC heavyweight champion Fury for his boxing debut on Saturday in Saudi Arabia. The fight didn’t unfold that way as the former UFC heavyweight champ gave Fury everything he could handle en route to a surprising split decision loss in which he scored the lone knockdown of the bout.
In that regard, Sonnen was nothing short of impressed.
“Francis Ngannou, the expectation and the story going in, this was all about a moral victory, right?” Sonnen told MMA Junkie on Monday. “He outsmarted the UFC, and he got a few bucks, and if you can’t do math, you’ll think financially he’ll do better than he did if he did his fights in MMA, which is simply not true. But it’s the way the story is being told, so I’ll play along. But you thought, ‘Every second Francis makes it in is a win.’ If he goes to a minute, it’s a win. If he can get through a round, it’s a win. We all know this is based around a moral victory and absolutely nothing else, so when Francis comes out and he’s not looking to kill time, and he’s not looking to clinch him up, he’s not looking to stay away from him. They ring the bell and Fury is the first to go, ‘Woah.’ Fury was the one that let me know this is not what we expected.”
Sonnen is hard pressed to call the decision a robbery, but he said it was an “extremely close fight” in which Ngannou far exceeded his chances by the oddsmakers and general public. However, Sonnen didn’t think his post-fight behavior capitalized on the moment.
Sonnen thinks Ngannou was far too happy with how the fight unfolded rather than instantly pushing for a rematch inside the ring when the gravity of his performance was at its pinnacle.
“When it goes to Ngannou, he stayed a gentleman – Francis appears to have some real class and be a nice guy,” Sonnen said. “But even KSI two weeks ago (against Tommy Fury) had the sense to call for a rematch in the ring. Francis not only doesn’t call for a rematch, he allows (Oleksandr) Usyk’s fat ass to get in there and cut a promo. Usyk wasn’t there to fight. He wasn’t there to throw punches. He flew to a different country for one reason: It was to speak words. Then it turns out Usyk can’t speak words in a way that anybody can understand. He comes into Francis’ ring and disrespects Francis. He says through an interpreter that it wasn’t a great fight and Francis didn’t do great, and it looked like Fury was coasting and being nice to him. Francis is standing there, and he doesn’t call for a rematch? It was a really big mistake. It was a huge mistake.”
Despite the official result going down as a loss for Ngannou, he’s received tremendous praise. UFC Hall of Famer Daniel Cormier said the only thing that “lost” was boxing, and much focus was placed on Ngannou’s path to the fight, which came through a tumultuous exit from the UFC.
Ngannou had to take perhaps the most difficult route possible to step in the ring with Fury. His reputation was brutalized by the likes of UFC CEO Dana White as he waited for his UFC contract to expire and became a free agent with no strings attached to the UFC, allowing him to secure the fight with Fury.
White said Ngannou was offered the second-largest purse in UFC heavyweight history behind Brock Lesnar to defend his title against Jon Jones, leading to claims he “fumbled the bag” by betting on himself to part ways with the company.
Ngannou’s team has said the Fury fight will go down as an eight-figure payday for him, and the performance almost certainly set up more opportunities for sizable purses in boxing should he pursue them. That’s transformed the narrative that Ngannou won out in this situation in every sense, but Sonnen simply can’t agree.
“I want to praise Francis today, but I do want the story told correctly,” Sonnen said. “I think that he beat Fury. I think he exceeded expectations. I think that he deserves a lot of credit. But I’ve already seen the story mistold, that he played this one and didn’t fumble the bag. Well if the bag is a bag full of money, yes he did. He absolutely did. To make believe that $10 million is somehow significantly more than he would’ve got on his pay-per-view participation alone against Jon Jones is incorrect. Not to mention the two years that he sat equals six fights. Let’s bring it back and call it five. And making it really easy, let’s call it four fights. His four fights would’ve equaled $10 million had he promoted them. You’ve got to really understand this.
“It’s not the way the people keep saying it is. I don’t know what he’s got in MMA. I don’t know who is out there for him (in PFL). I know the two leading opponents for him are Junior Dos Santos and Fabricio Werdum. I don’t give those guys a hard time; they’re studs. But no one is clamoring to see that fight. Meanwhile if I told you Francis is going to return to boxing, he’s going to take on Deontay Wilder, you will stop what you’re doing and mark down your calendar. So let’s see where he goes. I do want to praise him, but I praise him in the spirit of let’s tell the story accurately in the way that it happened.”
Although Sonnen seems to believe Ngannou’s best play overall would’ve been to stick with the UFC and fight Jones, have a trilogy with Stipe Miocic and other marquee fights in the heavyweight division, he won’t deny there is money to be made outside the octagon going forward.
Whether Ngannou will transition back to MMA and debut with PFL, or stick with boxing for his next fight remains to be seen. And Sonnen is as curious as anyone to witness how it plays out.
“It’s a tough spot,” Sonnen said. “It’s not as though Francis made $10 million. And maybe he did. When the pay-per-view comes in, maybe he did. I have a feeling that pay-per-view didn’t do very well. Getting honest answers on pay-per-view numbers is colossally difficult in the first place. I don’t think it did very well. So I think that he was given $10 million as opposed to he made $10 million. So I think if you still have someone who wants to give him $10 million and possibly buy him out of PFL on a loan-off, I think that all those conversations are possible. It’s just incumbent on Francis to create those conversations.”
For more on the matchup, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for Fury vs. Ngannou.