Francis Ngannou (Rob Tatum/Combat Press)

Combat Press 2023 MMA Awards: Story of the Year – Francis Ngannou

A new year is here, and that means it’s time for Combat Press to take a look back at the best of MMA in 2023. In the coming days, Combat Press will announce its award winners in multiple categories, covering everything from the action in the cage to the biggest stories surrounding the sport.

It isn’t very often that the biggest story in a sport centers around a person who didn’t compete in the sport in that calendar year. However, in 2023, Francis Ngannou made the biggest waves throughout the world of mixed martial arts, despite only competing in boxing.

Early in 2023, the UFC announced that Ngannou had been stripped of his heavyweight title, after his contract expired, and he was unable to come to terms with the organization for a new contract. Chief among his demands were health insurance year-round, a fighter advocate present for all contract negotiations, and the ability to have additional sponsorships outside of the few that have contracts with the UFC. Seeing as there was no way the two sides could come to an agreement, Ngannou was released, and he became the highest profile free agent in the sport’s history.


In the middle of May, the Professional Fighters League announced that they had signed Ngannou to a multi-fight deal in their new “superfight” division. His contract also stipulates that all of opponents will be paid at least two million dollars, and that he would have an equity stake in the upcoming PFL Africa league. The deal was the first of its kind and is poised to crack the door open for other fighters to use their leverage in order to secure a more lucrative contract.

Ngannou’s new PFL contract wasn’t the end of the 2023 story for “The Predator.” He would go on to fight in professional boxing for the first time, and he took on heavyweight champion of the world Tyson Fury in a 10-round, non-title fight. Ngannou more than held his own, out-landing Fury 37 to 32 in power punches and even dropping “The Gypsy King” in the third round. Despite losing a controversial split decision, Ngannou walked away with a big payday and set himself up to take on former champion Anthony Joshua in 2024.

The landmark year that Francis Ngannou had outside of the cage surpassed anything else in the sport, and his journey earns the Combat Press 2023 MMA Award for Story of the Year.