Francis Ngannou is now a free agent.
CNN  — 

Francis Ngannou will be released from his contract and is no longer the UFC heavyweight champion after he turned down a contract that would have made him the highest-paid heavyweight fighter in UFC history, UFC President Dana White said in a press conference on Saturday.

“We offered Ngannou a deal that would make him the highest-paid heavyweight of all time,” said White. “He turned it down. We’re going to release him from his contract. He can go wherever he wants and do whatever he wants.”

Jon Jones, who has signed an eight-fight deal, will face Ciryl Gane for the now vacant UFC heavyweight title in Las Vegas on March 8 after a three-year absence from the sport.

Ngannou had been in negotiations for a new agreement for two years, White said, and plans were in place for the 36-year-old to fight Jones.

Ngannou reacts after his victory over Stipe Miocic in their UFC heavyweight championship fight in March 2021.

“We can’t continue to hold up the division to come to an agreement with this guy,” White added. “We did everything we could to make the fight happen and give him the fight. But he’s got it in his head that there’s bigger opportunities outside the UFC with lesser opponents.”

Ngannou’s last fight was in January 2022 when he defeated Gane to unify the heavyweight division and he was on a six-fight winning streak.

He injured his knee during sparring sessions in the build-up to that fight, and has not yet fought again since he underwent knee surgery.

“It’s been fun while he’s been here, I wish him the best,” White said.

CNN has reached out to Ngannou’s representatives for comment but they did not immediately respond.