UFC Paris? Francis Ngannou's dream back off the ropes as France legalizes MMA under boxing bosses
As the host of the 2024 Olympic Games, the home of UFC heavyweight world number two Francis Ngannou, and a country with a proud combat sports tradition, the outlawing of MMA in France since 2016 has been a curious situation.
Following a delay to decide which sporting federation would oversee the reintroduction of the sport, fans, fighters, pundits and organizers have welcomed the announcement of the French Boxing Federation as the guardians of the newly-legalized sport in France.
The news is a significant step toward what promises to be an explosion in MMA events and participation across France, moving from underground interest to mainstream discipline and entertainment in the same way it has across many other countries in recent years.Also on rt.com Fighting for survival: MMA practically banned in France
Legal MMA fights are expected to be held there this year, marking a return to formal action for the first time since the French Ministry of Sport banned ground strikes three-and-a-quarter years ago as part of a series of stipulations including the prohibition of cage fights.
Kickboxing, karate, and wrestling had reportedly been among the federations bidding to take MMA under their wing, as well as judo – led by authorities that had been accused by French former BAMMA champion Tom Duquesnoy of playing a key role in MMA being banned.
According to the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation, boxing leaders will “supervise the first phase” of the development of the sport in France, with the Ministry of Sport likely to take a view next year on whether to create an independent MMA federation.
⚡ BREAKING NEWS🇫🇷 French Sport Ministry chooses Boxing as host federation for MMA.More on this historic French MMA announcement ⬇️ https://t.co/CaDRtWmF76— IMMAF (@IMMAFed) January 21, 2020
Despite the official ban, around 40,000 people are thought to take part in MMA in gyms and premises around the country, which has undoubtedly encouraged Minister of Sports Roxana Maracineanu to reconsider the ruling since her appointment in September 2018.
“For many years, France had been an exception,” Maracineanu told Le Parisien about the legalisation of MMA. “This reality had to be taken into account in order to better supervise and apprehend it."
At 33, Ngannou, who fights unbeaten Jairzinho Rozenstruik in Ohio on March 28, will yearn to headline a UFC card in Paris.
“We are dreaming, all of us are dreaming to have UFC Paris one day,” the Cameroonian-Frenchman said in the months following the ban, observing that UFC’s status in France made it “so difficult” for fighters and their commercial capabilities.
Having sparred with Mike Tyson and challenged Tyson Fury in 2019, Ngannou will have an important role to play in MMA blossoming in France.
For now, the IMMAF is talking in terms of best behavior, issuing a statement focused on education programs and creating “culture and values.”
“Partnering with boxing will be a massive boost in the growth of MMA in France,” predicted Densign White, the boss of the IMMAF, nodding to 2024.
“This is a major step in the ongoing campaign by IMMAF for international recognition of MMA as a sport with Olympic values.”