Francis Ngannou was just as bemused as the rest of us when executive Mick Maynard, and not Dana White, put the heavyweight title around his waist at UFC 270. That ceremonial honour is usually reserved for the UFC’s president, but he was a no-show in the Octagon after Ngannou retained his title against Ciryl Gane in the early hours of Sunday morning in Anaheim, California. White then steered clear of the post-fight press conference – something he rarely, if ever, misses at pay-per-view events – which led reporters to suggest it had something to do with the UFC’s ongoing contract dispute with its heavyweight champion. “I don’t know, you’ll have to ask him,” Ngannou said, denying he had refused to let White give him his belt. “No, no, I did not have anything to do with that. That was their decision. I’m about to ask about that, too. He didn’t come to the press conference? Oh wow, I didn’t know that too.” White has publicly criticised Ngannou and his CAA Sports management amid a contract stand-off stemming back to the company’s decision to create an interim heavyweight title just four months after the 35-year-old Cameroonian beat Stipe Miocic to become the divisional champion, in March 2021. Gane won that interim belt with a third-round TKO of Derrick Lewis, setting up their UFC 270 main event fight, where Ngannou took a unanimous decision. Ngannou’s agent Marquel Martin also seems to have got under White’s skin, with his client demanding to be allowed to take on a lucrative boxing match with heavyweight champion Tyson Fury. Martin walked Ngannou out to the Octagon, and celebrated with him inside it after the Gane fight. AND STILL UNDISPUTED UFC HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION! 🏆 48-47 48-47 49-46 @francis_ngannou goes the full 25 minutes and takes it on the judge's scorecards! 💪 #UFC270 pic.twitter.com/z7DVO2osp4 — UFC on BT Sport (@btsportufc) January 23, 2022 “It’s been a long time I’ve been wondering about my future in the company. Nothing has changed. I’m still in the same position,” Ngannou – who reportedly earned US$600,000 for the fight – told the press conference. “It’s not simply money. Obviously money is part of it, but also the terms of the contract. I don’t agree with it. I don’t feel like it’s fair. I don’t feel like I’m a free man. I don’t feel I’ve been treated good. “Unfortunately, I have to be in this position to be able to do and say that. Everybody should have the right to claim what’s fair. We put a lot of work into this to make it happen, so at least we can have a fair and square deal.” Ngannou said he thinks he will be a free agent in a year, and admitted he may have fought his last fight in the Octagon, with some serious knee ligament injuries sustained in his training camp likely to require surgery. A lengthy recovery could ice him for the whole remaining year of his champion’s clause in his contract “I have a grade 3 MCL [tear], a damaged ACL, a damaged MPFL, 25 days ago,” he said, but added that he never considered withdrawing from the fight: “If I needed to leave that leg in the Octagon to get a win, I would have done it.” Ngannou bears no ill will towards Gane (10-1), his former training partner at the MMA Factory gym in Paris – the city he emigrated to on an incredible journey to escape poverty in his home country. The heavyweight champ fist bumps Gaethje, then the celebration commences 🎉 #UFC270 pic.twitter.com/pBUEvjEW8I — ESPN MMA (@espnmma) January 23, 2022 “It’s crossfire,” Ngannou said. “They’re just trying to use him, but he’s a good guy, and I have nothing against him.” Now living and training in Las Vegas, and with his first successful title defence under his belt, Ngannou remains humble and grateful – even if his time in the UFC could be coming to an end. “It’s been a lot of time and a lot of things have been going on, so at this point I think my feeling doesn’t matter. I’ve felt a lot of things this past year,” he said. “I expressed a willingness to stay in the UFC, to have a contract just to be respected. The only reason we are here is because at some point I wasn’t respected. It could have taken way less to get this deal done. “He [White] went to a power position, and got me frustrated. It gave me a loss of feeling, of desire of doing things. I didn’t grow up dreaming about this sport, I just got into it because it’s fun. Then you get to this side where it’s not funny, it’s frustrating. It messes with your mind. “But I’m pretty good. I’m trying to stay focused, to just think about the sport and nothing around it, and hope that things go well.” Ngannou insisted the UFC has tried to construct a “narrative” around him to paint him as ungrateful. “I’m not the media, I’m just a guy out here doing his thing,” he said. “I feel very relieved now that even though the narrative was wrong, that belongs to the past. Those people who know me know I’m not ungrateful.” Whatever happens next, Ngannou will hold his head high. ‘I’m at peace with my decision and myself,” he said.