Africa ascends to the UFC throne

CAMEROONIAN Mixed Martial Arts heavyweight Francis Ngannou has been through more than most on his journey to becoming the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) heavyweight champion. 

“I felt like I missed my childhood, I had to work at a young age and it wasn’t enough” said Ngannou.

From the age of 10, in Batie, Cameroon, Ngannou had to work in a sand quarry to help the living standards at home.  “We had to work, to contribute to the village,” he said.

Additionally, he had to wake up at 5am to start navigating the six mile long journey to school was a norm in the Cameroonians daily life. 

The journey, which lasted around two hours on foot, only saw Ngannou encounter another student 40 minutes en route to the destination. These long, lonely walks can be daunting for a young man, yet Ngannou used them to dream.

The heavyweight never had a vacation during time off school. The mid-year break, which is around 3 months long, is where a lot of adults didn’t work due to the conditions. The wet season atmosphere was not a comfortable work environment.  

“Everytime I go home I go back to all those places where I used to work. I hated this thing growing up, you just can’t imagine, I hated the sand mine. But today it seems like it was fuel” Ngannou told The Joe Rogan Experience.

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Ngannou kept something close that he felt a lot of people in his hometown had lost – his dreams. He decided to leave Cameroon and travel to Europe to fight and fulfill his aspiration.

The journey was by no means pleasant, at the age of 26, he packed his bag and left for the train station. Nigeria, Niger, Algeria, navigating north through the Sahara desert, repeatedly ending up stuck in the deserted wasteland “I didn’t know where I was going and I didn’t know how to get there, but I want to chase my dream”

After finally reaching Morocco and making his way into Spain via the Morocco-Spain sea border, Ngannou was jailed for crossing the border illegally.

Though the situation was not ideal, the future champion was finally in Europe and stepping forward towards his dream “I just wanted to end up in Europe because I was searching for an opportunity for boxing. I wanted to become a world-class boxer, that’s what I said 10 years ago”, he told BT Sports.

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After two months incarceration, Ngannou made his way to France. The 14-month journey from Cameroon to France which Ngannou describes as “hell” and “unbelievable” finally landed him where he felt he was meant to be. Still not in an ideal situation, Ngannou was now homeless in France, the boxer (at the time) was filled with hope and faith.

The next mission was to find a boxing gym where he could train and he found one. “I told them I have been training in boxing and want to become a world champion” Ngannou was met with laughter but the owners also saw the ambition in his eyes.

Didier Carmot pushed Ngannou to switch from boxing to MMA, as he felt it would put him in the best position to change his life. Carmot also allowed Ngannou to train as he supported him with accommodation and food.

His first fight was in November 2013, two years later he had earned a UFC contract.

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“If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be” Ngannou told himself before venturing into UFC, and it has turned out emphatically well. 

Ngannou still frequents his home village Batie, inspiring the younger generation and donating essentials that help with daily life. He started the ‘Francis Ngannou Foundation’ which is the first facility in Cameroon that is dedicated to combat sports.

“I was always dreaming about a person to come here and build a gym, so I can use the gym to chase my dream. I decided to be that person for other kids” Ngannou continued.

Ngannou’s dream looked impossible every step of the way. ‘The Predator’ continues to script out his own story by becoming UFC first heavyweight champion from Africa, daring others to dream along with him on the way.


Source: Ultimate Fighting Championship

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