LAS VEGAS, 27 March 2021 – Cameroonian-born Francis Ngannou has said he hopes to make history this weekend at UFC 260 in Las Vegas by becoming the first African-born UFC heavyweight champion.
The 34-year-old born to peasant parents in Batie in French-speaking Cameroon’s Western Region on 5 September 1986 is bidding for UFC’s most prestigious champion.
The man nick-named “Predator” must beat Stipe Miocic to claim the top belt, in a rematch that has taken three years to come together at the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
Ngannou came up shor during his first title fightt, losing via unanimous decision, at UFC 220.
He refers to that night of his loss in Boston, USA, as a “tough night”.
“When I look at that fight, I do not recognise myself. The way that I fought, that’s not me. That fight helped me to understand and experience a lot of things, things I will get right in this one,” Ngannou said as he prepared for this weekend’s matchup.
Ngannou’s story is as unbelievable as it bears testament to the amazing determination of the young Ngannou who left Cameroon without exactly knowing where he was going.
“When I first left Cameroon that was the hardest part. I didn’t know where I was going and I had to leave my family, not knowing if I will see my family again. It was very difficult,” Ngannou recalls.
In the end, he headed for Europe, crossing the harsh Sahel and the cruel Sahara Desert, hitting the shores of Morocco.
“I just worked my way, city after city, country after country,” Ngannou recalls of his long trek to the West.
“From Cameroon to Morocco just by road, walking, hiding, illegally,” he recalls, explaining that his toughest moments were in Morocco.
“The stay there was horrible. It was like a hell of life being in Morocco. But I got to France and I was homeless but coming from Morocco from that situation, I think I was more happy than ever, like that was one of the happiest moments of my life,” Ngannou told reporters.
Like hundreds of thousands of migrants before and after him, Ngannou made the perilous Mediterranean crossing into Europe.
He made it to France, sleeping on the streets of Paris during what many would probably remember as the most difficult days of their life. Not Ngannou, though.
“France was the land of opportunity. I had a lot of enthusiasm, lots of expectations, a lot of hope and I was seeing my dream getting closer. I was homeless but I was more than excited and happy to be there,” Ngannou reclls.
That journey began with a dream: his desire to succeed against all odds, putting in the hardwork that he knew would be required to follow in the footsteps of his idol, Mike Tyson.
While living in the streets of Paris, Ngannou walked to a number of boxing gyms to ask if he could train for free.
When one coach gave him a chance and was impressed with his skills, the coach recommended that he should switch to mixed martial arts, which Ngannou embraced without even knowing what it was.
Before leaving Cameroon, Ngannou worked in a sand quarry as a schoolboy.
“I never got anything in life for free,” Ngannou has said adding: “I’ve earned everything so it’s nothing new for me. I always believe that if you do the right thing then you will earn what is yours.”.
Ngannou has explained that his determination to succeed is theraupeutic, helping him to deal with some of the trauma of his childhood.
He recalls a teacher and comrades making fun of him for being so poor he did not have money to buy a new book or a pen.
“For me it’s going to be my own way of dealing with my childhood, to knock my childhood out,” Ngannou told reporters ahead of this weekend’s championship fight.
“This will mean a response to all of that and a promise I made to myself to do something big, to do something that will put me in the spotlight, to show all those kids that were looking at me as a failure, that I’m not a failure. That I’m just like them,” he said.
His journey to the upper echelons of the UFC is nothing short of remarkable, the BBC wrote Saturday.
Ngannou’s UFC record stands at 15 fights, eleven knockouts and three defeats.
Since August 2020, Ngannou is number one in the UFC heavyweight rankings and number 13 in the UFC men’s pound0-for-pound rankings.
“I want to become the first African heavyweight champion. Mostly, I want to do that to impact and influence everyone there who has their own dream as I had my own dream,” Ngannou told reporters.