LAS VEGAS, 28 March 2021 – Cameroonian-born Francis Ngannou alias “The Predator”, made history Saturday in Las Vegas, as he became the first African-born UFC heavyweight champion.
Ngannou beat erstwhile champion Stipe Miocic during the title fight at UFC260 Apex to become king of the most prestigious division of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
Ngannou scored a second-round knockout against American-born Stipe Miocic.
The Cameroonian had to wait three years to avenge his defeat in what some commentators described as a lopsided decision in favor of the American during their first match-up held in Boston, USA, in 2018.
Ngannou was clinical in the rematch, as he realized the dream he had been nurturing even before leaving his native Cameroon: the dream of walking in the footsteps of his idol, Mike Tyson, to become world champion.
One jab followed by a straight punch in the second round was all Ngannou needed to send the Ohio-born Miocic to the canvas.
Ngannou followed up as Miocic went to the canvas, throwing one more fist at the American before the umpire stepped in to break up the fight and reward the Cameroonian who started celebrating almost immediately.
“It feels so amazing,” Ngannou told reporters.
“It was like a promise that I made to myself since I was young. To prove to the doubters and the people that thought I was beneath them that it wasn’t my fault. If I ever had the opportunity, I would do great and even greater and that’s what I’m here for,” an overjoyed Ngannou told reporters.
Commentators were full of praise for Ngannou, his composure going into the match, his management of the game, and the massive punches he threw.
“There is not a man alive who can take those punches,” said a UFC commentator of the man whom many in the sport are already saying has the same star power as Mike Tyson along with the monster knockout blows that Tyson used to throw.
Celebrations broke out Sunday morning in Ngannou’s native Batie village in the West Region of French-speaking Cameroon where he was born to peasant parents as the fight was called in his favor.
Ngannou wanted to go places but when he left Cameroon he says he did not even know where he was going.
“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.
At the time looking for a career in boxing, Ngannou headed for Europe, crossing the harsh Sahel and the cruel Sahara Desert partly by trekking.
“I just worked my way, city after city, country after country,” Ngannou recalls of his long trek across the African continent.
Ngannou traveled “from Cameroon to Morocco just by road, walking, hiding, illegally,” the UFC champion has said of his “desert crossing”, adding that Morocco was the harshest part of his journey to the West.
“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 ahead of his title fight.
Like hundreds of thousands of migrants before and after him, Ngannou made the perilous Mediterranean crossing into Europe, ending up in France.
He slept on the streets of the French capital, Paris.
“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 recalls.
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 therapeutic, 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 his championship fight.
Before leaving Cameroon, he recalls, “I made [a promise] 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.”
Ngannou’s journey to the upper echelons of the UFC is nothing short of remarkable, the BBC wrote Saturday.
The new UFC heavyweight champion of the world did not even know the sport he is the king of only seven years ago.
Before Saturday’s title fight, Ngannou’s UFC was an outstanding 15 fights, eleven knockouts, and three defeats.
Make that 16 fights, 12 knockouts, three defeats, and champion of the world as the icing on the cake said one commentator at the end of the fight in Las Vegas.
“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 before the fight.
“Chose promise, chose faite” [promise made, promise kept] exclaimed Jean-Pierre Zeufack, one of Ngannou’s fans in his native Batie after watching video excerpts of the title fight that have gone viral on Cameroonian WhatsApp groups.