Bringing “back yourself” to a whole new level
You have to wonder what was going through Francis Ngannou’s mind in this picture – other than “Man, my arms are tired.” The new UFC Heavyweight Champion of the World might have the most inspirational backstory of anyone to wear the belt. So, what is it about this softly-spoken gentle giant that has captured the imagination of fight fans everywhere? Well, we’re here to tell you.
Where is Francis NGannou from?
Ngannou was born in Batié, a town in the western province of Cameroon. The young Francis grew up in extreme poverty. He has described the isolating feelings of shame that came along with growing up without clothes, shoes or school supplies. But he had a dream that kept him going – to become a professional boxer.
However, in reality the family’s situation was so dire that he had to work in a sand quarry from the age of 10, just so they could afford food. He spoke very powerfully about his childhood and how it shaped him in an appearance on the Joe Rogan Experience – which provides an amazing insight into the mind of a unique champion.
How did he end up in the UFC?
It was a long journey for the new champion of the UFC heavyweight division. He had been training hard in Cameroon, still harbouring hopes of becoming a pro boxer, but at the age of 26 he decided a change was needed. He would have to head to Europe to fulfil his ambition.
Upon reaching Spain, he was arrested and jailed for two months for crossing the border illegally. But, he didn’t give up – after he was released, he managed to push on to Paris. However, with no friends or family to rely on in the city, he soon found himself living on the streets. Still, he did not give up.
One day, he walked into a gym and struck up a friendship with boxing coach Didier Carmont. Didier would change Francis’ life – setting him up with an apartment, lending him money and helping him get on his feet. It was Carmont who convinced Ngannou to try his hand at martial arts, and set him on the path that brought him to the UFC today.
The rise and fall of Francis Ngannou
Ngannou took the UFC by storm, becoming an instant fan favourite thanks to his amazing punch power and frankly ridiculous physique. His incredible story, unassuming personality and humble outlook only made the big man more popular. He even smashed the world record for punching power at the UFC High Performance Centre.
After 10 straight wins, including this devastating knockout of fellow giant Alistair Overeem, the stage was set for a world title fight. Ngannou faced five-time champion Stipe Miocic, one of the all-time great heavyweights in the UFC. He finally had his chance to write his name into the history books.
It didn’t go well. Ngannou looked a shadow of his former self as he lost by unanimous decision. To make matters worse, he lost (again by unanimous decision) in a drab contest against the unfancied Derrick Lewis 6 months later. A career at the highest levels of professional sport is fragile and for a horrible moment it looked as though Ngannou’s might fallen apart.
Don’t call it a comeback
Having scrapped and fought for everything he had earned before, Ngannou wasn’t going to give it up now. He followed up that nightmare six months with four straight wins, and the return of his swaggering punching power. The fighter who had won the hearts and minds of UFC fans everywhere was back!
It all culminated in this weekend’s rematch with Stipe Miocic at UFC 260, and this time Ngannou was ready. It took him just 5 minutes and 52 seconds to knock his opponent out in stunning style and achieve the unlikeliest of childhood dreams.
The plaudits rolled in from former champions, celebrities and fellow fighters. But, the most compelling celebrations came from Batié, where crowds cheered on their hometown hero as he took home the belt.
A truly special champion
We love nothing more than to see people backing themselves – and this man has brought that attitude to a whole new level. We can only imagine how much money and how many prizes he would win if he set his mind to playing on our app! But, on a serious note, we can’t get enough of his inspiring story and we can’t wait to see what comes next for him.
And as if the inspiration wasn’t enough, the man is so memeable! To finish off your Monday with a smile, here’s Ngannou giggling like a schoolgirl, while up-and-coming boxer Ryan Garcia tries to punch him as hard as he can. What a guy!