Beyond the brute exterior and the accolades that have followed Ngannou since he kicked off his professional career in 2013 lies a compelling story that defines his personality.
By Emmanuel Okoro
One of the fascinating aspects of 2023, beyond the dominance of African music on the global stage, was African sports. And if there’s one name that resonates with sheer power and unparalleled athleticism on the African continent, it is no other than Cameroonian professional mixed martial fighter, Francis Ngannou. Hailing from the picturesque village of Batié, his journey to the highest summit of the UFC heavyweight division has been nothing short of inspirational. As a powerhouse inside the octagon ring of the MMA, he has become known for his unrivalled ferocity.
Beyond the brute exterior and the accolades that have followed Ngannou since he kicked off his professional career in 2013 lies a compelling story that defines his personality. Less is known about the fighter who captivated the hearts of a global audience after he almost upstaged British WBC heavyweight champion, Tyson Fury in October last year. So, what are some of the interesting facts about this six-foot-four-inch, 257-pound macho?
He worked at a sand quarry at the age of 10
Ngannou’s life was marked by adversity, even from a young age, as he faced poverty, with little access to formal education. The challenges seemed to hit a fevered pitch as his parents separated when he was barely six years old, leading him to be placed under the care of his aunt. At the age of 10, due to financial constraints, Ngannou laboured hard in a sand quarry, shovelling sand into trucks for £1.50 a day.
As he grew older, he faced solicitations from different gangs in his village, urging him to join their ranks. He continued to decline their requests and ultimately decided to pursue a career in combat sports to transform his life for the better.
He was imprisoned in Spain for illegal entry
Ngannou undertook several odd jobs until the age of 26 when he decided to pursue professional boxing in Europe. Upon reaching Europe, he was incarcerated for two months in Spain for illegally crossing the border. Arriving in Paris with no financial resources or a place to call home, Ngannou faced the harsh realities of homelessness.
However, his fortunes took a turn when he stumbled on a boxing club and ran into Coach Didier Carmont, a cousin to famous French boxer, Francis Carmont. Carmont empathised with Ngannou’s predicament and negotiated for him to train at the gym at no cost. At this time, he also became a volunteer at La Chorba, a non-profit organisation, providing free food to the less privileged in Paris.
Ngannou was introduced to La Chorba’s director, Kahter Yenbou, who further introduced him to Fernand Lopez and the MMA Factory. While inspired to do boxing – originally drawn by his admiration for Mike Tyson – his path shifted as Lopez recognised his potential in mixed martial arts (MMA).
He has an amazing UFC career of 17 wins and 3 losses
Ngannou’s journey in the MMA world began in November 2013 when he stepped into the cage, primarily competing in the French promotion 100% Fight, and various regional circuits across Europe. In a standout moment at UFC Fight Night 102 in December 2016, he showcased his versatility by claiming victory over Anthony Hamilton via submission in the first round, earning his first UFC Performance of the Night bonus. The momentum continued with a first-round TKO against Andrei Arlovski at UFC on Fox 23.
Despite a setback in the scheduled bout against Junior dos Santos at UFC 215, Ngannou bounced back in perhaps one of his highest-profile against Alistair Overeem at UFC 218, delivering a knockout labelled as one of the greatest and most brutal in MMA history. Following this, he inked a new, eight-fight contract with the UFC.
In a faceoff with Jairzinho Rozenstruik 2020, Ngannou wasted no time, delivering a knockout just 20 seconds into the first round, and earning yet another Performance of the Night accolade. The highly anticipated rematch between himself and Miocic for the UFC Heavyweight Championship unfolded on March 2021, at UFC 260. In a stunning turn of events, Ngannou emerged victorious with a knockout in the second round, earning the Performance of the Night award.
Continuing his reign as the UFC Heavyweight Champion, he faced the Interim UFC Heavyweight Champion, Ciryl Gane, in his inaugural title defence on January 2022, at the UFC 270. Despite grappling with an injury to his knee ligaments just three and a half weeks before the fight, Ngannou demonstrated his resilience and adaptability. This time around was a departure from his usual knockout victories, as he secured the win by unanimous decision. This ultimately brought his MMA scorecards to 3 losses and 17 wins – 12 of which were by knockout, 4 by submission, and 3 by split decision.
He is nicknamed “The Predator”
Ngannou is fondly known as “The Predator”, due to his imposing and predatory impulses inside the octagon. He earned the moniker as a result of his ability to hunt down opponents and finish them off with his decisive punches and hooks. In a way, the nickname reveals both his domineering presence and the relentless nature with which he strives for victory.
He opened the first MMA gym in Cameroon
Beyond Ngannou’s dominance in combat sports, he extends his impact through philanthropy. He, through the Francis Ngannou Foundation, opened the first MMA gym in Cameroon. The gym seeks to provide young individuals with a dedicated space for training and honing their craft.
He lost against Tyson Fury by a split-decision victory
In January last year, Ngannou’s career took a surprising turn when the UFC Heavyweight Championship was stripped from him due to unsuccessful contract extensions. This ultimately rendered Ngannou a free agent.
By May, Ngannou inked a multi-fight deal with the Professional Fighters League (PFL), an agreement that allowed him to engage in different sports. And the world first came to know his might when he faced the undefeated WBC heavyweight champion, Tyson Fury, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in a boxing match tagged “Battle of the Baddest”. Ngannou seemed to gain the upper hand when he knocked down Fury in the third round. However, the match ended in a controversial split decision victory awarded to Fury, who maintained his undefeated record. Still, Ngannou was the people’s champion that night, landing 37 power punches against Fury’s 32.
He is ranked 10th among WBC’s heavyweight boxers in the world
Interestingly, after his fight with Fury, the WBC ranked Ngannou as the 10th heavyweight boxer in the world. This recognition is a testament to his impact on the world of boxing in such a short time, just after transitioning from the MMA.
He is squaring up to go against Anthony Joshua
Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority recently announced that Ngannou will have a face-off in a 10-round bout with British-Nigeria boxing sensation, Anthony Joshua. The match is slated to be held on the 8th of March this year in Riyadh.
Emmanuel ‘Waziri’ Okoro is a content writer and journo with an insatiable knack for music and pop culture. When he’s not writing, you will find him arguing why Arsenal FC is the best football club in the multiverse. Connect with him on Twitter, Instagram, and Threads: @BughiLorde