Francis Ngannou's journey from homelessness to UFC heavyweight champion

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Francis Ngannou has certainly had a harder journey than most on his way to becoming the newly-crowned UFC heavyweight champion.

The Cameroonian made history on Saturday night, becoming the first African to win the heavyweight championship after he knocked out Stipe Miocic at UFC 260.

‘The Predator’ lived up to his nickname, delivering a series of devastating punches to put away Miocic in the second round of their rematch from 2018. 

It’s been a long road for Ngannou to get to this point of his career, his extraordinary life thus far being filled with sacrifices along the way. 

The Story of Francis Ngannou

Growing up in the poverty-stricken town of Batie, Cameroon, Ngannou’s days consisted of going through bins just for something to eat, with his only fights back then against the local rats who tried to get there first. 

“You would have to go to the market at night time to go find food in the trash,” Ngannou told the Joe Rogan Experience.

“Sometimes you’d argue with a rat in the trash – ‘Get away from this tomato, it’s mine, this rotten tomato is mine, not yours.'”

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It’s no wonder that Ngannou isn’t adverse to hard work – it’s all he’s known. From the age of 10, he was forced to dig at a local sand quarry just to provide for his single mother and his aunt, with whom he also lived with. 

Other jobs, including a motorcycle taxi driver, were also part and parcel of Ngannou’s day in order to just get the basics, even going to school with no pens or even a bag. 

Ngannou, however, had a dream. He decided to leave Cameroon to pursue a much more prosperous life and a new beginning. Sadly, there were many false starts before he could write his own story. 

Making his way up to Algeria in northern Africa, Ngannou’s progress was halted no fewer than six times, continuously ending up back in the Sahara desert with nothing but animal-infested wells to drink from.

After finally reaching the promised land of Europe, Ngannou was jailed for illegally crossing the Morocco-Spain border by sea.

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Once he was released after two months of being locked up, Ngannou fled to France. He had gotten so far, but without any real progress as he had no way of supporting himself. Having no money meant he was subject to sleeping on the streets of Paris, dreaming of a fighting career. 

His work at the quarry from an early age and an imposing 6ft 4in frame meant Ngannou already had all the strength and all the tools at his disposal to be successful. After being picked by Didier Carmot, Ngannou was allowed to train for free as Carmot supported him with accommodation and food in the French capital.

Initially wanting to be a boxer, Ngannou began training as an MMA fighter, before his fist fight took place in November 2013. The rest, as they say, is history. 

Eventually landing himself a UFC contract in 2015, Ngannou has gone from strength to strength. His first fight in the business was a sign of things to come as he emphatically knocked out Luis Henrique.

His rise to heavyweight champion may seem meteoric; in reality it has been anything but.

Ngannou has suffered a huge amount of turmoil and setbacks on his journey, making victory for himself and the people of Cameroon even more sweet as he inspires a new generation of African fighters. 

He hasn’t forgotten his roots either. ‘The Francis Ngannou Foundation’ has been set up back in his homeland, providing young people with the facilities and opportunities he was starved of when he was young. He even gets his hands dirty by helping out at the same sand quarry from time to time. 

Francis Ngannou has achieved the dream that forever looked unlikely. He continues to write his own story and it remains to be seen what the next chapter on this incredible fairy tale will look like

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