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Francis Ngannou: From Trekking Through Five Countries To Paris To Becoming MMA Champion

Francis Ngannou is arguably the most successful and richest mixed martial arts fighter turned boxer. The Cameroonian nationality fought his way from working in the sand mines, a 14-month journey to France to a successful champion who has achieved worldwide success. Various sources have put his net worth at $5 million. 

Here is his story as told by WoK.

Childhood

Born on 5th September 1986, he was raised in Batie, Cameroon in a poverty-stricken home. At 10, he was forced to leave school and worked in the sand mines. Challenging as the job was, it made him stronger and he developed interest in boxing. 

Francis Ngannou: From Trekking Through Five Countries To Paris To Becoming MMA Champion
Francis Ngannou’s father was a street fighter in Batie Credit: Instagram @francisngannou

“I was about 10 years old when I started working in sand mines because I was in the village where I grew up. After leaving my Aunt’s house, I went to my grandma and we had to do something”, he told Joe Rogan Experience.

We had to work to contribute at home to buy oil, to buy food and also for our scholarship, for our books. You have to work, even though that work was meant for adults, but we didn’t have any option so we take what we had at the time.

I didn’t like my life, and I anyways felt like I missed my childhood… I had to work by that age and it wasn’t enough. When school starts I gonna go to school and most of the time still didn’t have a pen to take notes or a notebook to write on it. Sometimes no shoes or clothes, my uniform was tear all over and I was frustrated to look around and see other kids looking good,” Ngannou shared.

Francis Ngannou: From Trekking Through Five Countries To Paris To Becoming MMA Champion
Ngannou journey to Europe started when he was 26 Credit: Instagram @francisngannou

Francis Ngannou Move to Paris

Once he turned 26, he decided to make his way to Europe. He knew that he couldn’t use the airport so he embarked on the journey by road.

Francis Ngannou first traveled to Nigeria which was easy as they had open borders and he didn’t need a Visa. Then, he traveled to Niger which was not easy to enter because he needed a Visa. To get by, people needed to bribe the corrupt officials.

The mixed martial artist then moved to Algeria which was equally difficult. They moved through the desert crammed in a truck. The dehydration was so severe that he was forced to drink water that was infested with dead animals.

To move to Algeria, they forged identifications and passed off as Malians since they didn’t need a Visa to enter Algeria. 

This was followed by another difficult trip to Morocco where he had to be hospitalized. Through a police chase and tumultuous journey, he made it to Spain. Here, he was arrested and detained for two months but could not be deported due to his fake identification.

The determined young man was then able to move from Spain to France. Initially, he wanted to go to the UK but soon realized the strict border control rules would hamper this. 

Francis Ngannou Career

Arriving in France, he was homeless for a while trying to find a gym that would take him. A coach took a chance on him and convinced a gym to allow him train for free.

He was then introduced to Fernand Lopez who convinced him to pursue MMA. Fernand gave him the training gear and allowed him to sleep in the gym at no cost. 

Before signing with UFC in 2015, Ngannou mostly fought in the French promotion 100% Fight and other regional promotions in Europe. During his debut UFC fight on 19th December 2015, he won against Luis Henrique, who was also a newcomer. 

In April 2016, he faced off against newcomer Curis Blaydes and won via a TKO. In July the same year, he won against another newcomer before getting another win in December against Anthony Hamilton. This fight earned him the UFC Performance of the Night bonus.

In January 2015, he won in a fight against Andrei Arlvoski via a first round TKO and earned his second UFC Performance of the Night.

On 2nd December 2017, he won in a high profile fight against seasoned fighter Alistair Overeem. He won in the first round via a knockout in what was termed as one of the greatest and most brutal knockouts of all time. After the win, he signed an 8-fight contract with UFC. 

In January 2018, he lost a fight against Stipe Miocic via unanimous decision. This was followed by another loss via unanimous decision in a July fight against Derrick Lewis. In November, he earned a Performance of the Night bonus after winning via TKO in the first round in a fight against Curtis Blaydes. 

In February 2019, he headlined the UFC’s inaugural event on ESPN. He won via a knockout in the first round against Cain Velasquez. In June, he won against Junior dos Santos via a technical knockout in the first round and earned a Performance of the night bonus. 

In May 2020, he faced off against Jairzinho Rozenstruik and won via a knockout 20 seconds into the first round. This earned him a performance of the night award. 

In March 2021, there was a re-match between him and Miocic for the UFC Heavyweight Championship. He won a performance of the night award after winning via a knockout in the second round. 

In January 2022, he defended his title against Ciryl Gabe and won via unanimous decision.

In January 2023, he and UFC failed to reach an agreement and the UFC Heavyweight Championship was stripped from him.

Francis Ngannou later said that he had requested for health insurance, the ability to have sponsorships for all UFC fighters, and to have a fighter advocate present during all fighter contract negotiations.

After his requests were denied, he chose not to sign another contract with UFC. He also admitted that he would love to start a boxing career. 

In what has been dubbed as a historic moment for the sport, he signed a deal with Professional Fighters League (PFL).

He will not only be competing in their pay per view super fight competitions but will also be free to compete in other sports, such as, boxing. In the deal, he also negotiated on behalf of his opponents, guaranteeing them to be paid at least $2 million.

He will also be part of its global advisory board whose purpose is to advocate for the interest of fighters, and an equity owner and chairman of the upcoming PFL Africa League. 

In October 2023, he fought against Tyson Fury in a professional boxing match called Battle of the Baddest. He knocked down Tyson Fury in the third round. The judges awarded Fury victory in a controversial split decision. After the fight, he was ranked #10 by the WBC.

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