French-Cameroon mixed marital artist Champion Francis Ngannou has, perhaps, one of the greatest Cinderella stories in the world of professional sports. His story can serve as a beautiful example, a true showcase, of an individual who had everything going against them and overcame the odds through dedication, hard-work, perseverance, and developing a good network of friends and connections along the way.
Let us take a look into the life of Francis Ngannou, get an insight into his early life, the adversities he faced, and the amazing tale of how he beat the odds and went on to win the title of UFC Heavyweight World Champion this past March.
Standing at 6 feet 4 inches and weighing 263 pounds, Francis Ngannou is 34 years of age and currently resides in Las Vegas, Nevada. They call him “The Predator” due to his prowess and expertise in boxing and mixed martial arts. He currently holds the title of UFC Heavyweight World Champion. This sounds like a dream come true!
In order to understand this man’s origin story, you must travel to a little country is west-central Africa known as Cameroon. Ngannou was born and raised in the village of Batie in the western part of the country. He lived with his aunt, starting when he was six years old, after his parents divorced.
At age ten, he worked in the mines, doing grueling manual labor to support his family. It was do or die for Ngannou, who worked weekends and holidays to make the extra money it would take to survive.
On top of his demanding work schedule, Ngannou had to make time to get to school, which consisted of a two hour round trek. This was the pattern of his life up until he was 17 years old. There was not much hope of the horizon that things could ever change or be different.
“I don’t find it fun to talk about my childhood. It is not happy, for me, it is sad. I always admire people, friends, or somebody else talking about their childhood..all the things they were doing, their cartoons, kind of like the culture. I feel like those are the missing parts of my life.” -Francis Ngannou
With a hopeless situation in Cameroon, Ngannou set off on a harrowing journey to Europe with a dream of one day becoming World Champion in boxing. He ventured to Paris, but the adversity continued for him as he was homeless during the first part of his stay there. However, Ngannou was in good spirits for, in Paris, he had better access to clean living and more resources to take care of himself despite having no home of his own.
“I was homeless at the time, but I think that this was one of the best moments in my life. I was somewhere that I cannot care about being sick, or what to eat, for the first time in my life.” -Francis Ngannou
Patience is a virtue, and we can see with Francis Ngannou that his success did not come overnight or handed to him. It was a process of hard work, toil, and tolerating delays or problems as he set the stage for his future success.
Ten years would pass from the moment he realized he wants to be a boxing World Champion to the moment he first began training in the gym.
Ngannou met Fernand Lopez at the MMA Factory in Paris, where Lopez took him under his wing. Although, Ngannou’s desire was to become a world-famous boxer, much in the vein of Mike Tyson, Lopez encouraged him to join the UFC and study martial arts. He claimed it would be the quickest and best route for Ngannou to achieve his goals. That was enough to sell Ngannou, and he began a rigorous training routine under some of Paris’ best quality coaches.
His first fight was won in the first round by submission. He took a dip with this second fight, though, losing the two-round fight by unanimous decision.
In 2015, Ngannou made his debut in the UFC. In December of that year, he achieves a massive KO win going against Luis Henrique, followed by a TKO win over Curtis Blaydes shortly thereafter. He was hen eligible for a title opportunity at UFC 220. This is not typical for someone just starting out! This was as baffling to Ngannou as it is to those who were watching its rapid fire success.
“When I look back at it, I felt upset. I was still very new to the sport. I did not have as much experience and was pressuring myself. It was just a lot going on.” -Francis Ngannou
His first big loss occurred at UFC 220, where he lost his title match against Stipe Miocic by unanimous decision. He was not ready for this fight, but the fact that his first defeat came at a point this far into the competition speaks volumes to his ability, raw talent, and grit.
The loss of momentum at UFC 220 had some rippling effects on his performance at UFC 226, where he faced off against Derrick Lewis.
The amazing parts of Ngannou’s character have to be his perseverance, his ability to get past prior shortcomings and failures, and to pull himself up and begin the work that will get him back to a momentous winning streak.
Over the years, nearly all fighters in the UFC that have gone against “The Predator” have fallen victim to his aggressive, robust fighting style.
But this was not enough for Ngannou. He had to win against the person to whom he lost his first big fight, namely Stipe Miocic. And this rematch was going to require a special kind of strategy. His plan involved embracing the roots of his initial successes by moving back to Paris and training for three weeks to become physically and mentally for the rematch on March 22.
His rematch with Miocic saw him landing 65% of his strike attempts, and everything culminated with Ngannou knocking out Miocic 52 seconds into the 2nd round! And this is the moment when Francis Ngannou became UFC Heavyweight World Champion.
You could take away lessons on digging deep or finding creative ways to hone your abilities to achieve a newfound level of success. Maybe most importantly, we can learn the importance of not giving up on ourselves and knowing that many wonderful things are possible in this life!