Francis Ngannou has been a breath of fresh air for the UFC heavyweight division. A formidable opponent, the intimidatingly large and powerful athlete looks set on a trajectory towards a title shot. His prowess inside the Octagon is only eclipsed by his incredibly inspiring backstory.
Long before the bright lights of the UFC and competing at the pinnacle of his sport, Ngannou was living homeless on the streets of Paris having traveled 3,100-miles from his native Cameroon. Speaking to Yahoo! Sports, the adopted Frenchman revealed that a yearning to achieve something great was one of the main catalysts behind his journey to an unfamiliar country.
“I never had opportunity in my life,” he said. “When I was young, I didn’t go to school too much because my parents didn’t have money. My family didn’t have money. So when I came to France, I did it because I wanted to do something great.”
With not much else but a dream, Ngannou wanted to replicate the success of Mike Tyson, the youngest heavyweight boxing champion in history. Looking to learn the techniques of the boxing world, Ngannou inadvertently bumped into coach Fernand Lopez who suggested he try MMA. With no money to pay for the services of the gym, Lopez agreed to train him anyway. Three years later, he’d be making his UFC debut.
This past Saturday night, Ngannou walked away with a $50,000 bonus. A far cry from his early days in Cameroon and the cold streets of Paris. Making more money than he ever could have dreamed of, Ngannou wants to help share his good fortune and inspire the youth from his homeland. A true testament to the man that Francis “The Predator” Ngannou is.
“When I started, I had nothing,” he said. “Nothing. I needed everything. But when you start [to earn money], you starting collecting things: I want this, I want this, I want that. The purpose is not collecting things, though. The purpose is to do something great. Finish the dream you started."
“I want to help my family, first, of course, but then I want to give opportunity to children in my country like me who have a dream to become a doctor or something. If I reach my dream, it will give me the opportunity to help those in my country who have their own dreams and nothing else to fulfill them.”
At a time in history where mixed martial arts has been called into question as a true art form, the complex implications surrounding the country of your birth and the controversial banning of travel visas from certain areas, it is important to have stories such as Francis Ngannou’s. The UFC heavyweight isn’t just an inspiration to MMA, his story goes a long way toward restoring our faith in humanity.
Boasting a 5-0 record inside the UFC, with his most recent win this past weekend over former champion Andrei Arlovski, Ngannou’s story looks set to reach new heights.