Francis Ngannou's story might look like a fairytale today. In reality, he has had to grind his way through a lot of difficulties and extremities to be where he's at now. From having virtually nothing in Cameroon to becoming UFC heavyweight champion, Ngannou's journey to the top has been nothing short of captivating.
Arguably the most dangerous knockout artist in the history of the sport, Francis Ngannou's legacy is already set in stone. But really, he's just getting started. He is very popular among fans and is often regarded as the 'Mike Tyson of MMA,' thanks to his ruthless and aggressive style of fighting.
Since being a sand miner in his hometown of Batie in Cameroon, Francis Ngannou has come a long way and is now the king of the heavyweight division. Former heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier even claimed Ngannou will change people's perception of the heavyweight division forever now that he is champion.
But how did Francis Ngannou come so far in life? How did a man who had to spend two months in isolation in a Spanish prison cell go on to become an all-conquering force in the UFC? Diving deep into Ngannou's life, fans can see his story is no less than a blockbuster rags-to-riches Hollywood movie.
In this article, we will look at what transformed Francis Ngannou into the man he is today.
5) Being raised by a single mother
Francis Ngannou has seen the hardships of life and struggles for survival from a very young age. He was raised most of his life by his single mother and his aunt, because his father was a violent man. His dad was both physically and verbally abusive towards his mother and that didn't go down well with The Predator.
Ngannou remembers feeling ashamed of the way his father treated his mother and wanted to bring a positive change in her life. Also, the frustration regarding his father might have helped him channel his negativity inside the gym, where he would train every day as if it were his last.
Ngannou's dad later passed away. Having been unable to contribute towards his father's medical treatment, the French-Cameroonian was heartbroken. It was then that he decided to move to Europe to become a professional fighter, so he could further support his remaining family.
4) Growing up as a sand miner in Cameroon
Francis Ngannou's childhood was so rough, the story could bring a tear to the eyes of even the most stone-hearted people. Ngannou started working in a sand mine in Cameroon when he was just 10 and dug mines there until the age of 17.
At the time, education in Cameroon was expensive and Francis Ngannou couldn't afford tuition. He also had to walk a couple of hours every day to reach school and couldn't afford to buy books. Ngannou said he hates remembering his childhood and the place he belonged to:
“I didn’t like my life, and I always felt like I missed my childhood.” Francis Ngannou said on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast. “I had to work by that age and it wasn’t enough. When school started I got to 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.”
“You work sometimes and they don’t pay you right away. It’s maybe after months and sometimes they’ll just kick you out of the school because of the scholarship fee you have if you haven’t paid on time. I grew up with this frustration and I was always expecting somebody to come there and do something, you know. I don’t know who but you know just come there and do something.”
3) Dealing with homelessness and jail-time
The pursuit of his dreams came at a huge cost for Francis Ngannou. After he decided he wanted to become a fighter, Ngannou had to make the journey from Cameroon to Morocco.
In Morocco, Francis Ngannou spent one whole year living a miserable life until he got the opportunity to move to Europe. He was a homeless, illegal immigrant who had no money and often had to scavenge garbage cans for food to survive:
“My journey from Cameroon to Morocco was about one year. One year in illegal situations, crossing borders, living in the bush, finding food in the trash, living this terrible life.”
Once he entered Spain, Francis Ngannou was captured for entering the country illegally and sent to solitary imprisonment for two months. Ngannou said that he was more worried about what would happen after he got released than about having to stay in jail:
“It was more stressful than scary. When we got to Spain, for the first while, we kind of relaxed, even though we were in jail. We knew we were going to go to jail when we got there. We would be free after, but we were going to go to jail (first). There was a lot of pressure in our minds. It was like a mental prison, not a physical prison. It was very hard.” Ngannou told Bleacher Report’s Tom Taylor.
This experience hardened him as a man and made him realize he was willing to go to any lengths to attain his dream of becoming a world champion fighter one day.
2) Paris opened the door to a world of possibilities for Francis Ngannou
Once he was released from prison, Ngannou boarded a train to Paris, France. This was the beginning of another difficult phase for him as he had nowhere to go and no money to survive on. Regardless, Ngannou was apparently happy. He realized he was slowly moving towards the life of his dreams and France was the next step.
He was allowed to train and stay in a local gym. It was there Ngannou first learned about the sport of MMA. Until then, the ardent Mike Tyson follower had wanted to become a boxer, but things were soon about to change.
Francis Ngannou started training in MMA in 2013 and got his first payment of $2000 for fighting in a tournament. Eight years later, he is now the UFC heavyweight champion.
1) His loss to Stipe Miocic in 2018
It could be argued what transformed Francis Ngannou into the all-conquering beast he is today is his 2018 loss to Stipe Miocic at UFC 220. Standing on the cusp of greatness, Ngannou thought he was ready to become the new heavyweight champion. He thought his power would prove too much for Miocic to handle.
However, Miocic schooled him for five rounds and proved that Francis Ngannou still had a long way to go as a fighter. He took the loss in his stride, worked on his overall game and beat a host of top-contenders with relative ease. Then, after three long years, Ngannou got a shot at redemption.
This time, Francis Ngannou would prove that he has become a much more complete fighter by violently knocking out Miocic in the second round of their rematch. His victory fulfilled a lifelong dream of a boy who grew up amid sheer adversity.