Born in Batié, Cameroon, Francis Ngannou growing up lived in poverty and had little formal education. At age six, Ngannou’s parents divorced and he was sent to live with his aunt. At 10 years old, Ngannou started working in a sand quarry in Batié because of a lack of funds. As a youngster, Ngannou was approached by several gangs in his village to join them. He refused and instead decided to use his father’s negative reputation as a street fighter as motivation to do something positive and pursue boxing.
At the age of 22, Ngannou began training in boxing, despite the initial reluctance of his family.[ After training for a year, Ngannou stopped training due to an illness. He did various odd jobs to make ends meet, until at the age of 26, he decided to head to Paris, France, to pursue professional boxing. However upon reaching Europe, he was jailed for two months in Spain for illegally crossing the border. After Ngannou reached Paris, he had no money, no friends, and no place to live After living homeless on the streets of Paris, he was introduced by a friend to Fernand Lopez and the MMA factory.] Being a fan of Mike Tyson, Ngannou was originally interested in learning how to box but Lopez saw his potential in MMA and convinced him to try MMA instead. Lopez gave Ngannou some MMA gear and allowed him to train and sleep at the gym for no cost thus starting Ngannou’s MMA career.
‘’When I started, I had nothing. 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.’’ He said
Ngannou 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.
“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.'”
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 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.
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