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Francis N’Gannou: The UFC’s Heavyweight Champion’s Story Of Rags to Riches

It’s a Cinderella story famed by all those close to him.

We all love an underdog, it doesn’t matter what sporting code. For Francis N’Gannou there’s no exception to the rule. While we can hardly consider Ngannou as an underdog (having obliterated most of the UFC heavyweight division) he stepped into the Octagon on the weekend as an underdog, as his ruthless run of KOs was stopped by Stipe Miocic the last time they faced one another. The rematch, however, delivered an unsurprising and earth-shattering result all at once. Ngannou delivered a staple and brutal second-round TKO that sent UFC fans, fighters and the rest of the world into a frenzy.

N’Gannou claimed the heavyweight belt that had alluded him three years ago, and with it—completing a story good enough to one day make a film about it. In his early days, N’Gannou lived in extreme poverty. He started working in a sand quarry at 12-years-old. However, intending he intended to become something more. Francis Ngannou sat with the UFC to talk about his journey. Read it in his own words below.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – MARCH 27: Francis Ngannou of Cameroon reacts after his victory over Stipe Miocic in their UFC heavyweight championship fight

Formative years:

“I hated this place growing up…I hated the sand mine, everything, I hated my life…Sometimes you’d argue with a rat in the trash…It really hurts me to remember everything where I came from…”

“I’m from Cameroon, from some small village, and people there are very hopeless. Because they lose everything, nothing is made for them, they’re forgotten…We didn’t have TV’s, you know, we barely have a lamp to read a book. I started to work at 10 years old. That’s how I grew up.”

“I hated these places growing up. You can’t imagine, I hated the sand mine, everything, I hated my life.”

“I was about 10 years old when I started [working in a sand mine] 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. 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 many options so we take what we had at the time.”

“I didn’t like my life, and I always felt like I missed my childhood…” Francis Ngannou told Joe Rogan on The Joe Rogan Experience last month, “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.”

Leaving his home, he had this to say:

“Before I left Cameroon I went see my see my mom. I stayed with my mom for like three weeks. She didn’t know why I was there for that long, but I was there because that was the last time before I left and I didn’t know how… it’s going to turn out,” Says Francis Ngannou, “How I’ll end up out there because people die. You don’t know what’s gonna happen. Then I’m like looking at staring at my mom … I was thinking maybe this might be the last time that I’m seeing her.”

“When many people leave their country they don’t know what they’re looking for. It’s difficult because you don’t know exactly where you’re going. You’re walking in absolute dark.”

“My journey from Cameroon to Morocco was about one year, and one year in illegal situations, crossing borders, living in the bush, finding food in the trash, living this terrible life.”

“Years ago I was in Morocco…We live in the forest hiding from the cops trying to cross the border to go to Spain.” Mike Tyson asked Ngannou on his podcast Hotboxin’ last May, “Did you have food?” Francis Ngannou answered, “No, sometimes we have to go hunt, sometimes we have to go to the trash truck. We have to hide because we don’t know who is police.”

“You would have to go to the market at night time to go find food in the trash. 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 was more stressful than scary… 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.”

Ngannou revealed “7 years ago we were freed by Spanish homeland security after spending 2 months in jail for illegally entering Europe by sea. This, after attempting to live for one year from Morocco. I had nothing back then but a dream and a faith in pursuing it. Some people will always tell you that it’s too late, that you can’t make it, that it’s not meant for you, that you’re not worth it, or that you can’t succeed without them while their lives aren’t an example of success. Those voices are always around the corner to make you quit your dream and maybe your destiny. It’s up to you and only you if you let them get to your mind, but you can also reject or ignore the negativities around you and make it in your own way.”

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – MARCH 27: Francis Ngannou of Cameroon reacts after his victory over Stipe Miocic in their UFC heavyweight championship fight

The heartfelt story doesn’t end with Ngannou’s treacherous journey when leaving home, it continues when the new heavyweight champion of the world made Paris, France his home.

“It’s very difficult when you arrive at a place like Paris, and you don’t have anyone. At the time I didn’t even have a place to sleep. I didn’t have anything. But I didn’t care about that because I’m happy. I was happy because I knew this was an opportunity for me to make something by myself and to progress.”

“I was homeless then, but at that moment, it wasn’t difficult for me anymore. You might think being homeless in Paris in the fall when it’s cold was not great, but the enthusiasm that I had at that time… Beyond everything, I was happy to be in the land of opportunity. I was happy to have my own life and be able to chase my own dreams. So that’s definitely one of the happiest moments of my life.”

“Even though I was sleeping in parking lots and I didn’t have food or money, I was just free. Compared to where I was in Morocco, a parking lot was like a five-star hotel.”

“Yes,” Francis Ngannou told Mike Tyson, “When I went in France it was very interesting to see people complaining about everything. Here was free. You can find a peaceful place to eat for free, and for me this was heaven. I was homeless at the time, but I think that this was the one of the best moment in my life. I was somewhere that I cannot care about being sick, or what to eat, for the first time in my life.”

“I was 26 or 27 at the time. I was very happy even though I was homeless. People were like, ‘your situation is like really bad, sorry’ I’m like, ‘don’t mind me I’m good, I’m really good.”

Knowing and reading the above makes the new heavyweight champion an immortal star to those from home and all around the globe. The ‘Predator’ has made his story, completed others and will soon turn to one of the toughest challenges in Jon Jones. It’s only a matter of time before the pair will meet in Jones’ new division, having vacated the light heavyweight division leaving the match up with Israel Adesanya behind, only to face Francis N’Gannou who is well-prepared to face Jones when he is ready.

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