Francis Ngannou’s story is one about beating impossible odds. From struggling to put food on his plate as a kid to travelling across continents to become one of the deadliest fighters in MMA history, Francis Ngannou has seen it all.
Let’s take a look at five unbelievable facts about Francis Ngannou.
1 – Francis Ngannou’s father was abusive and a street fighter
Francis Ngannou’s father was infamous for fighting on the streets of Cameroon and for being in trouble with the law. In fact, Francis Ngannou’s parents had divorced when he was only six years old.
“The fact was my dad was very violent, beating up my mom, beating us up. When my parents got divorced, I was six years old at the time, and I had to go to my aunt to live there. That’s where I found out about my dad’s reputation,” said Francis Ngannou in a previous interview.
Francis Ngannou was expected to end up like his father, but fate seemingly had other plans for him.
2 – Francis Ngannou once ate from garbage cans and got arrested in Spain
Francis Ngannou was born and schooled in Cameroon, but his family was so poor that he didn’t have a proper uniform or bag, and sometimes, even food.
They were so poor that Francis Ngannou used to rummage through garbage in search of leftover food.
“You would have to go to the market at night time to 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 at the age of 22 when Francis Ngannou realised his dream of becoming a boxer. After three years of restricted training, he attempted to flee to France but had to first reach Morocco and then Spain.
Francis Ngannou’s aim was to become a boxer in France, but after entering Spain illegally, he was detained.
Speaking about his experience in the Spanish detention centre, Francis Ngannou said:
“It was more stressful than scary. When we got to Spain, for the first time, 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.”
3 – Francis Ngannou did not want to take up MMA
On his first day after reaching Paris, Francis Ngannou looked for a gym where he could train for boxing. While his new coach was impressed with Ngannou’s boxing skills, he was suggested to get into MMA if he wanted to make money.
But Ngannou had never heard about the sport and thought about it:
“What in the world was MMA? They explained it to me, and I just laughed, What’s that? I’m not going to go wrestle and all that crap. It was very strange to me and very weird. I said, ‘I will not do this.'”
However, Francis Ngannou’s coaches soon realised he was gifted. He soon joined Fernand Lopez’s MMA Factory gym and impressed his trainers in the very first session.
“They looked at me and said, ‘I’m pretty sure Fernand will be very happy to see you,'” revealed Francis Ngannou.
Fernand Lopez, a veteran of the French MMA scene from 2006 to 2010, soon realised Francis Ngannou was a special talent.
Lopez recalled watching Ngannou train and said:
“When you see people training, you can tell. You’re not a magician, but you can tell if (somebody) has the X-factor. For MMA, he (Ngannou) had what it takes.”
However, after spending his childhood dreaming of becoming a boxer, Francis Ngannou was stubborn and had reservations about switching to MMA. Lopez said he didn’t try and convince Ngannou about it but just booked him a few fights to get the taste of MMA and the money involved in the sport.
The rest is history, as Francis Ngannou has now established himself as one of the most fearsome fighters in MMA.
#4 Francis Ngannou wasn’t getting MMA fights because his opponents didn’t want to fight him
After Francis Ngannou went 5-1 in his first six MMA fights, he faced a problem, though. Fighters in France stopped accepting bouts with him.
Francis Ngannou’s coach, Lopez was so desperate that he had put an open challenge on Facebook, posting:
“Will anybody in Europe fight Francis (Ngannou)?”
A lot of attempts in booking boxing, kickboxing and MMA fights for Francis Ngannou went in vain, as Lopez had found no takers. However, on his 29th birthday, Francis Ngannou received a surprise of a lifetime from his coach.
Francis Ngannou talked about the same:
“He (Lopez) said, ‘What gift can make you the happiest?’ I thought, maybe he has a computer for me? I said, ‘I don’t know, surprise me.’ He said, ‘What if I tell you you just got your UFC contract? The first fight will be in four months, in December, in Dallas, in the US.'”
That contract saw Francis Ngannou appearing in his first UFC fight against Luis Henrique, which he won by a second-round knockout.
5 – Francis Ngannou could make it big in Hollywood
From working in a quarry in Cameroon as a 12-year-old, escaping on foot to Morocco, to conquering the world of MMA and getting featured in a big-budget Hollywood movie, Francis Ngannou has had quite a journey.
The #1 UFC heavyweight contender Francis Ngannou is featured in the Fast and Furious 9 movie, released on June 25th, 2021.