A Man Overcomes Strife To Become One Of The Elite Fighters In The World

Nathaniel Smith
6 min readAug 28, 2023
Photo Credit: Louis Grasse/PFL/ PXimages. Francis Ngannou

Mixed martial art fanatics, rival promotions, and well-respected members of the media routinely offered their assessments on Francis Ngannou turning down lucrative offers from various fighting promotions (UFC, One Championship, Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship) as illogical because he was declining millions of dollars and possibly putting his career in peril because he would not budge on his demands of having more freedom, equality, and power included in his next contract. His patience and unwavering resolve paid off as he signed an unprecedented deal with the Professional Fighters League.

The terms of the contract include a base salary of seven figures plus per fight, a percentage of the PPV/gate bonus earnings, the ability to pursue boxing match opportunities against the prominent heavyweight stars in the sport (Tyson Fury, Anthony Joshua, Deontay Wilder), and a position as Chairman of the newly appointed PFL Africa division launching shortly, which will focus on giving an outlet for Africans to develop their skills and compete at the mixed martial arts level. A caveat included in the deal is the opponent selected to face Francis will be guaranteed a two-million-dollar purse to compete. The gesture demonstrates that Francis is looking out for the financial well-being of all of his peers within the organization. Also, he is looking out for his country by overseeing the development of all the young prospects interested in learning and developing skills in martial arts in Africa.

In mixed martial arts history, no other athlete has earned a deal that rivals what Francis Ngannou recently signed with the PFL. To orchestrate such a deal, he had to display resolve and mental toughness to stand up for what he believed in, even if it cost him his career. Ngannou felt making a stand was worth all of the potential dangers, “If at the end of the day, I didn’t have a deal, or we didn’t make this deal happen, I would still be OK because I stand for what I stand for,” said Ngannou. Francis Ngannou has received support from UFC champions Israel Adesanya and Aljamain Sterling, who viewed Ngannou’s deal as a game-breaker for mixed martial artists and will ultimately help fighters in the future structure contracts that include more protections, freedom, and guaranteed money.

Former opponent Junior dos Santos (Brazil) supports the deal Francis signed with the PFL. Also, he is thoroughly impressed that Ngannou is utilizing his power and status to help create an opportunity for fighters to receive better treatment, “Ngannou’s actions are admirable because you know for sure it comes from a person that has values and won’t change those values for small gifts of whatever it may be,” said Santos. Furthermore, Santos felt it took a prominent figure like Francis to make a change because fighters often only look out for their well-being when negotiating contracts, “why did anything like this never happen before? Because people focus on themselves first. ‘I’ll get something for me and screw the rest. It didn’t feel that way with Francis Ngannou. It felt more important for him to make a difference.”

After enduring a tumultuous childhood growing up in Batié Cameroon (Africa) battling poverty and fighting for his freedom, Francis Ngannou built up his mental fortitude from all of the adversity he encountered as a child, which entailed working in a sand mind at the age of nine to help provide for his family, and traveling to his school by foot, which would take approximately two hours each day, and having to attend those classes without eating meals. Furthermore, Francis endured ridicule from some of his peers at school because he did not have the financial resources to afford new clothing and school supplies. The frustration resonated inside him, and he was determined to change his life and put all of his frustrations into something, and he discovered fighting. Realizing that it would be impossible to become a success in combat sports staying in Cameroon, Francis decided to take a chance on his future and travel to France. The idea seemed great, but he did not have the financial resources or a VISA to make his dream come true. The obstacle did not deter his focus, and he continued to pursue his lifelong dream.

Francis Ngannou in Africa with his mother.

Francis began his journey by leaving Cameroon and traveling to Nigeria, where he would settle and focus on the potentially dangerous travel ahead to Niger. Immediately Francis faced adversity because he was not permitted to travel to Niger without a VISA unless he was willing to proceed as an illegal citizen and risk getting apprehended for breaking the law. Despite all of the danger, Francis continued with caution, evading police and border patrol, and took extra measures to protect his resources just in case he happened to be stopped by the authorities. His idea was to wrap his money in paper and place it inside his mouth so law enforcement could not see it or steal it. His foresight helped him save the limited resources in his possession and allowed him to proceed on the journey. After arriving in Niger, Francis boarded a truck with approximately twenty-five other people to drive across the Sahara Desert to Algeria. With the limited resource of food and water, any technical issues with the vehicle would have been fatal for Francis and the rest of the people on the truck, but they managed to arrive safely. After arriving in Algeria parched and exhausted, Francis set his sights on Morocco, a trip that would not be difficult to make because a VISA was not required to enter the country.

After arriving in Morocco, Francis faced a difficult test because he had to find a way to navigate through obstacles to reach his final destination. Traveling through Spanish islands and temporarily living in Moroccan forests, he ate from food bins around the area to avoid starvation. Awaiting the moment to enhance his life by crossing the border, Francis faced a perplexing decision. He had two options: the first was to jump over a large barbed wire fence or travel by boat and evade detection from border patrol. Francis tried the first option and injured his stomach after getting caught on the barbed wire fence causing him to require medical attention for lacerations. Despite the setback, Francis stayed committed to his goal and decided to use the second option in his mind to cross the border, which was by boat. To help improve the likelihood of success, Francis covered his boat with tin foil he found around the area to help camouflage his boat and evade detection from border patrol. After arriving in Spain, Francis was held in a detention center/prison for two months before being released and finally arriving in France, where his fighting goal would come to life.

Without any money, food, or shelter, Francis began living in the streets of France before meeting with former middleweight fighter and active trainer Fernand Lopez. After hearing about Ngannou’s situation, Lopez decided to give Francis a place to stay and train him without charge. Also, Lopez was instrumental in encouraging Francis to disregard his professional boxing ambitions and focus on mixed martial arts.

https://youtu.be/EsiV6KZp2xY?si=o7KAN4D1ocgqOGPh

With commitment and focus on mixed martial arts, he climbed the ranks in the France MMA heavyweight circuit and earned recognition as a feared puncher in the division. After each victory, he gained notoriety and decided to take his career to the next level by signing with the mixed martial arts powerhouse the UFC. He wasted no time making an impact finishing his first six opponents by knockout or submission. Devastating knockouts against UFC standouts Curtis Blaydes and Alistair Overeem catapulted his profile as the scariest knockout puncher the UFC has ever seen, drawing comparisons to the legendary Mike Tyson in his prime. With his profile soaring, UFC leader Dana White set up a match between Francis and heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic. The fight did not turn out well for Francis, as he struggled with conditioning and lost a unanimous decision in his first championship match.

After remembering his journey battling poverty, homelessness, incarceration, and ridicule, Francis remembered his purpose and dedicated himself to transforming his physique and improving his skills in martial arts and quickly bounced back on the scene registering impressive victories against Junior dos Santos and Jairzinho Rozenstruik and earning a rematch against Stipe Miocic. With new rigor, focus, and determination, Francis overwhelmed Stipe with a barrage of haymaker punches and solid grappling until he caught Stipe with a left hook that brutally knocked him out and helped Francis capture the UFC Heavyweight Championship. Francis became the first UFC champion from his country in Cameroon.

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Nathaniel Smith

Striving to reach my full potential.. BA in Communications and Digital Media... passionate about writing ✍️ music 🎶 .. anime.. sports 🏀 justice ⚖️ equality