The story of Francis overcoming unbelievable circumstances began long before this past fight with Fury. Dating back to his time in Batié, Cameroon, Ngannou lived a far less than abundant life amid poverty and little education. At 10 years old, Francis was practically forced to work in a sand quarry in Batié due to the financial struggles of himself and his family. An extremely grueling job that would pay a laughable wage in the eyes of most people. And yet there he was, day after day, seeking to help his family and himself in any way he could.
Years later, in his attempt to pursue a professional boxing career, he was put in a Spanish prison for the illegal crossing of borders in Europe. Following his two-month lockdown in prison, Ngannou would reach Paris. The issues for Francis were still apparent; he had no friends, house, money, or food. The poor man was straight-up homeless on the streets of France. Though, eventually, he would somehow find his way into a boxing gym and really embark on what would become an unbelievable combat sports career.
Ngannou has overcome a preposterous amount of adversity in his life outside of fighting. The fact that he was even able to rise above those circumstances is astonishing itself. Just that alone speaks volumes about his absolute resilience, and yet he has defied the odds once again in the combat sports world.
Francis Ngannou started his mixed martial arts career back in November of 2013. Just two years later, he made his UFC debut in December of 2015. I cannot put into words how unfathomable that is.
I have interviewed fighters with 20+ amateur fights and 20+ pro fights across top promotions as well as the regional scene, and they have never sniffed the Ultimate Fighting Championship. I have never heard of a fighter go from starting the sport to making his UFC debut in the span of just 25 months, and I am not sure if that will ever happen again in my lifetime. And that is exactly what Francis Ngannou is… A once-in-a-lifetime kind of athlete.
Adversity would strike Ngannou’s way once again on January 20th, 2018. After just 3 short years, Francis would take on the greatest UFC heavyweight of all time, Stipe Miocic, for the world heavyweight title. Unfortunately, he would lose the fight, leading to negative comments from UFC president Dana White regarding his ego. It followed up with another bad loss to fellow heavyweight Derrick Lewis in a fight where Ngannou looked gun-shy following the loss to Miocic. It was a rough patch of years for the Cameroon native, something he is no stranger to.
Ngannou would bounce back in what became perhaps the greatest run in UFC heavyweight history. The monster that is Ngannou would take out the likes of Blaydes, Velasquez, dos Santos, Rozenstruik, Miocic, and Gane. It was an absolute murders row of top fighters and legends, and Francis dispatched them in dominating fashion. The significance of that run cannot be overstated. The dominance is just as impressive as the quality of the opponents.
After years of negotiations and not being on the same page, Francis Ngannou and the UFC were ultimately not able to come to terms on a contract extension. The former UFC champion would depart from the promotion after failing to agree on money and, more specifically, the ability to do boxing matches. This led to countless months of fans, fighters, and many others criticizing Ngannou. They felt he made the wrong decision to bet on himself and should have played it safe by staying with the UFC.
Well, Ngannou would overcome the odds again by locking in a fight with the top boxing heavyweight, Tyson Fury, and securing the pay day of his life. Prior to that, he inked a deal with the PFL to become a minority equity owner, help build out the promotion in Africa, and secure a 2-million dollar purse for whoever he fights in the Smart Cage.
Tyson Fury vs. Francis Ngannou
Just when you thought he would not overcome adversity yet again, what do you know?
After the announcement of Fury vs. Ngannou, it seemed like most were happy to see Francis finally get his big pay day. But that was really as far as it went. Nobody in their right mind actually felt that Francis had any slither of hope against maybe the greatest heavyweight boxer of all time. Well, it seems as though Francis is now making a reputation based on defying the craziest of odds. Ngannou just took on Fury in his first ever boxing match, and you can make a strong case that he not only competed, but won the fight. Francis Ngannou knocking Tyson Fury down in the third round of their highly touted crossover boxing match is perhaps one of the craziest moments in the history of combat sports.
How can that not be? A man who competes in his first ever boxing match goes to a split decision with one of the all-time greats in the sport. It is beyond remarkable. Tyson Fury claimed this was one of his “toughest fights in the last ten years”, and quite frankly, I think he is incredibly relieved to have gotten the nod in a razor-thin decision. Just saying that really gives me the urge to pinch myself. After all, this just feels like a big old dream anyway.
Regardless of the outcome, it feels like we are witnessing a once-in-a generation fighter with Francis Ngannou.