Inside the cage, he’s known as The Predator. For good reason, too. Francis Ngannou has had to survive and hunt for opportunities his entire life.
By securing a super fight with Tyson Fury, the 37-year-old has hit the big time with the riches that will follow from the Saudi Arabia exhibition bout on Saturday night.
Having left the organisation for more ‘freedom’ and security in January, and swiftly signing a flexible deal with the Professional Fighters League (PFL), the world has become his oyster.
With all eyes on his highly-anticipated super-fight against Fury, Mail Sport has taken a look at the Cameroonian’s surreal rise to the top of combat sports.
Francis Ngannou (R) has embarked on a remarkable journey to earn a fight with Tyson Fury (L)
He grew up in Cameroon and was forced to walk six miles to school before later leaving the country in pursuit of becoming a fighter
Ngannou’s profession was digging sand mines before a tortuous journey attempting to emigrate from Africa to Spain
Speaking about his ‘life-changing’ pay-packet he had received to face Fury, Ngannou’s manager Marquel Martin has claimed it’s bigger than all of his UFC purses combined, ‘by multiples’.
‘The bag is so big, he may actually just drop it on the way to the bank,’ he told MMA Fighting. ‘Let’s just say that. I don’t know what the haters are trying to say, but they’ll be proven wrong again. This is life-changing, this is exactly what we planned and visualised so we’re happy.’
It’s quite the turnaround for a man who was once struggling to pay his bills during his career and previously had to borrow money just to survive.
‘In the past two years I’ve fought twice and then I have to borrow money to live!’ he said in September 2022.
‘Nobody cares about that. I have no guarantee in that year and I have no protection so based on that experience I want to get something better on my contract and obviously what I deserve.’
Ngannou has got what he deserves now – and then some – but he’s had to come a long way and travel down a painful road to get here.
He eventually made his way to Paris, where he was forced to sleep in a car park before being offered a chance to train in an MMA gym
Having grown up in the Cameroonian village of Batie and raised by a single mother, Ngannou was forced to walk six miles to go to school every day and was digging sand mines when he was just 10 years old.
As he got older he made the journey from Cameroon to the north of the continent – travelling through Nigeria, Niger and Algeria before reaching Morocco while packed into pick-up trucks driving through the desert.
It was there that he was able to emigrate to Spain by water – but not before being forced to live in Moroccan forests and eat food from bins while he prepared to cross the border.
Once he made it to Spain, he was seized upon by police and put into a detention centre for two months before he was released and snuck his way onto a train to France – knowing that police controls were much stricter in the UK.
He settled in Paris but ended up sleeping in a car park as he began looking for a boxing gym – and eventually met trainer Fernand Lopez, who would convince him to take up MMA instead of boxing.
Speaking to the Sun, Ngannou discussed his experience of living in Paris as he said: ‘I never really wanted to become an MMA fighter.’
Ngannou was convinced to leave boxing behind before being signed by the UFC in 2015
‘I went to France five years ago and at that time I wanted to be a boxer because I did a little bit of boxing at home (in Cameroon). It was difficult because I didn’t know anybody in France, I didn’t have any money so I was sleeping on the streets without money and trying to survive like that and that was difficult.
‘For me I just started in MMA for fun. I had time to train so I thought why not train MMA as well.
‘And then things went very fast and they start asking did I want to fight. And I said “Yes let’s do it”.
‘I didn’t realise how fast it was going until the coach said to me “We’ve got a UFC contract for you”.’
Ngannou was raised by a single mother in Cameroon and is eager to give back to his country
He realised a dream by becoming heavyweight champion after KO ing Stipe Miocic in 2021
The rest, as they say, is history. Ngannou got signed by the UFC in 2015 before becoming their heavyweight champion in 2021 by knocking out Stipe Miocic.
But Ngannou wasn’t done there. Becoming the champion of his division wasn’t enough, not when he felt the UFC weren’t maximising his potential – after previously hitting out at the organisation for ‘ripping off’ fighters.
So he took the power into his own hands and left the UFC, signing an expansive multi-fight deal with the PFL on a flexible contract that allows him to venture into other lucrative avenues.
The cash will come rolling in now, now that Ngannou is free set up as many mega fights as he chooses and build his own personal brand.
Meanwhile, Derek Chisora has claimed that ‘The Gypsy King’ will be making £41m ($50m) for the bout.
But Ngannou’s not just here to make the numbers up either, he’s here to make a statement and believes he can knock Fury out when they clash on October 28.
He does, after all, carry the world record for the hardest punch ever recorded.
In 2018, he ended up registering a striking power of 129,161 units on a PowerKube (which measures the power of a punch by analysing its force, speed and accuracy).
Ngannou will now test his power against the best heavyweight boxer in the world. He currently holds the world record for most powerful punch
Ngannou believes he can knock Fury out – and after the challenges he has faced, overcoming the Gypsy King does not look so daunting
The last person that tried to overthrow the MMA star was the former World’s Strongest Man winner Eddie Hall, but he failed – with his opening attempt landing around the 91,000 mark. He later reached 93,000, then 98,000, before clearing 100,000 and peaking at 113,999 units.
‘I’ve been waiting to meet Tyson in the ring for the past three years,’ Ngannou said after the fight was announced. ‘My dream was always to box, and to box the best.
‘After becoming the undisputed MMA heavyweight champion, this is my opportunity to make that dream come true and cement my position as the baddest man on the planet.
‘I’d like to thank Riyadh Season and my team at 3Point0 Labs for helping put this event together. All I will say to Tyson for now is he better dance in that ring because if I touch him, he’s going to sleep.’
Those were Ngannou’s words shortly after the fight was announced. Now, with the bout just one day away, the Cameroonian has provided some ‘fighting talk’ ahead of the fight.
‘A lot of people that he fought has raised that issue and I don’t know if it’s a fact, if it’s true or not, but we have to double check that because he needs to be equal,’ he told Mail Sport.
Francis Ngannou has warned Tyson Fury not to try any ‘tricky s***’ in their bout on Saturday
The two heavyweights faced off during their press conference in Riyadh on Thursday night
‘If you want us to fight bare knuckle, then let’s fight bare knuckle. If we have to fight in four ounce gloves, then let’s fight in four ounce gloves. But don’t be tricky. Don’t do some tricky s***.’
Ahead of the fight, it was also revealed that Fury asked for a bigger ring sized at 24-foot – larger than the regular 20 foot ring used in most fights – but Ngannou was not phased by the request.
‘At the end of the day, it’s going to be a challenge,’ he added. ‘It could be in a football field or in a phone booth – we’re going to fight and it’s going to be a tough fight.’
It’s clear that Ngannou has reached the summit. From the lowest of lows to the top of the fighting game. His biggest purse, his biggest moment, his biggest opponent.
After all he’s come up against in his life, facing the boxing heavyweight world champion will be a victory no matter what.