The true story of Francis Ngannou’s extraordinary life journey from a sand miner in Cameroon, a homeless person in Paris to becoming a billionaire as UFC heavyweight champion. Francis Ngannou’s life journey to reach the top is full of hope, courage, strength and character, and is the symbol of a fighter.
On Saturday, the 37-year-old MMA legend will face his biggest challenge, Tyson Fury, in a boxing match. The two of them will step into the ring at Boulevard Hall, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, for a huge fee, which could earn Ngannou around 8 million pounds sterling or around IDR 155 billion.
This is a smaller event than he has competed in before, but don’t expect the 193 cm former UFC champion to be afraid. He has faced bigger trials in his life that have proven that he is very tough.
From his difficult beginnings in Cameroon, where he worked in a sand mine for just £1.50 a day, to being homeless in Paris, his story is a true tale of survival.
Francis Ngannou’s early years
Francis was raised in Batie, Cameroon, by a single mother who separated from his father when he was six years old. The father was a street fighter, famous in his village for picking fights with gang members, four out of five at a time, and giving them a place to hide.
In 1994, he became engrossed in the soccer World Cup held in the United States. But not for the game, more for the spectacle and the country. He gave himself the nickname among his friends, ‘American Boy’. Funnily enough, he would sign his name as a kid as Francisco Ngannou, a nod to San Francisco.
His family had a small TV in their house, and he would wait patiently every Saturday to get another slice of America – in the form of David Hasselhoff’s cult TV show Knight Rider. Francis’ friends dream of immigrating to France, but he thinks bigger. The United States is his calling.
From Africa to Europe
To reach the US, Francis, then 26 years old, had to travel a long way. It took him 14 months to get to Paris. Traveling from Cameroon to Nigeria is quite easy because the borders of both countries are open.
Problems arose when he reached Niger, where he needed a visa. This leaves him open to corrupt police and border control officers. If you are caught, you must pay a bribe or face deportation.
Not wanting to give away the money he had saved throughout his youth, he hid some of it in wrapped paper or swallowed it.
He managed to cram himself into a pick-up truck with 25 people, as they crossed the Sahara desert to reach Algeria. The 24-hour journey was extremely dangerous because if the rickety vehicle broke down, the passengers inside would not have enough water to survive. They managed to survive, but Francis admitted that he was forced to drink water containing “animal carcasses”.