Mixed martial arts (MMA) heavyweight world champion Francis Ngannou was greeted as a hero on his return to his home village of Batié, in western Cameroon.
It is a concert of horns that welcomes the child of the country: Francis Ngannou, world heavyweight champion of mixed martial arts (MMA), made the weekend of May 1 a triumphant return to his native village of Batié, in western Cameroon.
The colossus of 1.93 m for 113 kilos, nicknamed “The Predator”, defeated in Las Vegas on March 28 by KO the American Stipe Miocic, holder of the title, thus becoming the first African to obtain this world consecration in the most prestigious leagues, the American Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
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Standing in the back of a pick-up, Francis Ngannou, a smile on his face and a golden champion’s belt in front of him, greets the supporters of his small town who have come to cheer him on.
While the interminable convoy of vehicles accompanying the 34-year-old champion crosses the main axis serving this town of about 20,000 people, a myriad of children, women and old people leave as the procession advances.
On the esplanade of the foundation created by Francis Ngannou in Batié to supervise young athletes, nearly 2,000 people took their seats for a welcoming ceremony. The world champion, admirer of Mike Tyson, speaks in a calm and calm voice. Far from the image of the “Predator” on the rings, he who devotes himself to an extreme combat sport which allows kicks, punches, knees, elbows and passages on the ground.
“Here is the belt,” he says in ghomala, a language in western Cameroon, in front of a cheering crowd. “This belt is very beautiful, but it is only a piece of metal. For me, the most important thing is what it conveys, it represents faith and determination,” continues Francis Ngannou.
“He gives me hope”
“Ngannou Champion”, we read on a sign carried, in the middle of the crowd, by a young fan, Armand Teguia, who left Yaoundé, the capital, nearly 300 km away, to celebrate the one he considers a ” model”.
“I am so moved, happy, proud to have a big brother who is world champion and who is the pride of Cameroon,” he enthuses. “It gives me hope, the desire to work. It’s the best, there are not two,” he continues.
Francis Ngannou, born in 1986, spent his childhood in Batié. He abandoned his studies at college and went on odd jobs to survive, working successively in a sand quarry or as a motorcycle taxi driver.
He later discovered combat sports. But the lack of prospects in Cameroon pushes him into exile. In 2013, he arrived clandestinely in France, where he slept for a while in the street in Paris before meeting people that allowed him to pursue his career in the martial arts.
“I’m not a legend. I’m just a village kid who believed in his dreams,” he says. “What I remember from my journey is that it’s possible as long as you believe in it, it’s possible as long as you hold on.”
“When he was very young, I already perceived in him a lot of determination. I understood that he had a very specific goal to achieve in life, but he had never revealed it to anyone”, testifies Ferdinand Kamga, who rubbed shoulders with the “Predator” when he worked in the sand pit.
A center opened in 2019
In 2019, Francis Ngannou opened a multisport center in his village to train young people in martial arts. Eight-time English champion of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Sam Michael Crook moved to Batié in 2019 to supervise young people from the center of Ngannou. Several dozen young people train there. “Everything is free,” said the Briton.
“This is a first center. We have planned a second room in Buea in the Southwest region, but we will not stop there,” promises Francis Ngannou.
“The project is huge and aims to cover the entire national territory with (…) opportunities given to young people to be able to train in sports and to promote their personal development; which will allow children to believe in their dreams” , he says.
“Francis picked me up in the street to put me where I am now. I had nothing to eat. Today, I have a good framework to train at any time”, testifies Desmond Tamungang, champion of the 28-year-old MMA Cameroon.
He is due to participate in the African MMA Championship in mid-May, with the aim of having the same track record as his mentor.
“I’m working hard for this title of world champion to stay here. Nothing will prevent me from having this belt. I want to have more than Francis Ngannou”, he ambitions.
In Batié, he is not the only one to cherish this dream.