Francis Ngannou’s life from sleeping rough to UFC champion to facing Tyson Fury

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Francis Ngannou will leave Saudi Arabia after his headline fight with Tyson Fury on Saturday evening a reported £8.3million richer. It will be the biggest payday in the African’s storied fighting career (and also Fury’s) even though it will be his first ever professional boxing match.

That he could achieve such a sum at the age of 37 shows just how far he has come from the depths of poverty as a child living in Cameroon.

So exactly how did the boy from a deprived African village make it all the way to the very top of the fighting game?

Ngannou was born on September 5, 1986 in the village of Batie, Cameroon, where he was raised. He had little formal education and his parents divorced when he was six years old, at which point he was sent to live with his Aunt instead.

By the age of 10, he was working in a sand quarry to bring in more money for the family. After rejecting the advances of several looking gangs he decided to take up boxing. This was seen as a very different path to the reputation his father had as a street fighter.

Ngannou moved to Paris when he was 26 to chase a career in boxing. But on arrival in Europe he was jailed for two months for crossing the border into Spain illegally. When he finally reached Paris, he arrived penniless and homeless and was left with no option but to live on the streets.

After a chance meeting with MMA fighter Francis Carmont, he was then introduced to Fernand Lopez, the owner of the MMA Factory gym where he started to train as an MMA fighter instead of a boxer. He was also allowed to sleep there as he had nowhere else to stay.

Looking back on his humble beginnings, Ngannou told MMA Junkie: “When I started, I had nothing. Nothing. I needed everything. But when you start [to earn money], you start collecting things: I want this, I want this, I want that. The purpose is not collecting things, though. The purpose is to do something great. Finish the dream you started.

“I want to help my family, first, of course, but then I want to give opportunity to children in my country like me who have a dream to become a doctor or something. If I reach my dream, it will give me the opportunity to help those in my country who have their own dreams and nothing else to fulfil them.”

Ngannou’s MMA career started in the French promotion 100% Fight and after compiling a 5-1 record he then signed for UFC. After beating Luis Henrique on his debut in December 2015, the 6ft 4ins fighter went on a winning run.

When he beat Alistair Overeem at UFC 218 with a first-round knockout, it was labelled as one of the greatest knockouts of all time. Soon afterwards he signed a new eight-fight contract with UFC.

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His first heavyweight championship fight arrived in January 2018 at UFC 220, but he lost to via unanimous decision to Stipe Miocic. However, three years later the pair faced off for the tile once more and this time it was Ngannou who was triumphant, winning the championship belt via knockout in the second round.

Ngannou became heavyweight champion for the second time in January 2022 when he beat interim champion Ciryl Gane by unanimous decision, but after failing to agree to a new contract with UFC, the African star was stripped of his title in January 2023 and left the sport.

He has since signed a multi-fight deal with the Professional Fighters League but under the terms of his contract is free to face Fury in the Saudi Arabia crossover boxing supershow on Saturday night.

He now lives in Las Vegas and has set up The Francis Ngannou Foundation, which runs the first MMA gym in Cameroon.

With an estimated net worth of around £4.1m, his is a true story of rags to riches and that amount will only rise after he touches gloves with WBC heavyweight champion Fury in Riyadh on Saturday night.

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