In 2012, Ngannou put a long-envisioned plan to leave his native village in Batie, Cameroon, into motion. Over the year that followed, he trekked more than 4,000 miles- to Paris, sleeping everywhere from Algerian deserts and Moroccan forests to Spanish jail cells.
It was a resolve-testing, life-threatening journey, all in service of realizing his dream to come to America and win a belt—a goal he accomplished in March by knocking out Stipe Miocic at UFC 260 here in Las Vegas.
Since then, Ngannou has been in dispute with UFC regarding his next move, but even UFC President Dana White—notorious for speaking his mind when at odds with one of his fighters—can’t deny what Ngannou means to the company going forward.
“He’s a big, scary-looking heavyweight who viciously knocks people out,” White said in an interview over the summer. “It literally doesn’t get any better than that.”
Between the cuts, bruises, sore muscles and restricted diets, getting ready for a fight might be the most grueling process in all of sports. But Ngannou describes it as easy, because, he says, he learned the true definition of physical exhaustion at a young age.
From the time he was 10, Ngannou worked in Cameroon’s sand mines to help support his mother, a victim of domestic abuse forced to raise five children on her own. He says he’d often lack enough money for food, so he’d be left fighting off sickness and starvation—and dreaming of a brighter day.
“I worked in the sand mines for over 10 years, but it never felt final to me,” Ngannou says. “For me, it was just an obstacle to find a better situation. Even though I didn’t like it, even though it was sad and tough, it fueled me.”
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