4, December 2023
Cameroon Concord News Group readers have always voted for a Person of the Year annually since 1999. The winner can be an individual or a group which has deeply influenced the people of the Republic of Cameroon and Southern Cameroons over the past year.
This sought-after distinction is not an endorsement but recognition by the readers of the Concord Group. The Cameroon Concord Person of the Year 2023 is Francis Xavier Ngannou, MMA heavyweight champion who put up an exceptional performance against the world’s best, Tyson Fury, in his first boxing match.
Francis Xavier Ngannou was born in Batie, in the Western Region of Cameroon, on 5 September 1986. His parents divorced when he was six, and he lived with various extended family members in different villages and towns as he grew up.
He changed schools often, and family stability was alien to him. At nine, he started working in sand mine to earn an income to support his family. He quit school at 17 and began to plot his departure from the village. In 2012, Francis left his village for a better life in Europe. It took him three weeks to travel 3,000 miles to Morocco. His first six attempts to cross from Morocco to Spain failed, but that did not dampen his resolve.
More than seven decades before Ngannou was born, Sir Winston Churchill wrote, “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” His multiple attempts to cross the Mediterranean from Morocco to Spain would break almost every mortal, but not this Rock of Batie.
Finally, after seven attempts at crossing the Mediterranean and a 14-month journey from Cameroon, he arrived in Spain in 2013. In Spain, his dream of becoming a boxing heavyweight champion was re-born. What had been latent for so long was suddenly real.
After his release from temporary immigration detention in Spain, Ngannou left for Paris in the middle of 2013. After arriving in France, Ngannou slept on the streets and immediately located a gym where he trained, took his bath in the public showers and slept at the parking lot.
In the Paris boxing gym, many saw the potential in him, and his physical stature and determination were apparent. With his goal to be the boxing heavyweight champion of the world not looking easy, a friend suggested mixed martial arts (MMA) to him. At first, he did not know what Mixed Martial Art was about, and it was never a part of his dream.
Becoming a world champion in a sport he did not know it existed seemed foreign and implausible, but he decided to give the new sport a try.
Ngannou started his Mixed Martial Art (MMA) career in November 2013 and fought mainly in France, Switzerland and Bahrain under French and some relatively obscure European promotions. During this period, he amassed a record of five victories and one loss before his big breakthrough came in 2015 when he signed for the leading MMA promotion, the UFC.
During his time with the UFC, Ngannou put together 17 wins from 20 fights. Renowned for his knock-out power, Ngannou beat many former world champions in the UFC with the fearsome Stipe Miocic, formidable Curtis Blaydes and dangerous Ciryl Gane among his victims in the Octagon.
Despite his vast global appeal and success at bringing in millions of dollars to the UFC, the promotions’ tier structure of low, medium, and high means some fighters earn as low as $10,000 per fight, whilst a select few in the highest tier may take home as much as $3,000,000 per fight. These figures pale in comparison to what elite boxers and MMA fighters under rival promotions earn per fight.
After failing to persuade Ngannou to remain with the UFC, on 14 January 2023, the UFC Heavyweight Championship was stripped from him.
After he left the UFC, in an interview with renowned sports journalist, Ariel Helwani, Ngannou stated that he had requested health insurance and the freedom for all UFC fighters to have their own sponsorships and fighter advocates present during contract negotiations. Still, the UFC vehemently refused this trailblazing request.
On 16 May 2023, Ngannou signed a multi-million-dollar, multi-fight deal with the Professional Fighters League (PFL), giving him more freedom to compete in boxing. In his PFL contract, Ngannou also negotiated on behalf of his opponents, guaranteeing them at least $2 million per fight. It is a commendable initiative and a true reflection of the man.
Challenging Tyson Fury Fight
On 28 November 2023, Ngannou debuted professionally against the boxing heavy-weight champion, Tyson Fury, in a “Battle of the Baddest” fight. After knocking down Fury in the third round, he lost the fight controversially on the judges’ scorecard. Many boxing pundits and former boxing champions believe that he won the fight. Since that boxing debut, he has been ranked number 10 by the WBC. Ten years after swimming against the dangerous and unforgiving tides of the Mediterranean to seek a better life in the West, Francis Ngannou is now a global phenomenon. Better gym equipment, training techniques, and superior coaches have helped the poor boy from Batie with huge ambition to realize his dream.
Recently, there has been a massive deficiency of fighting men representing African countries globally. Men of African descent have all represented their adopted Western nations, but Ngannou has stayed true to the Cameroon flag. He flies to his village after his fights. He is the people’s champion, and his success inspires young people around Africa and beyond. He is winning hearts and minds with his humble attitude and outreach.
Global stardom has changed Ngannou’s bank account and significantly increased his social media following, but humility, charity, and politeness are still plenty in his armoury.
Francis has galvanized young Cameroonian and African men in a way not seen for more than a generation. Ngannou does not lose his nerve under pressure, understands that he is now a role model, and considers that a privilege and responsibility. His refusal to engage in the customary abusive dialectal during press conferences before professional fights is an example that many find inspiring and we of this media outlet consider tremendously commendable. He now has millions worldwide following him on social media and looking up to him, and he understands what that means.
He is determined not to let them and his family down. Global fame has not changed his values, and a recent photo in his mother’s dilapidated kitchen in his village is touching and inspirational.
Cameroon Concord News Group notes that Francis Ngannou, who has propelled himself into an inspiration to many minds in his native Cameroon and beyond, relies on a unique upbringing from his mother and grandmother to meet the current moment. He is well-mannered, but underneath, he possesses a burning desire to be the best in the world at his craft. Those who know him best say Ngannou lives a Spartan life: he trains, he rests, and he trains again. He lives in Las Vegas, but the Vegas nightlife does not appeal to him.
He represents the best to come out of Cameroon. Global stardom has not diminished his performance on the big stage. If anything, this six-foot juggernaut is getting better with age and international exposure. Today, Cameroon Concord News Group is singing rightfully earned praises of this fighting machine and reminding everyone of his never-die spirit and attitude.
In 2012, Ngannou travelled treacherously from Cameroon to Spain through the Sahara desert, Morocco and the Mediterranean. He survived inexpressible abuse on the way and in Morocco. Still, his indefatigability meant he kept his head up, and the little boy who worked in the sand mine at nine has now realized his dream of becoming a world champion. And to say he got to the top the hard way is an understatement.
Whether one looks at the story of Francis Ngannou as an educator to pick up material to weave for the benefit of an audience or as a young man inspired with hope by its content, the story is, of course, not entirely written yet. At 37, Francis Ngannou has a rich package of muscles and the ability to be the first man to become a world heavy-weight champion in Mixed Martial Arts and boxing. He has the world under his feet and possesses the temperament and aptitude to be the best version of himself.
For his bravery in successfully negotiating the hazardous journey from Central Africa to Europe through the dangerous Sahara desert, for reminding those in despair and poverty all over Africa that being born in lack and hopelessness is a temporary and not a permanent condition, for teaching humankind that hard work and determination will take one to any goals they set, for empowering millions of young men around the globe with his energy, fighting spirit, captivating life story and for his performance in the boxing match against lineal heavyweight champion Tyson Fury, the readers of this publication have overwhelmingly voted for Francis Xavier Ngannou as the Cameroon Concord Person of the Year 2023.
By Isong Asu, Cameroon Concord News Group, London Bureau Chief