Francis Ngannou took 20 seconds to finish Jairzinho Rozenstruik at UFC 249, but the big hitting heavyweight has spent years destroying some of the world’s toughest guys and has had gone through Hell to get to the promised land.
Here’s how he got there…
In less than 300 seconds, Francis Ngannou demolished the remaining generation of UFC heavyweight stars who had outstayed their welcome in the octagon.
The first to fall was former king Andrei Arlovski, in January 2017, who was lifted off his feet with an unorthodox counter uppercut which knocked him out cold.
Former Strikeforce champion and perennial contender Alistair Overeem was the next to fall, in December, with possibly the most brutal knockout seen in recent years.
A clubbing left jerked Overeem’s head back so violently and at such a speed, medics raced into the octagon before the referee had a chance to officially end the contest.
Former champion Cain Velazquez targeted a return to the summit of the division, but his plans were put to rest in 26 seconds when a short, chopping right hand sent him sprawling to the canvas in agony in February 2019.
And Junior dos Santos – another former UFC champion – confidently predicted he could outbox the behemoth. The Brazilian was left cowering on the deck in the foetal position after just 71 seconds four months later in June.
Ngannou has already realised his dreams ahead of his bout with Jairzinho Rozenstruik at UFC 249 on Saturday night – which could set up a title shot – and he also has his eyes set on boxing champion Tyson Fury for a potential crossover.
Last November, after getting an exclusive lesson from his hero Mike Tyson and sparring with British rising star Joe Joyce, he tweeted: “Spoke with Mike Tyson and he agreed to train me for when I fight @Tyson_Fury in the Ring. Don’t be scared Fury. You called me out and now you’ll have to live with it. #WakandaForever #UNCROWNEDKING.”
And not one to wilt under the challenge of a fight, Fury duly responded by saying: “I’ll deal with you and all the other MMA heavyweights when I’m done with my boxing fights, it won’t be long to wait! Then I’ll show u how we roll.”
But beneath the hulking frame and snarling expressions lies a truly gentle giant; a man who left his native Cameroon with nothing but a vision and the drive to make it up.
He isn’t all tough-talk. Softly-spoken and with a French accent, Ngannou’s deep voice is often tinged with sadness when he talks about his past.
The 33-year-old’s journey into mixed martial arts and then the UFC is hard to describe; perhaps incredulous or inconceivable are befitting superlatives.
THE MOST DEVASTATING FINISHES OF FRANCIS NGANNOU’S UFC CAREER
‘The Predator’ looks to finish his opponents as quickly as possible
- vs Andrei Arlovski (UFC on Fox 23) – 92 seconds
- vs Alistair Overeem (UFC 218) – 102 seconds
- vs Curtis Blaydes (UFC Fight Night 141) – 45 seconds
- vs Cain Velazquez (UFC on ESPN 1) – 26 seconds
- vs Junior dos Santos (UFC on ESPN 3) – 71 seconds
Born in the village of Baite in Cameroon, Ngannou was just six years old when his parents got divorced.
After rejecting the advances of local gangs who offered him support, Ngannou started working in a sand quarry at the age of 12 to support his disjointed family.
Despite his busy working hours, the youngster dreamed of emulating Tyson’s success in boxing and become world heavyweight champion.
Incidentally, just two months prior to Tyson winning the WBC title against Trevor Berbick in 1986, Ngannou was born.
At the age of 22, Ngannou started to learn how to box and it was his skills which really impressed coaches at a young age.
Despite reluctance from his family, Ngannou continued to train until he was struck down by an illness which hampered his progress.
After successfully recovering, he decided in 2013 he wanted to emigrate to Paris and fulfil his dream of becoming world heavyweight champion.
At the age of 26, he finally reached the French capital, but was struggling to survive. With no friends, no money and no job, the Cameroonian was forced to sleep rough on the streets.
“It’s very difficult when you arrive at a place, like Paris, and you don’t have anyone” he told Okay Africa. “But for me, it was an opportunity.
“At the time I didn’t even have a place to sleep. I didn’t have anything.
“But I didn’t care about that because I’m happy. I was happy because I knew this was an opportunity for me to make something by myself and to progress.”
His plight lasted for around two months as he slept in a car park wearing only a sleeping bag for comfort – but still managed to send some resources back to his mother in Cameroon.
Ngannou then took up a voluntary role at a homeless shelter called ‘Lo Chorba’ chopping up vegetables in the kitchen. A non-profit organisation, the charity foundation aimed to provide 900 free meals per day for the homeless in Paris.
La Chorba foundation director Khater Yenbou took a shine to the hulking specimen who would always find ways to make himself busy in the kitchen.
After learning of his goal in life, Yenbou mentioned to friend Didier Carmont he had a volunteer who wanted to become a boxer.
Carmont, who became Ngannou’s best friend, completely changed his friend’s life when he introduced him to Fernand Lopez at the MMA Factory in Paris.
Given his idol Tyson had boxed for his entire career, Ngannou saw no reason to train anything other than the sweet science at the MMA Factory.
But, speaking to MMA Fighting in 2018, Lopez saw unlimited potential in this raw athlete who was willing to do whatever it took to succeed.
“We have a lot of big names and champions in the gym, and on the first day that Francis trained properly with the team, a television camera crew was filming,” Lopez recalls.
“It’s funny because they actually have footage of me watching him training for the first time, and I was like, ‘F***!’
Despite his skillset improving rapidly, Lopez noticed Ngannou would often ask to keep his bag and clothes at the gym.
After donating various bits of kit and apparel, it became clear to the MMA Factory guru his protégé was still sleeping rough and he knew he had to take him under his wing.
In November 2013, just three months after starting MMA training, Ngannou made his debut and managed to secure a first round win via submission.
By April 2014, ‘The Predator’ won his first heavyweight tournament and was well and truly on the radar of the UFC. Having amassed a 5-1 record in the sport in such a short space of time, the call finally came in December 2015.
Ngannou brushed aside fellow debutante Luis Henrique with consummate ease and the way in which he dispatched both Arlovski and Overeem began to enter into the mainstream media.
Casual fans and even those who do not necessarily like MMA were alerted to this 6ft 4ins specimen who had to cut weight in order to reach the 265lbs heavyweight limit in the UFC.
In 2017, he was invited to the UFC Performance Institute in Las Vegas to train where scientists and analysts wanted to run routine tests to determine how hard he hit.
What they found was astonishing.
Vice-president Duncan French of the UFC PI wanted to record Ngannou’s two most deadly punches; his overhand right and off-balance uppercuts he was able to throw which had rendered Arlovski and Overeem unconscious.
At the time, the hardest punch ever recorded was by Tyrone Spong – a former kickboxing world champion who was scheduled to face Oleksandr Usyk in his professional heavyweight debut.
Spong managed to record a score of 114,000 units with his attempt – which stood as a world record.
Ngannou stepped up and threw his overhand right with such power and force it broke the record by some distance; clocking in 129,161 units.
To prove it was not a fluke, he then delivered an equally stunning score with his unorthodox uppercuts.
Reaching a whopping 122,000 units, French and his team of expert analysts determined Ngannou was able to generate round 92.84 horsepower with his shots.
To give some perspective, that’s about the same as a small family car.
Such hype and hysteria saw Ngannou launch himself into a number one contender spot to face Stipe Miocic at UFC 220 in January 2018.
Although the champion retained his belt by using his experience and wearing the bigger man down, ‘The Predator’ was not to be deterred.
In the same way he had improved drastically between rounds when the TV cameras were on him at the MMA Factory all those years ago, Ngannou had the tools to improve and go again.
But perhaps his defeat brought more clarity for the heavyweight contender.
In May 2018, Ngannou created the Francis Ngannou Foundation – a charity which offers people in his village the chance to achieve their dreams in the same way he has.
He built the first official gym in his home town of Batie, with the vision of opening even more gyms across Africa.
The non-profit organisation offers a safe space and a learning environment for kids and offers the basic fundamentals of sportsmanship.
For a man who has achieved so much in the octagon in such a short space of time, the impact Ngannou is having outside of the cage is perhaps even more astounding.