The Central African nation of Cameroon is world famous for its production of coffee. Cameroon is a soccer-mad country whose national team was the first African squad to reach the World Cup quarterfinals. Lesser known, but equally pulsating, is the nation’s ability to bring to light some of combats sports most elite and underrated world champions. The latest combat sports phenomenon that’s putting Cameroon back on the map is devastating UFC heavyweight contender Francis Ngannou, who just so happens to be on the cusp of achieving UFC championship lore at UFC 220 tonight (Jan. 20).
Like the multiple Cameroonian world champions boxers before him, searching for a better life in Europe, Ngannou suffered homelessness and isolation before being welcomed at the MMA Factory gym in 2013. A similar story was making head waves around the same time as a large portion of Cameroon’s Olympic boxing team disappeared instead of returning home at the conclusion of the Olympics. Now the 31 year old human highlight reel from Batie, the Cameroon will attempt to become an undisputed world champion tonight. Ngannou’s backstory, like many others before him on a path to glory, involved fleeing his native country because of its abysmal human rights record. In accomplishing similar glory alongside the likes of legendary Cameroonian boxers:
The first black African to win a world Thai boxing title in Thailand: Cameroonian-French Dany Bill.
WBC, WBO, NABF, super middleweight Champion: Cameroonian-Australian Sakio Bika
WBC Silver Heavyweight Champion: Cameroonian-French Carlos Takam
Ngannou, like the aforementioned champions before him, all have done so seeking shelter in another country as a refugee. In Ngannou’s case, he decided to take up residence in the welcoming arms of Paris, France in hopes of becoming a boxer, a childhood dream he could one day see become a reality. It was risk worth taking because the pathway was already established by those championship-caliber countrymen before him. They just made the most of the opportunity given and at one point, Ngannou wasn’t going let his opportunity pass him by. All of these Cameroonian boxing champions have been brought up in dire circumstances. However, as a mixed martial artist, Ngannou is essentially blazing his own trail.
Like the man himself, Ngannou’s childhood dreams were enormous. Fortunately those dreams didn’t include foreseeing Cameroon as a formidable option, so he decided that he didn’t want to continue on as a child labourer shoveling sand day and night any longer. Francis set out to follow in the footsteps of his childhood idol, who just happened to be a legendary championship boxer himself. However, despite what one would think, his idol did not hail from Cameroon. Ngannou’s aspiration to become champion came from a man with a strikingly similar fighting style and unwavering punching power in “Iron” Mike Tyson. With a UFC championship win, both Ngannou and Tyson are arguably the only two fighters of our generation worthy of the moniker ‘The Baddest Man on the Planet,’ a title said to be only achievable as a heavyweight fighter of some sort. This unofficial designation has usually been reserved for the use in heavyweight championship boxing. However, MMA promotions have also used this as a marketing tool when promoting a certain heavyweight fighter or upcoming contest.
Most notably it was used during the prime of Fedor Emelianenko’s illustrious career, however, to become the ‘Baddest’ you have beat the ‘Greatest’ that era has to offer, a feat that many argue Fedor never even attempted. Leaving many to believe he was not as bad as some had once thought. As Fedor’s prime passed and his undefeated streak came to a crashing halt. Fans alike are left without ever witnessing him fighting in the greatest MMA promotion in the UFC. Let alone beating any of the greatest heavyweights of our generation. Therefore any recognition as Fedor ever being ‘The Baddest Man of the Planet’ has long been discredited, holding essentially as much weight as Joe Warrens self declaration that he too is the ‘Baddest’.
Ngannou’s opponent, Stipe Miocic, is chasing his own legendary status as becoming the greatest UFC heavyweight of all time. Miocic is attempting to become the only heavyweight champion to defend his three consecutive times. He has a chance at solidifying his legendary status. It’s this inconsistency by every UFC heavyweight champion before Miocic in maintaining and being unable to defend the ‘undisputed UFC heavyweight champion of the world’ distinction for an array of different reasons that has allowed combat sports fans to overlook the UFC as having the ‘Baddest Man’ on it’s roster. Rightfully so, as we’ve watch the hype never come to full fruition. Without producing a result were one championship fighter is single handily dominating numerous worthy #1 contenders. There remains no hope that the general public, let alone the diehards, will we ever see any UFC heavyweight champion as being the ‘Baddest’. Unlike the day of Tyson’s era, the top 10 of the UFC heavyweight division are world class fighters that are very equally matched. However, the same resolve and underlining circumstances to achieve this legendary status remain intact for Ngannou as they did Tyson.
There is a certain aura or mystic needed to compliment the heavyweight championship status of a fighter. A fighter can’t be bad ass or intimidating. They have to be downright terrifying. Not only for those opponents standing across from you but for those tuning in at home expecting violence. Allowing fans to hone in on a fighter’s ability to turn greatness into a devastating monstrosity that scares even self-proclaimed biggest and baddest that the world has to offer. If there is one UFC that any fighter would not want to fight right now it’s Ngannou. Like Tyson, finding worthy competitors willing to fight will be Ngannou’s only demise as a future champ. As both fighters are similarly ferocious competitors when comparing their primal strategy of imposing their will to achieve the knockout with little disregard to their opponent’s overall well-being. After the Overeem knockout, there remains little doubt that Ngannou is the most terrifying striker the heavyweight division of the UFC has ever seen. Although boxing and MMA are combat sports with a different rule sets. Ngannou and Tyson are equally terrifying as fighters. All other pale in comparison. Therefore Ngannou is the first heavyweight to be equally deserving of a chance of achieving the coveted title of ‘Baddest Man on the Planet’ since ‘The Mike Tyson Era’.
As a result of Tyson’s success under the bright lights even before becoming champion. The media automatically tended to shift the spotlight to the fighters upbringing as if he was forged in the depths of hell. Where and how he was brought up as a youth always seem to get a lot of the media attention. Arguably that’s how most fighters gain popularity in transforming from ‘relatively unknown’ to ‘international sensation’ essential overnight. As interesting as both Ngannou’s and Tyson’s backstory are. It’s not what defines them as why they are viewed the ‘Baddest’ of any given time period in combat sports. The intrigue and fan appeal is sparked by their ability to be terrifying force to be reckoned with when participating in a fight. As both Tyson’s and Ngannou’s rise to fame are not categorically unique however the spotlight is that much bigger when your a heavyweight.
Today’s leading MMA organizations are always in search of the next big flag-waving talent. The UFC’s international standard operating procedures derive from George St. Pierre’s ability to captivate all his fellow Canadians during his reign as champion. More recently, this same marketing strategy has been exercised with Khabib/Russia and McGregor/Ireland. However, waving a Cameroonian flag around doesn’t sell many PPV’s in impoverished Africa. That being said, it’s means something more to Ngannou as illustrated by his recent statements in an interview with Bloody Elbow:
“This journey now is not only mine. It’s for all Cameroonians and for the whole of Africa and all of France, too.”
By the time you become undisputed heavyweight champion, your story and upbringing has already been told numerous times by yourself, the promotion and the media at all different parts of the journey. In Tyson’s situation, after becoming the ‘Baddest,’ less and less attention was focused on his past and upbringing. The focus shifted to anticipating what was the champs next move in and outside of the ring. As if a chapter in Tyson’s life had closed, highlighting Tyson’s downfall as being that he embodied being the ‘Baddest’ as a way of life and not as a gimmick that it has become today. The same inference seems to be also on the mind of Ngannou:
“This is going to close the chapter of my childhood and teenage years. All that time I have been frustrated with my whole life, with a feeling that I was always the last one who never had a chance. So I want to close that. I want to leave that behind me.”
With Ngannou’s jaw-dropping knockout of Overeem, there is no denying that he is now deserving of the chance after defeating the number one contender in such eye-popping fashion. If Ngannou does defeat his American opponent tonight, he will become the first Cameroonian, African, and Frenchman to lift UFC gold. First Savate UFC champion as well? However, even in becoming champion, he doesn’t automatically retain the crown of being the planet’s ‘Baddest’.
Ngannou’s in the discussion simply because he is accurately hyped as the most terrifying striker the heavyweight division of the UFC has ever seen. Standing between the 31-year-old for the championship so Stipe, who has won via stoppage in his last five contests. However much more stands in Ngannou’s way of becoming the ‘Baddest’. The roadmap for Ngannou is already laid out and its ends with strongly similar to his fellow Cameroonian countrymen before him.
Figuratively speaking let’s say that Miocic, like many of Ngannou’s opponents before him, falls victim to a devastating left hand or any similar circumstance that avoids any controversial ending or a definite Miocic win. The hype becomes real and the anticipation factor takes full flight. What would he next? Options are very limited therefore the pathway seems obvious. With Daniel Cormier faced with the fact he one day would either have to face fellow teammate Cain or Ngannou. Cormier most recently stated he has no interested ever competing at heavyweight again. There remains to be one other worthy challenger waiting in the wings after Miocic that would cement Ngannou’s as the ‘Baddest’ the UFC has ever seen grace the Octagon, Fabricio Werdum.
If Ngannou can avoid the submission game by finishing a legend in Werdum, then the sky is the limit. However, the UFC would like him to defend the title at least three times. Those two or three more title defences would likely come against the likes of Rumble Johnson, Cain Velazquez, a rematch against Miocic and the slight possibility of Brock Lesnar, however I believe he has other plans. That may or may not include the UFC. Even if Ngannou conquers all of the above names, he would be still missing one thing in achieve the undisputed ‘Baddest’ status. Jon Jones.
Not only would Ngannou have to finish a Jones, it’s becoming apparent that Jones himself is the clear front-runner to achieve the ‘Baddest’ moniker if at any point Ngannou falters. As currently he is only other fighter on the Planet that could possibly challenge Ngannou for that artificial title in MMA. Although Jones fighting style is polar opposites of Tyson. Jones seemingly embodies the lifestyle in the same ways Tyson did despite being a devote Christian and father. Leaving a clash between the two in Jones and Ngannou as necessary evil to crown the ‘Baddest’. Even after all these tall tasks are accomplished by Ngannou, there still will be the naysayers. Those voices will predominantly hail from likes of the boxing community, leaving the readers with one last scenario to think about.
Dana White has recently created Zuffa Boxing and has expressed interested in signing Anthony Joshua at some point in time. A fight even if it be a boxing match involving both Joshua and Ngannou would put any doubt to rest as to who is the ‘Baddest’. Furthering awareness about the human right violations of the birth place of the ‘Baddest’ while in turn giving positive hope to all those Cameroonians who also hail from one of the baddest place on the planet. Leaving us all with s valuable lesson. Fight through the bad days to earn the best days of your life so those watching have to see the good with the bad.