Francis Ngannou has recently struggled to sleep through the night even after some of the most grueling training sessions of his decade-long combat sports career.
Every once in a while, the former UFC heavyweight champion turned imminent professional boxer will wake up in his Las Vegas home thinking about the day’s work in the gym. He’ll particularly go over the coaching he’s receiving from his childhood idol, former boxing heavyweight champion Mike Tyson.
“In the night, it’s like, ‘Am I tripping? Is it real?’ ” Ngannou explained at a recent press conference. “Then I walk around and realize, no, I’m not dreaming. This is real.”
Ngannou’s fighting dreams were born when he was a child working in the Cameroon sand mines and heard tales of Tyson knocking out opponents and winning title fights on the other side of the world. He didn’t even actually see Tyson box until a few years later when he saved up enough money to travel to the city and search for the superstar boxer on YouTube.
Ngannou eventually emigrated to France, on foot, with his sights set on becoming a professional boxer, but he was convinced to pursue mixed martial arts instead. But boxing never left his mind, so much so that when he first met Tyson four or five years ago before he won the UFC title, Ngannou said he had one question for him.
“One thing that I precisely requested from Mike Tyson was whenever I fight Tyson Fury, would he be in my corner,” Ngannou said. “At that time everybody was looking at me as a fool for even (thinking about) fighting Tyson Fury.”
On Saturday, October 28, in Riyadh, Saudi Arbaia, Ngannou (0-0 in boxing) will fight the lineal heavyweight champion Fury (33-0, 1 no contest) with Tyson in his corner.
“He thinks he’s in a dream? F*ckin’ hell, I’m definitely in a dream. I’m named after (Mike Tyson) and now I’m in the opposite corner to him (35) years later?” Fury said.
“I have to take my hat off to Francis for his story and where he’s come from and the fight, the grind, the determination and everything he’s put into it to get to where he is. He was just a young boy in Africa with a big dream and everybody probably laughed at him when he said he was going to go to Las Vegas and win the UFC heavyweight championship. And then, when he said he was fighting Tyson Fury, they still laughed at him, but I never laugh at anybody because I know the man’s struggle. I come from a place where anything is possible.”
Boxing pundits give the 37-year-old Ngannou little chance to defeat the 35-year-old Fury in his maiden boxing voyage, and betting odds imply only an 8% chance at victory. But he arguably just faced an even larger foe, albeit in a bout that took place outside the ring.
For the past several years, Ngannou had waged a war with the UFC. One of his many points of contention with the locally-based fighting promoter was that it wouldn’t sign off on outside opportunities like the upcoming boxing match with Fury.
Ngannou feels like he won after the UFC gave up on contract negotiations and waived its right to match a deal with another promotion. He wound up signing with the Professional Fighters League, which welcomed his intentions to try out boxing.
Ngannou is expected to return to mixed martial arts and make his PFL debut sometime next year after the Fury fight.
“I’m going to fight the best boxer in the world for my first boxing fight,” Ngannou said. “I always ask myself, ‘What is going to happen the moment that guy hits the floor and my hand is up? Are you the best boxer in the world now? What would that be?’ If you take out the No. 1, I think you are the No. 1 … but it’s really hard to think about. I think right now, I focus on taking him out and then I’ll figure out the rest later.”
Fury has all but guaranteed victory, saying he wouldn’t only defeat Ngannou in boxing but also in mixed martial arts “if the money was right.” Ngannou has the world record for hardest punch ever recorded, 129,161 units on a PowerKube unit, so even Fury has admitted his opponent has “a puncher’s chance.”
The long odds against him don’t bother Ngannou after he’s defied them every step of his life and career so far. Having Mike Tyson by his side is proof enough that anything is possible.
“Go back and watch this man’s story. If you doubt him now, you will be sorry come October 28,” Ngannou’s longtime agent Marquel Martin said. “This man will shock the world. He’s done it time and again. It’s destined to be.”
Source: Las Vegas Weekly