After passing through Douala and Yaoundé, Francis Ngannou — the world’s first African Mixed Martial Arts Heavyweight Ultimate Fighting Champion, took his homeland tour this weekend to his village Batié in Western Cameroon.
The beyond warm welcome he has received while home is a testament to the ever-growing popularity on the African continent over the last months of its renowned elite fighters.
World-class athletes blazing trails on global combat sports stages such as Congolese professional boxer Junior Makubu who has held the WBC cruiserweight title since January, Antony Joshua who is a two-time unified world heavyweight English boxing champion — and whose fellow Nigerians, Israel Adesanya and Kamarudeen ‘Kamaru’ Usman are also Middleweight and Welterweight UFC champions, respectively.
Ngannou shares his experience of thriving as an internationally successful African athlete.
“There is a lot of solidarity between us Africans because we are overseas ( not at home) and we are trying to conquer a crown that was not meant for us. So we also use this as a model of hope, of courage.
“We don’t just do it for ourselves. There is a whole population, a whole country, a whole continent that is looking at us today and that also wants to achieve such a thing, that dreams through us.
How can African youth hope to follow in the athletic footsteps of their prestigious elders?
The ferocious — yet lovable, giant, gave some insightful advice.
“We have to start by giving our local talent the opportunity to practice. We have to allow them to compete so that they can distinguish themselves and have the opportunity to be seen in broad daylight so that one day they can join a federation like the UFC — or other sports companies.”
Passing the baton is one of the objectives of the champion whose triumphant return to Batié is a full-circle moment that reminds him of his humble beginnings doing difficult manual labour before migrating to Europe.
A time when all he could do was dream and give his all towards his belief in himself — to eventually show the entire world what he is made of and where he proudly comes from, as an international MMA champion.