FRANCIS NGANNOU was once homeless and penniless on the streets of Paris, dreaming of becoming the next Mike Tyson.
Now the Cameroon-born monster has Iron Mike backing him to kickstart the UFC show in Florida during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In just seven years, the 6ft 4in powerhouse has gone from not knowing the sport of MMA existed, to challenging for the heavyweight title.
And, after gruelling sparring sessions with British boxer Joe Joyce, he is being tipped to switch sports in the near future and wreak havoc in the ring as well as the octagon.
It has been a rags-to-riches tale for The Predator and Saturday’s behind-closed-doors bout in Florida is just the latest chapter.
Ngannou told SunSport: “I have not done a lot in my life, I was always moved around schools because I could not afford the fees.
"From the beginning I liked to fight but when my parents divorced they sent me to live with auntie.
"She had a lot of boys living with her and we wanted to fight to see who was the strongest boy, of our age, in the city.
"Sometimes I did not have a pen to write, I didn’t have books and was ashamed."
Ngannou was also embarrassed that his father had the reputation of a local hardman so he used his size and strength to protect the weaker people in and around his village.
He said: “My dad was always fighting and had a bad reputation, I saw my father’s reputation and I felt it was no good, I felt ashamed. I did not want to be like him
“My friends are always small, in my team I protect others because I do not provoke. I am not a bully. If you fight my friends, you fight me.
“Sometimes I would leave the village and visit the city and when I came back people would have written a list of people who had taken their money.
“People would respect me and what I say and hand over the money.”
Ngannou is now so respected, UFC kingpin Dana White hands him thousands of pounds to fight in his promotion.
The January 2018 failed world title shot against experienced Stipe Miocic appeared to come too soon as Ngabbou surrendered a clear points decision and the same happened in the following fight with Derrick Lewis.
But he has won his last three fights all inside the first round, including the scalps of heavyweight legends Cain Valasquez and Junior Dos Santos and is closing in on another crack at the gold.
Wrestling and stamina are definitely weak spots for the 18st puncher but doing Las Vegas rounds with Olympic silver winner Joyce during his March Las Vegas camp will have boosted his boxing again.
And the November 2019 meeting with the Baddest Man on the Planet would have driven his fight IQ and profile through the roof.
The only bad news for Ngannou, right now, is there is already another Tyson waiting for him to switch codes.
Gypsy King Tyson Fury watched the training session Ngannou and his 53-year-old namesake shared and swiftly warned him and the rest of the UFC giants what would happen if they strayed into his domain.
The WBC champ said: “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.”
If Ngannou comes through the groundbreaking UFC show this weekend with another win, expect a second world title shot to come or prepare for a new name to try to shake up boxing.
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