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Ngannou overcomes obstacles to become fan favorite

In three UFC fights, Francis Ngannou has scored three knockouts, propelling him into the top 15 of the heavyweight division. That’s quite a 12-month run, and it has made “The Predator” an instant fan favorite and the kind of fighter that not only looks the part of heavyweight contender, but plays it as well.

But the soft-spoken 30-year-old admits that the fanfare that has led him to Friday’s co-main event against Anthony Hamilton has snuck up on him a bit.

 Ngannou, Lewis, Anderson … Friday night’s UFC Fight Night is stacked! Watch it live and exclusively on UFC FIGHT PASS starting at 5:45 pm ET

“I am surprised by the reaction,” he said. “But I discovered that they respect what I do and they push me to do more and become their favorite fighter.”

Ngannou has certainly done everything asked of him since turning pro in 2013, and after going 1-1 in his first two bouts, he’s won seven straight, all by knockout or submission. What’s made his ascension up the heavyweight ladder even more impressive is that he comes from a place that is far from an MMA hotbed in France. If you want to go back even further, Ngannou was born in Batie, Cameroon, which is another place not known for producing MMA fighters.

Yet.

“In Cameroon, they have a big MMA scene and I am happy when I see that I am a role model for the next generation of fighters,” said Ngannou, whose family and friends have been watching his career closely. “All my family and friends still live in Cameroon and they support me. They are very happy for my success and, for them, I represent hope and faith.”
 


He is also a prime representative of the French MMA scene, as one of only a handful of UFC fighters who make their home there. And it’s not easy, as the sport is banned in France, leaving their athletes to constantly travel to fight, and even training-wise, it’s not the ideal situation for those who want to test themselves against the best in the world.

“France currently doesn’t allow mixed martial arts and that makes it very difficult for us to train,” he said. “We miss the training partners and all of us would like to compete at home one day and to see some UFC event in France.”

Ngannou wouldn’t mind being the first to compete on such an event, and he doesn’t plan on sitting idle as politicians tell him what he can and can’t do as a professional athlete. Call getting the sport legal at home and becoming a UFC champion goals 1a and 1b.

“Like every French MMA fighter and every fan, I hope to do something to one day regulate MMA in France and maybe to become a champ,” he said.

To keep goal 1b alive, the next step is beating Hamilton.

“As with every opponent, Anthony is one obstacle that I must pass to go after my goal,” said the No. 12-ranked Ngannou, who is still respectful of every opponent, even as he scores finish after finish. “Since the first time, I respect all the fighters, and now I still respect everyone, even the ones behind me. But I want to be number one.”

Sooner, rather than later, as Ngannou preps for a big 2017.

“In 2017, the fans can expect me to win more fights and approach a title shot.”

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