Rwanda: Francis Ngannou - UFC Icon Unveils Plans to Introduce Mixed Martial Arts in Rwanda

13 November 2020

Cameroon-born UFC fighter Francis Ngannou has outlined plans to introduce annual mixed martial arts (MMA) events for the first time in Rwanda, Weekend Sport can confirm.

The No. 1 heavyweight contender in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) wants to create a new world of MMA in Africa, and Rwanda is one of the countries he is targeting as entry-points to bring the fast-rising combat sport on the continent in the near future.

Speaking to this publication, Ngannou revealed that he plans to visit Rwanda next year and the possibility to make Rwanda a home of big MMA events comes top on his agenda.

The 34-year-old is eyeing the UFC heavyweight title with a possible rematch against American Stipe Miocic in March 2021, a bout that is likely to be decisive. It is after this fight that he will fix the exact dates of his visit to Rwanda.

"I don't know yet when my next match will be but I think sometime in 2021, we are planning a trip to Rwanda as soon as we get a chance," Ngannou told Weekend Sport in an exclusive interview.

"What would make me happy (a dream-come-true) is to see Africa on the MMA map," he added.

Rwanda is one of the African countries the fighter will be extending his initiative to; preparing, producing and nurturing young talents to compete at future UFC championships and other MMA events.

Benin and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have also made contact with Ngannou.

The idea

When the Chairman of PFL (Professional Fighters League) Donn Davis met Ngannou in the United States, where the fighter is now on holidays, he asked him to recommend him Africa's fighters to put in the league's future tournaments.

Ngannou regrets that he struggled to identify African talents to connect to the PFL boss because there is a shortage of professional fighters on the African continent.

"I don't have any! This is a shame! I have his number, but I can't compose it because I don't know what to tell him. Where will I find them? That hurts to see how much talent we have but we don't have representatives," he lamented.

At the UFC, less than ten in over 600 fighters are Africans, and Ngannou is convinced that Africans have a big chance for exposure because every roster wants Africans to grow their fan base, but, unfortunately, there are no elite fighters on the continent.

Ngannou insists that he is pushing the project to promote MMA in Africa not just to produce fighters ready to compete at world stage but to also inspire Africa to have its own MMA league.

"I think Africa can have its own league, its own MMA community, MMA federation. We can have our own roster and establish an independent league because we have talent and potential, basically everything needed to make it to the top," he said.

"I have a project to develop this sport; starting from my own country to the entire Africa. This is more than just a dream, it is my mission now," he noted.

Rwanda as an entry-point

Like many African countries, Rwanda is not acquainted with MMA events, but Ngannou sees the country as his first stop on the continent once the implementation of his project begins.

He explained that he is looking to introduce MMA in Rwanda as a model country he thinks could help him best tell the story of his project and his mission to establish Africa's own league.

"We are talking about overcoming the situation, the challenges. A couple decades ago, Rwanda was in a hell of Genocide [against the Tutsi], but look at the country today. I wish other African countries can be inspired by Rwanda because after the Genocide, Rwanda has overcome all that and became one of the best countries on the continent," he said.

The project is a pan-African initiative through which talents will be produced and start to fight at recognised big international MMA championships.

The initiative also seeks to produce coaches who will be training African young talents aspiring to become fighters in the MMA.

Once the events are established in Rwanda, Ngannou is confident the country could soon have at least a representative in each of the MMA promotions in the world.

The Francis Ngannou Foundation

In his early days, Ngannou lived in extreme poverty in Batié, Cameroon. He says that at 12 years of age, he was working in a sand quarry.

However, he had a dream. He soon started training in boxing and later got a chance to move to France, where he worked in a boxing gym. It is while working at the gym that he met Didier Carmont, a great boxer himself, who introduced him to the sport of MMA.

While growing up, Ngannou wanted to be a professional boxer like his idol Mike Tyson but he was discouraged at every turn when he shared his dream with family and friends.

"People told me things like; nobody has done that before, it doesn't work here in Africa, it is Europeans and Americans, please forget about it and find yourself a job or good farm and start working on a farm with your parents and grandparents, because this is where we belong," he recalls.

But, he says, he was convinced he could challenge the status quo.

In 2015, he, at long last, joined UFC and he has never looked back since. He is now Number 15 in the UFC men's pound-for-pound rankings and Number 1 in the UFC heavyweight rankings. To many, he is regarded as one of the scariest heavyweights on the planet.

He is known for his insane knockouts of top-ranked heavyweights in the UFC and not only does Ngannou knock them out, but he also knocks them out so early. 10 of his 14 victories were knockouts.

He has been on a superb run with four wins in a row since losing to Miocic and Derrick Lewis in January and July 2018, respectively.

Ngannou has since topped two American fighters Curtis Blaydes and Cain Velasquez, Brazilian Junior Dos Santos as well as Jairzinho Rozenstruik from the Republic of Suriname.

As one of the world's UFC icons today, Ngannou is now giving back to the community in Cameroon. He has opened up the country's first full MMA and combat sport gym as part of his charitable organisation - the Francis Ngannou Foundation.

Commonly known by his nickname 'the predator', Ngannou also plans to extend the foundation across Africa so as to create space for more African kids, empower them and inspire them to realise their dreams.

"It's not strange anymore that kids from my country, my village, can dream to be fighters, it seems normal because they have someone to relate to. So my next step is to give that chance to as many young people as possible in Africa. I want to put Africa on the MMA map."

Doors could soon open for young Rwandans aspiring to pursue a career in mixed martial arts.

"We are thinking to launch our foundation in Rwanda, build a gym for kids and find professional coaches to train them."

Like in Cameroon, the foundation in Rwanda will be open and free to help young talents overcome challenges that are often hindering them from chasing their dreams.

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