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Francis Ngannou: From humble beginnings to ‘Knockout Chaos’ date with Anthony Joshua in Riyadh

RIYADH: The Saudi capital is fast becoming a favorite hunting ground for the towering figure of Francis Ngannou.

The 37-year-old stepped into the ring against Tyson Fury at “Battle of the Baddest” in Riyadh last October, and narrowly lost in a controversial split decision.

Next up is the anticipated bout against Anthony Joshua at “Knockout Chaos” in Riyadh on March 8.

And on Thursday it was announced that Ngannou’s Professional Fighters League debut will be against the winner of Saturday’s PFL vs. Bellator Champions bout between heavyweights Renan Ferreira and Ryan Bader at Kingdom Arena.

From his humble beginnings in Cameroon to becoming one of the world’s most talked about fighters, Ngannou’s journey is a testament to unwavering determination, grit and a relentless pursuit of excellence.

Speaking to Arab News as he trained at the newly opened Mike Tyson Gym in the Saudi capital, Ngannou recalled the pivotal moment where his hunger for success ignited after he moved to France.

“I remember there was a moment that I just wanted to fight, you know,” he said, adding: “I was very excited, was very angry, was training all the time. My kickboxing wasn’t great though, but I had the willingness to win. It was quite a good experience.”

With his sights now set on greatness, Ngannou is keeping a close eye on the world of boxing, and expressed his preference for Tyson Fury over Oleksandr Usyk when the two clash in a postponed fight later this year.

“I will go more for Tyson Fury,” he said. “I pick Tyson Fury and to be honest, I want him to win. I want the rematch to be for the undisputed.”

Ngannou’s journey intersects with the PFL’s strategic expansion into the Middle East and North Africa region.

Speaking on the launch of PFL MENA and the role of Saudi Arabia in the brand’s global expansion, Ngannou praised the organization’s regional approach.

“I think the PFL has adopted a great strategy in terms of creating PFL regionally and then getting people more involved,” he said. “When you have an event centralized in one place, of course, it is going to be in different prime times around the world. And then most of the time people don’t feel it.”

The partnership with PIF-owned SRJ Sports Investments marks a significant milestone for PFL, paving the way for future collaborations and opportunities in Saudi Arabia and beyond.

“I think in terms of sport globally the wind is blowing in this direction,” Ngannou said. “We can see that fighters now are coming here to fight. But what we don’t see is that at the same time, they are building fighters here.”

Mentally preparing for the high-stakes battle ahead, Ngannou’s training regimen embodies his unwavering commitment to excellence.

“I train, I train and when I have doubt, I train again and again,” he said. “I put my confidence in my training and the work that I have put in, and I believe that is going to pay off.”

As Ngannou sets his sights on leaving a lasting legacy, his vision extends beyond personal triumphs to nurturing the next generation of fighters in Africa.

“I hope to be remembered as a great athlete,” he said. “The person who stands up for himself and does everything that he has to do and never backs down, never gives up.”

When Ngannou steps into the ring for Knockout Chaos, he will carry with him the hopes and dreams of an entire continent, poised to make history once again.

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