- Francis Ngannou won the heavyweight belt of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the world’s most powerful MMA league, on Saturday in Vegas.
- To get there, the Cameroonian went through a thousand galleys, from a childhood in poverty to a homeless life in Paris, where he arrived in 2013.
- Khater Yenbou, the director of the association La Chorba, who spotted him while he was living in a parking lot, tells 20 Minutes how he met and helped the one who would become The Predator.
Since Saturday, the phone has not stopped ringing. It is not always easy for Khater Yenbou to juggle interview requests with his activities as director of La Chorba, a humanitarian association that fights against hunger and social exclusion, but he takes time for everyone. Too happy to be able to talk about “his” Francis, Francis Ngannou, who won the heavyweight belt in Las Vegas this weekend in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the most powerful world league in MMA.
Tuesday afternoon, on his way to a meal distribution, Khater tells us how, with his team of volunteers, he took part in taking the Cameroonian colossus (1.95 m, 117 kilos) from the street, in 2013. Because this is indeed the singular story of the new king of martial arts, written many times now. That of a boy born into a very poor family in Batié, western Cameroon, who had to drop out of school very early and find exhausting odd jobs to survive, before leaving his country at age. 26 years old to come to France, in the hope of becoming a great boxer.
A knee “so wide that it made a small table”
Ngannou crossed the Sahara and then crossed the Strait of Gibraltar in the company of thousands of other migrants, was detained in a detention center in Spain, before finally arriving at his destination in 2013. He has almost nothing in his pocket. and sleeps in a parking lot. It was there that he met Véronique, a volunteer from La Chorba. “She spoke to me about it quite often when she came back from her marauding,” recalls Khater Yenbou. She told me she was a special person, with a certain serenity despite the difficulties and then with an impressive physique. She told me that the cup of coffee that was given to her, she could put it on her knee. It was so wide that it made a small table. “
The social worker still smiles on the phone. Following these first exchanges, contact is established. Ngannou is invited to become a volunteer himself. He accepts with pleasure and at the same time tries to find where to box. He walks through the door of a club in the 11th arrondissement, where he meets Didier Carmont, who will become his mentor and best friend. The latter directs him to MMA, but the Cameroonian is not very hot. Khater Yenbou then convinces him to go and see the MMA Factory, which is right next to the premises of the association. “I went to see the manager, Fernand Lopez, to explain his story to him. As soon as he saw it, he said “wow!” “
A Foundation in Cameroon
The rest is a meteoric rise, sculpted in an iron will. “I am fighting against a fate which was intended for me, a situation to which I was condemned”, said the person concerned in 2018. That year, four years after his first steps in MMA, Francis Ngannou tried for the first time to stealing the world belt from the American Stipe Miocic. Beaten by the referee’s decision, he took a resounding revenge on Saturday, this time inflicting a devastating knockout on him in the second round. “If the MMA hall had been 5 km from the association, all of this might never have happened,” Khater emphasizes. Fate is sometimes played out for little.
Today a huge star of his discipline, The Predator (his little nickname) hasn’t forgotten anything about his career, obviously. “As soon as he comes back to Paris, he comes to see us. Outside of the octagon, he’s someone who has a very soft voice, who listens, who weighs his words. The fact that he comes back to see us is the best reward for the association, says the director. He takes news, he is very attached to us. He does not say thank you with words but with gestures. “
He hasn’t forgotten his homeland either. In 2019, he opened his Foundation in Batié, to allow all children to play sport. Khater Yenbou is in admiration. “I’m not a fan of MMA, but I’m a fan of Francis. He is someone who will continue to do great things. “