Cameroon’s mixed martial artist-turned-boxer Francis Ngannou recently took the entire World by surprise as he became the first man on the planet to walk away from a boxing ring chest up and shoulders high.
Ngannou left his footprints and those of Cameroon on the sands of time in a fight the boxing World had qualified as the “battle of the baddest”, and the most conspicuous in the last decade.
The son of Cameroon against all odds demonstrated that indeed when a Cameroonian is determined you cannot stop their shine.
Against the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, British man Tyson Fury, Francis Ngannou again taught the entire African continent that a dream is free, we must dream and we must always allow ourselves to dream.
But even so, he has demonstrated that in every Cameroonian, there is a drop of greatness if we are sincerely determined to make the ultimate sacrifice to exploit our potential and be the shining example for others to emulate.
And so before last week, no one with their insane mind had given Ngannou the benefits of the doubt, no one believed in him and many were afraid to stake on the Cameroonian. Before last week, the former UFC heavyweight champion had never been to a boxing ring, and in fact, Francis Ngannou had been 644 days of the ring.
Nevertheless, he has done the unthinkable, the unimaginable and I bet you no one saw this coming until Tyson Fury found himself precariously close to the worst-case scenario – the biggest upset in boxing history, as many boxing purists have described it.The fight, which took place on an electrifying night of boxing, captured the attention of sports fans worldwide as the country’s national emblems got supreme attention from sport’s greatest legends, football stars as well as the biggest musical artists who had all converged on Riyadh for the fight. With an estimated global television and streaming audience of over 5 hundred million watching, The Cameroon national anthem resonated across the World thanks to this man Francis Ngannou. Many who never knew about Cameroon have now surely googled to know more about the country, thanks to the epic performance of Ngannou. Like the brilliant win of our national football team over Brazil last year at the World Cup, or Samuel Eto’o’s hey day with Barcelona and Inter, Ngannou’s performance against Fury has also whipped up sentiments of patriotic feelings in every Cameroonian home or abroad, afterall, who wouldn’t love to be identified as a compatriot to Francis?! The fight has also placed Cameroon as a cartographic figure in the World boxing map as Ngannou could in the days ahead be officially classified amongst the first 10 heavyweight boxers by the World Boxing Confederation, WBC. After becoming the first African to win the UFC heavyweight championship, Francis Ngannou has now become the first ever African without any prior boxing experience to withstand arguably the best boxer of the century.
In fact, boxing is now on the lips of many Africans thanks to this illustrious Cameroonian son who about some seven years ago knew and lived the real definition of abject poverty, hardship and rejection. And immediately, the scripture comes to mind from Psalm 118: “The stone which the builder rejected has suddenly become the chief cornerstone”.
And It is one of the greatest writers of all time, Antoine de Saint Exupéry, who once said “there is a drop of greatness in everyone of us, and as American writer William Allen White quips, Greatness, generally speaking, is an unusual quantity of a usual quality, grafted upon a common man.” Yes, from a common man, Francis Ngannou has become a great man thanks to the many sacrifices he’s made.
By this landmark achievement, Ngannou incarnates self-confidence and hope; he who comes from Batié, a locality noted for its subsistence agriculture; a place where you must be a fittest to survive.
Born into poverty, forced to dig sand for survival at the tender age of 10, the Cameroonian rejected the temptation of joining bad companies back home because he was focused and determined to hit the upper echelon of his dream.
And this is a big lesson for the Cameroonian and African youths, whether or not you think you can achieve something, you are probably right. And the only thing that is certain after last week’s unthinkable upset scare is that Francis Ngannou has never stopped believing in what others have said was impossible. Like you, Francis is a testament to the outrageous power of his own self belief, which has hopefully taught even the most cynical of us that dreams are allowed but achievements are worked for.
The enormity of this fight, the extravaganza following it and the grandeur it has created simply points to one thing; Ngannou is a man to be admired, a true son of the native soil and a good example worth emulating.
Today, Francis Ngannou is the most trending name in the sporting world thanks to his patience, humility and hard work.
His triumph could be likened to a young man who has succeeded in overcoming multiple trials and temptations but a young man who denied giving up on his country. In his inaugural speech on Friday January 20, 1961, former US president John Fitzgerald Kennedy inspired many children and adults in the World when he said: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country”. There is no doubt Kennedy was inspired by the fact that government cannot employ everyone, but government can inspire everyone.
Francis Ngannou was left to face the world all by himself when he arrived in Spain some 10 years ago passing through the very dangerous Saharan desert. He was arrested twice, jailed in Spain once for 2 months and became homeless in Paris 5 times. Yet, Ngannou had a focus and like the saying goes “impossible n’est pas Camerounais”, losley translated as impossible, is not Cameroonian”.
Moreover, in spite of all these trials and temptations , Ngannou, a devoutly spiritual man, has never lived his life in line with the expectations of others. After trying his hands in regular boxing, the 38 years old with the assistance of a good Samaritan signed for the UFC in 2015, where his journey at the top of the upper echelon of martial arts took off.
He would eventually go on to win 17 major fights, 12 of them through knockouts, four by submission and only one by decision. He lost 3 fights but like a true Cameroonian with the lions fighting spirit, Francis Ngannou refused to give up. Last weekend, the Cameroonian knocked almost caused a major upset in the boxing ecosystem in what many have described including himself as a stolen victory for Fury.
The predator came to test the waters, he now knows the temperature and like he said “the wolf is in the house, and the wolf must eat some sheep.”
Francis Ngannou inspires confidence by his very humility and patriotism, humility and love-for-country which he has always openly professed.
Against all odds, the Cameroonian has never fallen into the trap of many countries wooing him for a change of nationality. He has always made it abundantly clear for whosoever cares to listen that he is a Cameroonian and nothing can make him change his mind. It is such an abundant and unquestionable patriotism that he again demonstrated last week to the World as he paid homage to the national anthem and flag like a true Cameroonian soldier on a warfront. Again, Cameroon has always been the first place he sets his feet on immediately after his fights, and this fight wasn’t an exception. Barely 3 days after putting Cameroon’s name on the global map of boxing, Ngannou came back home straight to say thank you to his compatriot, and this he did with panache on national television.
The boxer whose foundation is up and kicking in the country also seeks to inspire young Cameroonians that irrespective of their linguistic social and cultural backgrounds, they too can rise up to the occasion and achieve their goals.
But while Cameroonians celebrate the historic journey to success of their compatriot, Francis Ngannou, authorities that be especially those parading the corridors of our sports must wake up from their slumber. This is because not everyone can be like Ngannou who in spite of the hardship he underwent in and out of Cameroon, has never renounced his Cameroonian identity unlike others.
In fact, Ngannou has always said he is a proud Cameroonian and will represent the national colours anywhere, anyhow, anytime. The country has lost and continues to lose great talent sports men and women as a result of acute poor management and chronic corruption by some of those in charge of Cameroonian sports.
Jöel Embiid who recently won MVP in US basketball also known as the NBA, the World’s most prestigious basketball championship, has taken up the American passport, Joel Matip has vowed to keep his divorce with the national football team signed and sealed, Estelle Laura Johnson continues to snob the women’s national football team for obvious reasons, while some frightening and spine-chilling stories about the same national team have forced many of the country’s potential national team players to turn their back on the Cameroon. Youssoufa Moukoko snobbed Cameroon for Germany, Breel Donald Embolo scored for Switzerland against Cameroon at the 2022 fifa World Cup but refused to celebrate even when he was forced and, weight lifter, Auriore Ndogmo, dropped Cameroon for Portugal following a very nasty treatment from officials of her sport.
While the inexhaustible list of such athletes defending the colours of different nations is a story for another day, the fact remains that not many can put up with the overzealous and poor treatment from our sports authorities and indeed, not many have the Francis Ngannou kind of mindset
And so, while we celebrate those who have decided to stick with our country in spite of the many challenges, our leaders must also repent from their obnoxious and unprofessional way of handling our sports.
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