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“I would love to have this fight against Jon Jones”

                Francis Ngannou became at the age of 34 the first African heavyweight champion of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the most powerful mixed martial arts (MMA) league in the world.  For RFI, the Cameroonian looks back on his victory against the American Stipe Miocic, his desire to face Jon Jones, and evokes the popularity of MMA in Africa.

                                    <p><strong>RFI: Francis Ngannou, more than two days after your coronation of the world heavyweight champion of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), have you fully realized what you have achieved?</strong>

Francis Ngannou : Not yet… (He hesitates) I’ve been waiting for this moment for a very long time and now that moment has arrived. I may not have taken the time to appreciate the magnitude of it all. I just have a feeling of relief. I’m glad I finally got there.

During the next few days, the objective will be to put myself down, to rest, to communicate a little, to respond to family, friends, and the media. The necessary ! But for now, I am mostly relieved and satisfied.

Facing American Stipe Miocic, who beat you in 2018, you looked incredibly calm and serene. Did you do a lot of mental preparation before this fight?

Not especially. But my journey over the past three years has been sort of mental preparation. Because what I experienced the first time allowed me to be better prepared the second time around.

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Three years ago, it was my first fight at this level and I had very little experience. I wondered about everything. I had never had to deal with such a situation. I didn’t know how to handle a fight of this magnitude, especially with 5 rounds.

This first fight against Stipe Miocic had been more or less organized in “short notice” [avec un « court délai » pour se préparer pour un Ngannou qui avait combattu moins de deux mois d’avant, Ndlr].

Lack of experience, lack of time, lack of everything: it didn’t bring out the best in me at all, even though the best in me at that time might not have been enough.

You provided a very complete service. Was it important to show everyone that you are not just a good boxer?

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Yes, it was very important. I wanted to make people understand that I work. I finished my previous fights very quickly, sometimes from the first minute. I didn’t spend a lot of time in the octagon to show what I was capable of. In the end, I always got the victory and I was always satisfied.

But it was still a question of demonstrating, especially in front of the one who questioned my work, that I had made progress, that I had worked.

I had this desire! I’m not saying that to mean that’s why I won this second fight this way. If I had the opportunity to stop him in the first round or some other point in the fight, I would have. But its unfolding allowed me to demonstrate certain things a little bit.

For a year, we have been talking about a fight against the American Jon Jones. A Jon Jones who seems to have mostly launched, again, in a tug-of-war with the UFC. Do you still remain confident about the feasibility of this fight?

With the UFC, everything is possible and nothing is impossible… You tell yourself that it can happen as you tell yourself that it may not happen, especially with what is happening between Jon Jones and the UFC. It’s clear that there is something wrong between the UFC and Jon Jones. Only the UFC knows if this fight will take place. I cannot dwell on this.

Besides Jon Jones, there are many other challengers, like Derrick Lewis for example. It would be a very interesting fight and above all it would be a rematch.

But I do not dwell on all of this. I would love to have this fight against Jon Jones. But it is not the only one. There are other fights. It is not the most essential. You need to go forward.

There are now three African champions in the UFC. Do you feel a growing passion in Africa for MMA, thanks to your exploits and those of Nigerian world champions Israel Adesanya and Kamaru Usman?

Of course ! It’s been a long time since I felt this growing passion for combat sports and more particularly MMA. This title of world champion will multiply things, I think. It will further motivate young people to take up this sport. Even those who will not practice MMA will be passionate about this discipline. My compatriots have developed a love for this sport which, not so long ago, was still unknown to them.

Do you feel like you have become an ambassador for Cameroon, just like footballer Samuel Eto’o or triple-jumper Françoise Mbango?

In the same way, I could not say it… But I have the impression of having become an ambassador in Cameroon. Because I realized something that is a sleeping dream in the depths of several Cameroonians. A dream that might have been given up at one point.

The UFC has never organized an event in Africa before. Can your victories push the UFC to invest more in this continent, in this market?

We can only ask to explore this field, its possibilities, to try to find a solution to that. Two years ago, I was talking about this and they were not very receptive. But we talk about it Usman, Adesanya, and I, each in turn. Today, we try to speak with a voice. I think doing it would be obvious.

The UFC is based in the United States and there are very few African representatives in this league. I do not even know if there are 20 African fighters in an organization which has more than 600. However, there are already three weight categories. [sur huit chez les hommes, Ndlr] which were conquered by this tiny minority of African fighters.

I think this is an important factor that must be pointed out because Africa is a land of combat sports, a breeding ground for combat sports.


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