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Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC)

Francis Ngannou has put his demons to sleep – now he must do the same to Curtis Blaydes at UFC Beijing

  • Heavyweight star says he carried Stipe loss into Lewis fight
  • Vows everyone ‘will see the Ngannou you saw before’
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 November, 2018, 5:19pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 November, 2018, 10:44pm

Francis “The Predator” Ngannou wants no more talk of any demons that might have haunted him following a two-loss skid that collapsed the aura of invincibility that had risen around the UFC heavyweight star.

The Cameroonian-Frenchman says those demons are now as done and dusted as the 10 fighters he’d wasted no time in battering his way through as he rose rapidly through the UFC’s ranks, before fortune and form then turned against him.

“It’s not just sport or the story of my career, it is the story of my life,” Ngannou said on Thursday in Beijing. “I’ve won, I’ve lost, and then I have found my way.”

Come Saturday night and UFC Fight Night 141 at Beijing’s Cadillac Arena and the 32-year-old Ngannou (11-3) faces his moment of truth against another rising star in American Curtis “Razor” Blaydes (10-1, one no contest).

Win and the Ngannou show is back on the road that many had predicted would lead – inevitably – to the heavyweight title. Lose, and, well, Ngannou doesn’t even want to consider what might lie ahead.

“I was under high pressure, I put myself in some place that I couldn’t manage,” he said. “When I realised things were wrong I just took a step back. I tried to remind myself why I am here. What made me take the decision [to be a fighter]. And then I realised that it was my dream. It wasn’t a random choice. What made me be here? It’s my talent. At some point I forgot that thing.

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“It might sound selfish but you need to remind yourself that you are good. You need to remind yourself that you are not at the bottom. It hurt me a lot to get out of that. On Saturday night, I am sure I have dealt with the past and I am going to move forward.”

Ngannou has come to Beijing carrying the load of those two losses, the first via unanimous decision by then-UFC heavyweight incumbent Stipe Miocic (18-3). The second – and arguably more disappointing – was via the same result against Derek “The Black Beast” Lewis (21-6, one no contest). It was a lacklustre effort, to say the least, and totally derailed the Ngannou hype train.

“Last time I was still dealing with my loss to Stipe,” Ngannou revealed. “I carried that loss with me. But you can make sure that won’t happen again. You will now see the Ngannou that you saw before.”

It also brought scorn pouring down on high, from no less than UFC head honcho Dana White, who pointed to Ngannou’s ego for the loss and opined that the fighter might never be the same man again.

Before that, Ngannou had lit up the Octagon on each appearance, a barnstorming heavy-hitting sensation whose rise through the ranks was made only more remarkable by the fact that he had only turned to MMA in 2013.

Before that, Ngannou had been living on the streets of Paris and had little idea of where life might lead him. And way before that he had grown up in poverty, poorly educated and forced to find full-time work at just 12 years of age.

“When I started dreaming of life as a boxer back in my little country of Cameroon, no one believed me at all,” Ngannou said. “Then I worked my ass off, I did whatever I had to do, and now I am here today. I got there by my work, by my trust in myself and by my confidence.

“Even when I lost two fights I didn’t think I was at the bottom. I still had something in my heart. Now I believe in myself more than before. I learned a lot from my last two fights. Now I am coming back stronger, and you guys are going to agree with me.”

Saturday night’s opponent had lit a fuse under the fight earlier this week by suggesting to MMA Junkie that the losses had left him in a “dark, dark place”.

Maybe it was purely mind games, considering the last time these two met – back in 2016 – Blaydes was packed up and sent home by the doctor via TKO at the end of the second round.

But Ngannou said on Thursday during a media appearance following a impressively intense work out that he’d battled doubters all his life already. And that the only way to silence them was to let his actions speak louder than any words can.

“I respect him [Blaydes] and I am expecting a tough fight,” Ngannou said. “I started this sport late but I train hard. I deal with it because I train and I train and I train again. I am pretty sure I am going to shock him again on Saturday night.”