Francis Ngannou continues to show why the power of self belief is so important ahead of pro boxing debut

If you are more inclined to be of the cynical mind as it pertains to combat sports, it would be easy to look at Saturday’s crossover boxing event in Saudi Arabia between WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury and former UFC star Francis Ngannou as merely a money grab. 

It’s an accusation that can be lobbed at just about everyone associated with the event, from the two fighters, the networks and promoters (ESPN+, Bob Arum and Frank Warren), and even the Saudi Arabian government, who have generously funded the event (and many others just like it amid accusations of sports washing by western media). 

Even former two-time heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, who has been installed as Ngannou’s trainer, has reportedly joined a number of retired luminaries who received handsome financial offers from local authorities to make an appearance. 

And to be fair, of all the people benefiting from the millions of dollars being thrown around for an event in which Fury (33-0-1, 24 KOs) is as high as a -2000 betting favorite, few will be paid as handsomely as the 37-year-old Ngannou, who fought out his UFC contract in 2022 despite career-threatening knee injuries in order to secure promotional freedom. 

But to simply minimize the motivations of Ngannou by using terms like greed (or, instead, classifying the Fury fight as him sticking it to UFC president Dana White) would be to misinterpret the greater meaning of his incredible life story. 

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Ngannou’s journey from poverty and little formal education in Cameroon to arriving in France at the age of 26 to pursue a professional boxing career fueled by his admiration for Tyson is the stuff of legend. Add in the two-month jail term he served in Spain along the way for illegal border crossing and the fact that Ngannou was homeless and sleeping in his car when he found a new home inside an MMA gym and you quickly realize this sounds like the perfect inspirational movie script. 

So when Ngannou defies logic or probability by not just accepting the fight but playing up his chances of pulling an upset, it’s often viewed as part of the promotion. The only difference is, Ngannou fully believes that he’s going to win, which was the prevailing reason all along why he has spent years campaigning for a fight such as this. 

All of this brings us to an important question: what’s the reason for Ngannou’s outsized confidence? 

“I don’t know, maybe because I’m crazy,” Ngannou told CBS Sports on Monday. “Maybe [it’s] because I’m not afraid of failing. Maybe I’ve accepted failing as part of it. Maybe because I just dive when I have to dive without thinking of ‘if this or if that.’ That’s how it works, you never know. Regardless of the amount of confidence that you have, you never know what will really happen until you get there. 

“The best confidence that you can have, the best thing you can do to prove your confidence is to put the work in and go out there and give your best. That’s all. Sometimes you might come up short but that’s okay so long as you give it your all.”

It should go without saying that hearing Ngannou talk so boldly about his chances of defeating the best heavyweight of this century (and one of the top pound-for-bound boxers today, regardless of weight) despite having zero experience, is concerning. Yes, Ngannou has legendary power that appears to supersede MMA, but he’ll receive just about nothing in terms of advantages. 

Conor McGregor was not only 11 years younger than the 40-year-old (and retired) Floyd Mayweather when they boxed in 2017, he was the naturally larger man who brought the threat of one-punch power while at the peak of his physical prime, which went a long way in the general public suspending belief enough to purchase the fight in hopes of seeing anything from a competitive fight to a major upset. 

Ngannou, however, has almost no edge beyond power. He’s shorter, older and vastly less experienced than Fury, and wasn’t given any competitive advantages — like the originally pitched idea for a striking match featuring four-once gloves and an MMA cage. In fact, Fury’s world title won’t even be on the line as the promotion continues to largely evade media questions related to whether this fight is an official boxing match or merely an exhibition. 

Still, none of this has shaken Ngannou’s confidence nor forced him to retreat in any form. 

So, if you’re still using practically as a measuring stick to assess Ngannou’s chances, it’s clear that he isn’t. And the reason is best explained by a simple question: Is it more unrealistic to imagine Ngannou knocking out Fury in his pro boxing debut than it was to see “The Predator” go from unknown and untrained to UFC heavyweight champion in just eight years? 

Dewey Cooper, a former pro boxer and kickboxer who serves as Ngannou’s MMA striking coach, recently told CBS Sports that his fighter’s confidence, which belies all levels of traditional practicality, is easier to understand when you see firsthand where he comes from and how unlikely his story actually is. 

“He has made a way out of nothing,” said Cooper, who also serves as president of the Team Combat League. “I was just in Africa. I didn’t go to Cameroon, I was in Rwanda. I went to a lot of small village areas like where he grew up in where there’s not a gym or coach anywhere around. There’s not a coach anywhere around. 

“For a person to come from those surroundings, to come up with a dream at 22 and accomplish it [while] going through so many adversities that we can’t even speak of or think of and still accomplish it to become UFC heavyweight champion. And to now be embarking on a superfight just because one day he decided, ‘I want to be a boxer.’ I can’t go against him.”

For more evidence as to why Ngannou can’t be counted out despite the odds, Cooper recalled the torn ACL and PCL that Ngannou suffered just three weeks before “his toughest fight on paper in the UFC,” when he unified the heavyweight championship by outwrestling Cyril Gane at UFC 270. The unlikely January 2022 win, which was the final bout of Ngannou’s UFC contract, gave him the freedom to seek this exact opportunity, along with his recent MMA signing with the PFL, which includes a spot as an athlete advocate on PFL’s advisory board and equity ownership in PFL Africa.  

“We begged him not to fight [Gane],” Cooper said. “Even I begged him not to fight. I thought he’d be immobilized. I thought Ciryl Gane’s movement and kicking ability would be too much with an injury that severe. What did Francis say? ‘Sorry, guys. I’m doing this. I’m winning this fight.’ And what did he do? He beat Ciryl Gane with one leg, one leg!”

Now, Ngannou will look to accomplish an entirely different impossible task against Fury, where the motivation for financial reward simply isn’t the prevailing reason or an easy way to justify Ngannou’s outright refusal to accept the uphill odds he is facing. 

The way Ngannou’s mind works, it’s possible that he sees the UFC heavyweight championship as simply something that happened to him along the way toward achieving what has been his real goal all along, and the reason he first left Cameroon after being inspired by seeing Tyson on his television screen: become the next heavyweight boxing champion. 

Unfortunately for Ngannou, Fury’s WBC and lineal titles won’t be on the line in this 10-round bout. And, as previously mentioned, there remains debate over whether this fight will actually count on the pro boxing ledger of either fighter or is simply an exhibition in hiding. 

Either way, Ngannou enters his boxing debut with an overwhelming belief that Saturday is just another incredible stop on an already incredibly journey from rags to riches for man who has never stopped believing in what he is capable of. 

“After these things I’ve witnessed myself with him …  through so many adversities, when he says, ‘I wanna fight Tyson Fury and I’m going to beat Tyson Fury,’ I 100% believe him!” Cooper said. “My mantra in my mind is that no one can defeat you until they beat you. Since you’re telling me you’re going to beat Tyson Fury, I know you’re going to do it.” 

While Ngannou’s rock solid positivity hasn’t been enough to sway combat sports fans or oddsmakers, it has made believers out of those who have walked much of this path by his side. It’s just that, Ngannou has never needed the opinion of anyone to accomplish anything. 

“Anything is possible,” Ngannou said. [Defeating Fury,] it’s possible. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be here. In fact, see how we are talking about Tyson Fury? Who would’ve believed that a couple years ago?”

The ring’s structural integrity will be tested on Saturday. All but one of the undercard fights will feature heavyweights. The most notable of the bunch is Fabio Wardley vs. David Adeleye. The undefeated boxers were originally expected to compete for Wardley’s British heavyweight title but the belt cannot be sanctioned for overseas cards. Wardley vs. Adeleye will commence as a non-title bout.

Who wins Francis Ngannou vs. Tyson Fury, and which prop is a must-back? Visit SportsLine now to see Peter Kahn’s best bets for Saturday, all from the boxing specialist who has netted his followers a profit of nearly $4,000, and find out.


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