FRANCIS NGANNOU was once fighting rats for food out of bins before he escaped Africa to reach superstardom in the UFC.
Ngannou's journey began in Cameroon, where he grew up and was schooled.
But he was so poor he could not even afford pens and a bag, and had to make two separate two hour journeys on an empty stomach to get to class.
At the height of his hunger while Ngannou was trying to emigrate out ofAfrica, he would rummage through trash, searching for thrown out leftovers.
He told Joe Rogan: "You would have to go to the market at night time to go find food in the trash.
"Sometimes you'd argue with a rat in the trash; 'Ay, get away from this tomato, it's mine, this rotten tomato is mine, not yours'."
Ngannou realised his dream of becoming a boxer aged 22 while still living in poverty and working as a motorcycle taxi driver.
After three years of limited training and sole searching, the 6ft 4in heavyweight fled to France, without even owning a bank account.
There, he transitioned to MMA, as it was easier to find fights and his road to the UFC began.
And those who questioned his decision to chase his dream back home were just as shocked to see Ngannou fighting professionally on the TV.
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He said: "They were seeing me on the TV and calling me or texting me and saying, 'We see someone on the TV that looks like you, but you have dreadlocks. They guy was exactly like you!
"And I said, 'Yeah, it might be me'. After a few fights they were like, 'Damn, so your boxing, so that boxing s*** was serious? You really like that thing?'
"I was like yeah, guess what, yeah I am."
After five wins, all by stoppage, and one loss Ngannou had reached the pinnacle of MMA after he was signed by the UFC in 2015.
It was only two years after his pro debut, and the Cameroonian was so used to putting people away, he had forgotten the rules.
Ngannou, 34, revealed: “I didn’t even know the rules back then.
"I remember I was in Orlando and I’m like, ‘Man, this is the time. I’m going to be seen in the whole world. So, this is the time to take my opportunity to showcase my talent, to prove that I can do something’
“I’m like, ‘OK. So what is it about MMA? How [does] MMA work? What is the rules?’ How it goes and I couldn’t get it. Like, I didn’t know the rules."
Arsenal fan Ngannou has come a long way since he first touched down in America, even challenging for the UFC title in 2018.
But whenever he travels back home to Cameroon, he traditionally visits the sand mine he worked at up until he left school.
It ensures Ngannou can fully appreciate his journey.
He said: "I always do that. When I'm home I always like to do that. It really hurts me to remember everything where I came from, how it was.
"Every time that I go back home I will go back to all those places where I worked.
"I hated these places growing up. You can't imagine, I hated the sand mine, everything, I hated my life.
"But, today it seems like a fuel for my life today, I have to feel it, go back there and see this because most people there are people we grew up together.
"It allows me to see how far I've come from."
Ngannou's motivational come up has resonated back home, where people use his story as inspiration.
He said: "Once I had a really good friend of mine, this guy is in the village and he's doing good with his businesses, doing good for a village guy.
"I would come there and he would give me a whiskey, find a good whiskey for me and he'd say, 'Man, you going to America, and coming back here means a lot to us.
"'We grew up together, so that means it's possible for us too, that will drive us to our dream and motivate us'.
"It's like if Francis did it, I might not do the same thing but I can get to where I want to.
"And I was like 'Thank you' and very humbled by his words."
Ngannou's story is far from finished, as he finds himself on the cusp of a second shot at UFC gold.
And it will come against Stipe Miocic, who denied him of the belt when they first fought three years ago.
The pair rematch at UFC 260 on March 27, and marks the opportunity of redemption Ngannou has long been waiting for.
He explained: “I knew it was going to happen.
“It was frustrating, the waiting time, all those things uncertain, but I knew it was going to happen.
"Guess what, there’s only one thing that’s gong to make it happen. Get your ass in the gym, work, get out there and win the fight, get a title shot.
"At some point, it’s going to happen.”
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