From quarry to stadium: The rise of UFC's next big thing Francis Ngannou

If being labelled the UFC's next big thing in the heavyweight division is putting any pressure on Francis Ngannou following his co-main event victory over Alistair Overeem at UFC 218 in Detroit, he's not showing it.

After all, the pressure that comes with the spotlight is nothing compared with the pressure of being homeless in a country where you don't speak the language.

Ngannou (10-1, 5-0 UFC) was born in Cameroon and raised in poverty, starting his working life in a quarry when he was just 12.

He emigrated to France when he was 26 to pursue a professional boxing career, but with no friends and no money, he was soon living on the streets.

Then, in 2013, he walked into gym, intending to box. The trainers at the MMA Factory took one look at him and convinced him to try MMA, free of charge.

At 195 centimetres and 115 kilograms, Ngannou is arguably the most athletic man in the heavyweight division and that athleticism, not to mention his raw power, has carried him far.

In his previous fight, against Andrei Arlovski, Ngannou landed an off-balance right uppercut that literally lifted the 110-kilogram Belarusian off his feet.

But Arlovski is on the decline, and Ngannou's four UFC opponents prior to Arlovski have combined UFC records of 9-14.

Remove Curtis Blaydes from the equation and that record becomes 5-13.

It's not the most impressive record in the world and Overeem is a wily veteran who has captured every major championship - K-1, Dream, Strikeforce - except the UFC strap.

None of that means a damn to Ngannou.

He's been in pressure situations all his life.

"I'm going to impose my will wherever the fight goes.

"I represent a danger everywhere for Alistair.

"He's good at this? He's good at that? I'm better.

"I'm the best and I'm going to prove that.

"I've always had pressure, I put pressure on myself and I have had it even before the UFC.

"When you fight you want to improve, you want to do better and everyone puts pressure on you because you don't want to make a mistake, you want to do the best.

"I always want to do my best so that pressure has always been there for me. It's not a problem."

The bout between Overeem and Ngannou is likely a title eliminator, but some - most notably Joe Rogan - have expressed doubt about Ngannou's readiness for a title shot.

For most fighters outside the US, wrestling is the MMA equivalent of kryptonite, and some say that a bout between Ngannou and former two-time UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez is the fight that makes sense from that perspective.

Ngannou, however, isn't interested.

"What am I going to do with Cain Velasquez when I can have the title shot?" he said.

"Every single fight I have had is to get to the title, I don't care about Cain, I care about the title and I am going to get that."

Another fighter looking to get his title is former UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo, who will look to reclaim his title from the man who took it, Max Holloway, in the five round main event.

If Aldo can reclaim the title - and it's a big ask, given how soundly he was handled by Holloway in their first encounter - he can lay claim to being one of the greatest fighters of all time and certainly the greatest featherweight of all time.

UFC 218 is live on Pay Per View this Sunday, with the preliminary fights, highlighted by a fight between Charles Oliviera and Paul Felder, live and free on Fox Sports at 12pm AEDT.

"I feel good, everything is okay, I'm just excited for the fight. Everything is going well."

"I don't care about that, the only thing I have on my mind is the fight. It doesn't matter where they put the fight, I just focus on the opponent and the fight."

"Yes it was disappointing, I was in a three month training camp and they cancelled the contest, of course it was disappointing. But I train for both, after that fell through now I have Overeem, and I've had a full camp for this as well.

"Everywhere. I represent a danger everywhere for Alistair. He's good at this, he's good at that, I'm better. I'm the best. I'm going to prove that."

"The Jiu Jitsu has been the hardest to pick up, I didn't like to go down and play the ground game. For me that was weird, but it was something I had to learn and I am getting better.

"I've always had pressure, I put pressure on myself and I have had it even before. When you fight you want to improve, you want to do better and everyone puts pressure on you because you don't want to make a mistake. You want to do the best. I always want to do my best so that pressure has always been there for me. It's not a problem."

"What am I going to do with Cain Velasquez when I can have the title shot? Every single fight I have had is to get to the title. I don't care about Cain, I care about the title and I am going to get that."

"For Cameroon, yes but for France, I'm not the first French man in the UFC but yes, for Cameroon

I would love to be an ambassador.

"I'm building an MMA gym in Cameroon, I have some staff already but the gym is not built yet, that is what I am working on. In Cameroon they've very interested in martial arts now, and a lot of people practise that, and they do it in school as a physical exercise. Most people don't know my career, my name, but some people do but because the first sport in Cameroon is soccer, you have to do a lot to get people's attention.

"I think everyone wants a UFC event in Africa, especially in Cameroon.

"There were a lot of reasons I moved to the US. It's not just about training. In Vegas, I use the UFC Performance Institute but I don't have a team like I did in Paris. My conditioning has changed, I didn't do conditioning before so that has changed.

"There were a lot of motivations, I have some sparring partners, I have UFC clothes, I can practice my English ??? try to figure out everything to make my day easier.

This story From quarry to stadium: The rise of UFC's next big thing Francis Ngannou first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.