Before I spoke to Francis ‘The Predator’ Ngannou, I believed the heavyweight prospect had a very limited grasp of the English language based on some of his interviews I had heard. When a translator introduced himself to me before our conversation, I thought my notions had been confirmed.
To my surprise, as soon as the translator began to deliver my questions to Ngannou, he had no hesitation understanding what I said, despite my thick Dublin accent.
“Je comprends,” said Ngannou each time his assistant attempted to explain my inquiries before he would shoot back with a comprehensive answer.
Now 4-0 under the UFC banner, it is quite shocking to think that Ngannou only began training in MMA four years ago. He has the biggest test of his career ahead of him on January 28 when he takes on former UFC champion Andrei Arlovski, but the Cameroonian goliath knows that taking on a legend is a necessary step toward his ultimate goal.
“Even before UFC, when I just started to fight, my dream was to be the champion,” he explained.
“I’ve always wanted the belt. Since I’ve signed with UFC, I have prepared myself to fight everyone, including (big names) like Andrei Arlovski, Alistair Overeem, Cain Velasquez, Junior Dos Santos and Mark Hunt.
“Now, I’ve got the most important moment of my career. I’ve had four fights but I have never fought a legend like Arlovski. If you want to be a legend you have to fight a legend. If you want to fight the champ you have to fight the champ.
“This is what I need now. I need to fight a legend like Arlovski.”
As I listened to Ngannou speaking, the improvement in his English was evident. This week Jose Aldo spoke about how he sees his perceived inability to converse in English as a “barrier” in an interview with Ariel Helwani, and it’s clear that Ngannou has learned from his predecessors how important the language is if he intends on making a big impression on the American market.
“I’m trying my best to learn English because I know, for our sport, it’s very important. I’m trying to spend a lot of time learning English. I try to speak a lot and have some conversations in English with my friends.
“I think I need to live my life like this because who knows, one day I might have to move over to America, and because of that, I need to perfect my English. I want to be able to communicate with my training partners if I do move because I think that’s important if want to move up (in the rankings) in UFC.
“Right now, I’m not thinking about moving anywhere. In September and October, I spent some time with the Blackzillians in Florida. I’ve been checking in but I have to talk to my team and my manager. We will all make a decision on what’s best for me, but we have not talked about it yet.”
Ngannou stressed the importance of being able to explain himself and call his shot in press scenarios for the UFC. He also outlined what he sees as key markets for MMA, and the fact that they all are English speaking countries.
“You can speak any language and still be the champion because you do not fight with language. You fight with technique and your mind.
“But, English is still very important to capitalize on the fans all over the world. English is the first language in the world. In England, Ireland and America, they all speak English. These are all of the countries that MMA has a lot of popularity. If you want to capitalize on that, you need to speak the language of the people.
“If fans write to me, I want to be able to answer it. It’s still hard to do because my English is limited. I need to be able to do that. We are not just fighters, we need to be complete to answer the questions of the fans and the media.
“Sometimes in the post-fight press conference I want to say something, but I can’t. I can’t do it because I don’t (have a good grasp) of English. I need to be able to explain myself and to tell people what I want.”
Ngannou doesn’t get ahead of himself. Even though he has constantly underlined his intentions of claiming the UFC heavyweight strap, he knows that win over Arlovski will only get him so far.
“If I put on another impressive display against Arlovski, I will enter the top ten. So, I think I will probably have to win two or three more fights to get the title shot.”
Should he keep banking sensational stoppages, ‘The Predator’ may dissuade some of his competitors from signing on the dotted line to face him, but he is dead set on beating every fighter in the top ten if that’s what it takes to win him a title shot.
“I don’t care if people don’t want to fight me. Everybody wants to be the champion, but when you’re the champion you have to ready for everyone in your mind. You have to be able to take on every challenge.
“There will always be dangerous opponents. You never know who’s going to sign for UFC tomorrow. If you want to pick and choose your fights you will never come against different styles and you will never be champion. You have to be ready to fight everybody.
“I want to fight everyone in the top ten. I have no fear of fighting anyone. I need to fight them to grow towards my goal. If you want to get somewhere you have to take the right route. The route to being the champion is fighting everyone in the top ten.”
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