Francis Ngannou makes his case as UFC’s rising heavyweight star

Updated November 20, 2017 - 6:47 pm

UFC heavyweight contender Francis Ngannou has been targeted for superstardom since he debuted with a knockout of Luis Henrique in December 2015.

His frightening physique and terrifying power combined with raw athleticism made that an easy prediction.

It also may make some of his favorite hobbies more difficult to guess.

“Sometimes I escape life and go out there to the mountains,” said Ngannou, who moved to Las Vegas about six months ago. “Sometimes I go to Lake Mead and play on the waverunner.

“Or I just go feed the fish. It’s nice.”

Some of Ngannou’s opponents would probably prefer to see that softer side of the 31-year-old native of Cameroon, who grew up in poverty and began training as a fighter after emigrating to France and living homeless.

He has taken to the sport quite well and with outstanding results. After splitting his first two pro bouts, Ngannou has knocked out or submitted his last nine opponents. That includes five straight wins since signing with the UFC.

Ngannou believes a win over Alistair Overeem on the UFC 218 card in Detroit on Dec. 30 will earn him a shot at Stipe Miocic’s heavyweight title.

“Nothing is official, but I’m the No. 4 contender,” he said Monday before a training session at the UFC Performance Institute. “No. 3 is Cain Velasquez and he’s hurt. No. 2 is Fabricio Werdum and he already fought the champion. No. 1 is Overeem. There’s no way to overlook that.”

It’s sound logic. He can make his case even stronger by adding Overeem to his growing hit list of devastating finishes.

Ngannou’s skillset seems ideal for a heavyweight division thirsting for a marketable star, but he believes his success is about something far more abstract than his obvious size and prowess.

“The main thing is motivation,” he said. “My strength and my power is all about my mind. When I look back at where I’m from and my family, I want to change things for them. I don’t want my children to live the same things I did. I hope to be able to help my mom and I hope she’s proud of me. She gave everything she had for me.

“It was very hard. It was never easy. But everything I am today, I got from my past. It made me stronger.”

Ngannou’s fight against Overeem is part of a card that also features a featherweight title rematch between Max Holloway and former champ Jose Aldo.

Opening numbers

The Westgate SuperBook has posted betting lines on a pair of upcoming title bouts.

Holloway was installed Monday as a minus-270 favorite over Aldo in the rematch of a bout Holloway won by third-round knockout in June.

He had been scheduled to defend the belt against Frankie Edgar, but Edgar was injured and replaced by Aldo last week.

Also, women’s featherweight champ Cris “Cyborg” Justino is a minus-310 favorite over Holly Holm for their Dec. 30 bout at T-Mobile Arena on the UFC 219 card.

It will also be Justino’s first title defense.

Volkan Oezdemir arrested

Top UFC light heavyweight contender Volkan Oezdemir was arrested over the weekend in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on charges of aggravated battery causing bodily harm stemming from an incident that occurred in August, according to the police report.

A statement from Oezdemir’s management team attributed the incident to a “bar room altercation” and claimed the fighter was not the aggressor.

Light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier said earlier this month he had been told Oezdemir would be the next challenger.

Late-night fights

UFC Fight Night 122 will take place in the wee hours of Saturday morning in the Pacific time zone as it will be live in primetime in Shanghai.

The organization’s first event on China’s mainland, which will stream exclusively on the UFC’s online platform Fight Pass, will be headlined by a middleweight bout between Kelvin Gastelum and former champ Michael Bisping.

The preliminary card will begin at 1 a.m. with the four-fight main card starting at 4 a.m.

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com or 702-277-8028. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on Twitter.

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