I was hung up on the movie 300 for years after I first saw it.
Nothing was going well for me in Batié, Cameroon, at the time. I was 22, and had been working since I was 12 — first in the sand quarry, picking at rocks with a crowbar and pushing wheelbarrows of pebbles up a steep hill. But no matter how hard I worked, or how many hours I put in, at the end of the day I could barely feed myself.
And in all the years I worked there, I never got a pay raise. New guys, old guys, we all made the same thing — and it was pretty much nothing.
I tried going to other quarries. I got a new job unloading trucks. But every place was the same. There was plenty of work, but never enough money.
I was trapped. I was surrounded by nothing but rocks and trucks and starving people.
I was 22 the first time I ever put on gloves, and once I put them on, I knew that I was destined to be a professional fighter. But I also knew that I had no money — and that meant I had zero opportunity. I didn’t know how to begin to find a way out. But then I saw 300 — the movie about 300 Spartan warriors holding their ground against a 300,000-strong army. That first time, it was almost like a spiritual experience. Nothing would ever be the same for me after that.
Yes, it’s just a movie, I know that. But it still taught me something very important: If you are fighting against the odds, you must believe you are going to win.
That single thought became very important to me. It helped me to focus when I felt lost. It gave me energy when I was tired. It woke something up inside of me. It motivated me more than anything else I ever had seen before.
If you are fighting against the odds, you must believe you are going to win.
I would watch it anytime I had the chance. On TV, or on a bootleg DVD, or on someone’s computer — on a phone if I had to. The size of the screen didn’t matter. The quality didn’t matter. I must have seen the movie 20 or 30 times.
I was obsessed.
I always knew that I was fighting against the odds. But suddenly, more than ever, I was ready to beat them.
And that’s what I did. I trained — as often as I could when I wasn’t working. Just on my own, with guys from the neighborhood or by myself. For months I saved every penny I earned, until I could afford a one-way ticket to Paris.
Not the Paris you see in the movies. Not the food. Not the romance. Not heaven.
I didn’t want heaven. Not even close. I just wanted a gym. A place to belong. And I wanted to train, because the only thing that mattered to me was becoming a champion. And so I went to France. Alone.
I was 26 years old, and I still had nothing. And I was in a place where I knew no one. The odds were even longer than they had been in Cameroon. But now, something was different.
It was win or go home.
This was all of my money. This was everything I had. If I didn’t make the most out of this, then I would never be anything more than somebody who used to break rocks out in the hot sun. I refused to let that be the best for me. I knew there was something more.
For three months, I was homeless.
For three months, I trained at any gym I could get into during the day, and spent the night alone on the streets.
I eventually became friends with the owner of one of the gyms I used to train at. His name was Ferdinand. At first, I asked him if I could leave my bag and gloves in the gym overnight, because I knew they weren’t safe outside. After he found out I had nowhere to go, he was nice enough to let me sleep inside.
Eventually, I got a job working security at a nightclub on the weekend. That meant I was free to train every day during the week. It was perfect. For the first time in my life, I felt like I could see a future.
I kept training. Kept working … kept watching 300.
It’s funny, I know. But here I am. Fighting. And believing. And part of it is all because of a movie I happened to see many years ago.
I also used to watch clips of all the best Mike Tyson fights on Youtube, since I was too young to have seen him in his prime. I would watch and marvel at his speed and strength, and I would always try to see what I could learn from the way he moved. Even if the quality of the videos wasn’t always so good.
Yes, I spent a lot of time on the computer and watching movies.
But I was watching all of the right things.
Success is my only obsession now.
I have not lost yet in my five UFC fights, but I have lost before.
In my second pro MMA fight ever, I lost by decision. And I learned more in that fight than in any fight I’ve won since then. Losing is a part of this sport. There will always be something I can improve on, because there are always going to be new challenges — and hungry new fighters — who will do anything to be a champion.
I know I must succeed, now more than ever, so that I can help more than just myself. I have lived alongside men who had worked their whole lives, but still could never afford to send their children to school. People who never got a true opportunity to make their lives better.
I must succeed so that I can help my family. The only thing in this life that I am afraid of is failing because of what it might do to them. I want to be the movie that inspires them. I want to be the Youtube clip that helps them get better. I want them to believe in what they are passionate about.
I come from nothing. I worked every day to get where I am, but I know there are so many others who will never be as lucky as me, who will never be able to come as far as I’ve come. Success for me would be success for them, and now I am obsessed with it.
I have made it too far to care about the odds anymore. I know that, win or lose, I will continue to succeed.
I come from nothing, but that is not me anymore. Now I am somebody.
And I am ready to fight — and to keep fighting.