By Caoilte de Barra
Francis Ngannou is the name that instantly springs to mind when thinking of Cameroonian MMA. However, the work being done on the ground by NLMMAC is bringing a new wave of athletes into MMA. The Francis Ngannou Foundation plays a role of its own in Cameroon, enabling youth to participate in the sport. Many of the fighters who attend said gym actively compete on the amateur circuit in Cameroon.
Recently some of the amateur fighters that impressed at the IMMAF competitions leapt to the pro ranks for a new challenge. From the 13th-17th of May the Africa MMA Open Championships took place in Palais Polyvalent des Sports de Yaounde in Yaounde, Cameroon. Over the five days, numerous bouts took place with a 10 fight pro card being held on Saturday the 15th of May. It is on that card where the new wave of Cameroonian fighters made the transition to pro. There were three IMMAF alumni amongst that group.
Rengou Mefire Simplice, Steve Endom Bikim and Victor Lionel Owonyebe Ngono were the IMMAF alumni to put on the gloves for the first time competitively after testing themselves at the amateur level. Results were mixed for the trio but the jump sparks hope for the future of the sport in Cameroon.
Rengou Mefire Simplice featured in three separate IMMAF events. His competition saw him win gold at the 2018 IMMAF Africa Open Championships at Heavyweight. One year later he dropped to Light Heavyweight and picked up a bronze medal in the 2019 edition of the Africa Open.
Medaling at two Africa Open Championships set him up to represent Cameroon at the 2019 IMMAF-WMMAA World Championships. The trend of dropping down a weight class continued at the World Championships and the drop-down to Middleweight did not affect him in the slightest. Three fights in as many days saw him progress to the semi-finals where his impressive win streak came to an end. This turned out to be his last amateur bout, setting him up perfectly for a move to the pro ranks. Simplice took on Pavel Prachar in his pro debut, beating the Czech Republic fighter via submission.
Steve Endom Bikim featured at all the same IMMAF competitions as his fellow countryman. He achieved a silver medal at both the 2018 and 2019 Africa Open Championships but failed to make a statement on the World Championship stage. His pro debut came at Lightweight where he picked up a submission victory over French fighter Loic Pinto.
The last of the Cameroonian alumni to turn pro was Victor Lionel Owonyebe Ngono. The 2019 IMMAF Africa Open Silver medalist was unable to make a statement in his pro debut, losing out to Saidi Mugenyi via decision.
Overall the event and the athletes making the step up to pro is a sign of things to come. The work being done on the regional scene and by the Cameroon national team in preparing these athletes for transitioning to pro is a massive feat in the development of the sport in Cameroon.
Photo: Rengou Mefire Simplice from 2019 Worlds