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“There are no more bonkers stories than Francis Ngannou’s,” said Gooden. “His story will not be repeated. It is just unbelievable. So as much as I loved the success of Stipe, you can’t help but be so happy for Francis. This victory represents so much and to so many people now, as well. It’s a whole new audience, if you like. The first champion from Cameroon, your third from Africa, we’re seeing within our generation the spread of UFC titles around the world. This is wonderful to see how mixed martial arts is spreading the way it is. But to have someone who was seeking a better life from Cameroon, and that journey, for the time that it took, it was a long journey to even get to Europe, and to then live on the streets. I’ve been to the soup kitchen that he served at. Then Fernand Lopez, his gym was a few doors down from the soup kitchen, and they took him in. It nearly had me in tears, knowing what he’d been through, the effects that it had on him as a man, being alone for so long, and to now see that he’s reached the very top, it’s a movie, and it’s not finished yet. I’m very happy for him.”

Having been in the business as long as he is, Gooden knows that fighters become stars when fans embrace their story and have an emotional attachment to them. And when the UFC recently signed Liverpool star Paddy Pimblett, Gooden is unapologetic in his belief that “Paddy the Baddy” will make quite the impact on the sport’s biggest stage.

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“There are young kids in Liverpool that go to the barbers and they ask for the ‘Paddy the Baddy’ haircut,” he laughs. “But this is the impact that he’s having. He’s outspoken, he’s unassuming in appearance, but the guy has a very dynamic submission game, he’s got swagger, he’s got epic walkouts, and he’s got a legion of fans. He’s another guy from Liverpool and we’ve already tasted what that’s like with Darren Till. It’s the second coming of this wave of kids from Liverpool, and they make them tough over there. He’s ambitious, he will talk, and despite his appearance, you will see that when he gets near the cage, he’ll start looking at his opponent and he will not take his eyes off his opponent. He is laser focused on them and he’s got bad intentions.”

Sounds like someone to watch, and though he’s been on the UFC’s radar for a while now, after his March 20 submission of Davide Martinez, the 26-year-old is ready to tackle the Octagon elite.

“His last fight that he had at Cage Warriors, to me, he cleaned up his boxing a lot, and his hands look really deadly at the moment,” said Gooden. “Typically, he’s been known for his submission finishes, like flying triangles and stuff like that. It was a young man that was offered a UFC contract twice before, and he’s been through a lot of stuff for his young years in the sport with injuries and setbacks, so he’s been through all of that and I don’t think there’s a better time for him to now make his run at those UFC rankings.”

The excitement in Gooden’s voice is evident when the topic is fighting, and he can’t wait until everything returns to some semblance of normal around the globe. Thankfully, there have been fights, but many places are still hurting under lockdowns, with British MMA gyms getting hit particularly hard. So not surprisingly, Gooden is taking matters into his own hands with the “Keeping The Lights On” fundraiser that will raise money to help struggling gyms stay afloat.


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