Kickboxing brings father from Cameroon to Mechanicsville: ‘You have to keep pushing yourself’

Posted at 11:53 PM, Oct 04, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-05 06:56:45-04

MECHANICSVILLE, Va. -- Lloyd Dobler was ahead of his time. The main character (played by John Cusak in one of his most iconic roles) in the 1989 movie "Say Anything" proclaimed that the sport of kickboxing had a bright future.

While kickboxing may not yet enjoy the mainstream popularity Dobler envisioned, it's bringing dozens of people each week to a small gym in Mechanicsville.

The owner and head trainer is Francois Ambang, who has had over two dozen professional fights. Unlike Dobler, he never had much of a choice as to what his future would hold.

"I was a natural fighter," Ambang said.  "I'm coming from a strong family. We're naturally strong."

Ambang brings his love for the sport to every training session with his ever-growing list of clients. He makes no bones about what it takes to be successful, either in the gym and or out.

"He tells people you don't have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great," Brandon Mickens, who trains at the gym, explained.

"Number one thing is patience," Ambang added.  "Number two,  being respectful, know how to communicate with people, know how to understand people. It won't be easy. It wasn't for me."

Ambang isn't only talking about his training.

He came to the United States 11 years ago from his native Cameroon. He was part of the national kickboxing team and headed to a tournament in Chicago. He made the decision to stay in the states where he believed there would be more opportunity for him as an athlete and a father.

"It was a tough decision, but I didn't have a choice," Ambang recalled. "My only choice was to have a better life and try to make something happen for my family."

"He had his French bible, he had an old photo album with a bunch of pictures of family and he had determination" added his wife, Priscilla.  "He loved his God, he loved his family, and he loved his sport."

Ambang had relatives in the Richmond area who encouraged him to relocate to Central Virginia. Through language barriers and the red tape of citizenship, he always had his sport and could always reach others with his enthusiasm.

"Someone said there was this new fighter coming to the gym," Mickens recalled.  "I was like, all right, let's check him out. OK, he's pretty bad ass, honestly."

"He's extremely encouraging, but demanding" Priscilla added.  "He doesn't want you to give up, he wants you to try your hardest."

His determination has allowed him to open this new gym, one he can call his own. His perseverance also allowed him to bring his children from Cameroon after six years apart while he built his new life in America.

"My point was to give my children a better education, get them to where they can go to school," Ambang explained.  "They can do what I didn't do. That was my main thing."

"He knew what he wanted," Priscilla said. "He came here, he worked hard. It wasn't given to him. Every step of the way he decided, I'm going to work hard and I'm going to get it done."

"You gotta believe and you have to keep on pushing yourself. Even when you don't think you can do it, put in your mind it's nothing."

"You're going to get it done."

Ambang hopes to get it done on October 12, when he fights for the FFC World Welterweight Kickboxing title in Las Vegas. You can find out more about the fight here and watch it on the CBS Sports Network.

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