The French star Who Converted Mbappe to MMA

When Cedric Doumbe knocked out Jordan Zebo inside nine seconds on his PFL debut in September, it confirmed what his fans in France already suspected - he is a star.

Frenchman Doumbe, 31, who is former two-time kickboxing champion, has built up an excitable following in his home country, but this was his exposure to the world.

With Zebo lying flat on his back following a crushing left hook from Doumbe, the television cameras cut to fan reaction inside the arena.

Standing open-mouthed in shock was French footballing superstar Kylian Mbappe, external flanked by a number of his PSG team-mates.

PSG had played 425km away at Clermont Foot in a 0-0 draw that day and following the match, Mbappe and his team-mates caught a flight back to Paris especially to watch Doumbe fight.

“Kylian was amazed by the competition and the night. He told me that he’s enjoying everything I do,” said Doumbe.

“We said that we have to go eat something together, and he said he will watch all my fights. He said even if it’s in the US he will wake up at 5am to watch the fight, so that was very, very cool. He’s a good guy.”

Doumbe has won five of the first six fights of his MMA career after transitioning from kickboxing, with the only blemish on his record coming in March when his fight was controversially stopped after he complained about a shard of glass in his foot.

On Friday he returns to the scene of that defeat in Paris, competing at the Accor Arena in front of 16,000 fans for the second time inside three months, when he faces American Jaleel Willis at the Bellator Champions Series.

All of Doumbe’s wins in MMA have come by stoppage, but it’s not just his exciting fighting style which has caught the eyes of French fans, it is his charisma and playful personality.

During his walkout to face Zebo, Doumbe carried a mattress to the cage with Bonne Nuit [goodnight] Jordan written on it, and before his defeat by Baysangur Chamsoudinov in March he posted a video on social media with an ambulance graphic.

“I think people like me because of the way I like to sell a fight before, the way I behave during the entrance, the way I knock people out, the way I back my words up,” said Doumbe.

"Then also they like my personality. I’m not a bad guy, I’m good guy.

“Even if some people are disappointed the way the last fight ended they know after the next fight they will get back on the train. Even if they don’t say it, they are following thinking: ‘What is Cedric Doumbe gonna do next?’”

‘With fame you can send a good message’

IMAGE SOURCE,GETTY IMAGES

Image caption,

Doumbe’s five wins in MMA have come via knockout or technical knockout

Doumbe says it wasn’t until MMA was legalised in France in 2020 that his popularity took off in the country.

He adds that this is why the fans appear so passionate too, because the sport still represents a new experience for them.

In March, tickets for his fight against Chamsoudinov sold out in fewer than 20 minutes, according to the PFL., external

Doumbe chooses to use his platform to spread positive messages to his fans.

“When I started combat sports I was looking to become a superstar but when you grow up and you get some maturity, you understand that is nothing,” said Doumbe.

"But yes, I’m enjoying it, because with the fame you can reach so many people. I send good messages like peace. I’m a Muslim, so I like to spread the peace of my religion and family notion.

“The most important is young people because the big part of my followers are the youth. That’s why I like to spread that good energy.”

The main event on Friday sees American Patchy Mix defend his bantamweight title against Russia’s Magomed Magomedov, but Doumbe believes his fight will feel like the main event.

“Because we are in Paris and because people really, really, really like me. Not because [Mix and Magomedov] aren’t good fighters - they are,” said Doumbe.

“So for me, I’m the main event and everybody who comes is to watch me fight.”