The Nigerian MMA Invasion: The Champion, The Interim Champion and The ProspectSince its inception, the UFC has had the world’s best mixed martial artists compete under its banner. From North America, there has been countless stand out fighters like Max Holloway and Georges St. Pierre, South America has produced arguably the greatest fighter of all time; Anderson Silva, as well as huge stars like José Aldo and Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira. Europe has had its fair share of stars as well; “The Notorious” Conor McGregor put Irish MMA on the map and Michael Bisping is perhaps the best British MMA fighter the world has ever seen.
But there is one continent that has never really had any star fighters, until now. African MMA has boomed recently, and the centre of that boom seems to be from Nigeria, a country on the West of the continent. These fighters have now been picked up by the UFC, with there even being talk of a UFC event being held in Africa, to spread the appeal of the sport and encourage and inspire more of the continents’ young stars. But who are these current Nigerian fighters that are putting their country on the map?
The Champion – Kamaru Usman
Kamaru Usman made his official UFC debut on the Finale of The Ultimate Fighter: Season 21 in 2015 where he won the competition, forcing Hayder Hassan to tap out to an arm triangle submission.
In the almost four years since then Usman has not lost a fight, taking his record to 15-1 and has beaten some of the Welterweight divisions’ most exciting fighters, such as Rafael dos Anjos and Leon Edwards.
“The Nigerian Nightmare” has a style of fighting that might not be the most fan friendly, but is very effective. Utilising his college level wrestling, Usman is able to control the fight securing take downs at will or pinning his opponent to the cage if he so chooses. This was evidenced in his most recent fight with Tyron Woodley where Usman became the Welterweight Champion. For almost the entire fight, Usman was able to put Woodley up against the fence and landed punch after punch in that position. Despite constant breaks being called by referee Marc Goddard, Usman was still able to implement this game plan efficiently and effectively.
Usman moved to the United States from Nigeria at just 8 years old but despite living in the USA ever since, he still is proud of his Nigerian heritage, representing his birth country every time he competes in the Octagon.
The Champion is currently on a run of 14 wins and that run doesn’t look like it will be stopped anytime soon.
The Interim Champion – Israel Adesanya
Israel Adesanya has it all; a fan friendly style, a way with words and the ambition and skill to get to the top. The 29 year old fighter is undefeated in MMA and has an extensive kickboxing record as well. Last year, Adesanya was voted as the prospect of the year, making his UFC debut and three more appearances over the course of that year. In these four fights, Adesanya dismantled every opponent put in front of him.
Rob Wilkinson was brushed aside with a brutal KO finish whilst Marvin Vettori and Brad Tavares found out that Adesanya was able to take fights the distance and win on the judges’ scorecards if he needed to.
A fight with Derek Brunson at UFC 230 in New York really put Adesanya into the spotlight, with the Nigerian knocking out Brunson in front of a sold out Madison Square Garden.
This performance granted Adesanya a fight against his role model Anderson Silva in the co-main event (which was upgraded to a main event following Robert Whittaker being pulled from his fight against Kelvin Gastelum) at UFC 234 in Melbourne Australia. Winning the decision, Adesanya was put into an Interim title fight with Ultimate Fighter winner Kelvin Gastelum.
Booked for the co-main event at UFC 236, Adesanya and Gastelum engaged in a fight for the ages. This fight was the first time Adesanya had been truly tested, with Gastelum rocking The Last Stylebender numerous times.
Adesanya rose to the occasion though, almost finishing Gastelum in the last minute of the fifth and final round before sweeping the judges’ scorecards to win via unanimous decision. Adesanya also took home a performance of the night bonus and the Interim Middleweight title.
Despite his tremendous fighting talent, I am more impressed by Adesanya’s determination. Adesanya immigrated to New Zealand with his family in order to get better schooling. Adesanya was relentlessly bullied at school but he simply learned how to shrug this abuse off and has now risen to be one of the best fighters on the planet, thereby setting an example to young fans far and wide.
2019 looks set to be the year of “The Last Stylebender” and with six fights in just a 14 month period, Adesanya doesn’t look to be taking his foot off the gas anytime soon.
The Prospect – Sodiq Yusuff
Sodiq Yusuff (9-1) is just the latest Nigerian star to make his way into the UFC. Yusuff made an immediate impact upon introducing himself to the UFC beating the then undefeated Mike Davis via unanimous decision on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series before earning himself a Performance of the Night bonus when he beat Suman Mokhtarian via TKO in the first round of their fight at UFC Adelaide in December.
Yusuff’s latest victory came at UFC Philadelphia, where he swept the talented Shyemon Moraes aside, again taking a unanimous decision victory.
The key to the 25 year old’s success definitely looks to be his striking style, combined with his ability to use the clinch to his advantage very effectively too. The 25 year old also boasts a 51% striking accuracy rate and a perfect takedown defence record.
There were many who clamored for Yusuff to be signed to the UFC for a while, the most notable being Yusuff’s team mate and training partner, James Vick.
“Super” Sodiq Yusuff will be a name to look out for over the next 12-18 months, as he looks to climb the Featherweight rankings.
With more and more fighter’s coming from the continent, a trip to Africa looks inevitable for the UFC in the next few years.
The amount of talent coming through Africa doesn’t look to be slowing down soon, with promotions like EFC Worldwide and Brave FC giving fighters from the continent chance to really showcase themselves to UFC recruiters and match makers, who could eventually give them the nod and bring them over to the World’s biggest MMA promotion.
Article written by Kieran Cobley – Newsome MMA