The Best of the Best: Is Nigeria Taking Over the UFC?
Ultimate Fighting Champion
While the UFC hasn’t been around for that long (it officially became recognized as a professional MMA institution in 1993), the proud history of mixed martial arts goes back a lot further than that. The roots of the UFC and of MMA, in general, stretch all the way back to the founding of the Pankration event in the Greek Olympic Games in 648BC. Next, jumping forward to about 80 years ago, the world would see a Brazilian form of MMA, known as Vale Tudo (which translates to “anything goes”), igniting a much larger interest in the sport than ever before. It was not long before MMA gyms were popping up all over the country, but the UFC stood out as an organization. Their aim was to find the ultimate fighting champion, as the name implies, by hosting a series of tournaments in which athletes would compete, using a variety of fighting styles.
2021’s UFC roster is packed to the gills with brutal fighters who are chomping at the bit to show the world what they’re made of, but two stand out head and shoulders above the rest: Israel Adesanya and Kararu Usman. Let’s take a closer look at these Nigerian fighters and what makes them so unique.
Image by Marko Garic via Pexels
Technically, Israel Mobolaji Temitayo Odunayo Oluwafemi Owlolabi Adesanya is a New Zealander, though he was born in Nigeria in 1989. Not only is this fighter the current UFC Middleweight Champion, but he is also a kickboxer and the former Glory Middleweight Championship challenger. His life began in Lagos as the oldest of five children. His interest in fighting started at a young age: he enrolled in Taekwondo as a youngster but was soon removed by his concerned mother after an injury. At the age of eighteen, his interest in martial arts piqued once again, and he began kickboxing in earnest. He saw so much potential in the career that he could have as a fighter that he decided to leave college and pursue fighting full time. At twenty-one years old, Israel made the big move to New Zealand to begin training with Eugene Bareman. It wasn’t long until the youngster paid his dues and began appearing in high-profile fights.
In December 2017, the UFC announced that Israel had signed a contract with them. He won his very first fight and set the stage for what is still unfolding as a glorious career. His latest UFC achievement is his win against Marvin Vettori, which earned him the Middleweight Championship title.
Image by Starkvisuals via Pixabay
Another strong argument for Nigeria taking over the UFC is welterweight fighter Kamaru Usman. The thirty-four-year-old Nigerian American was born in Auchi, Nigeria, to a major (his father) and a teacher. He and his two brothers grew up in Benin City before the family emigrated to the USA when Usman was only eight years old. As a high school student in Dallas, Texas, Usman began wrestling. He excelled at the sport and continued into his college career at William Penn University. When he transferred to the University of Nebraska at Kearney, his talent really took hold, and the young Usman placed top three nationally all three years he attended the university. While his Olympic dreams were dashed, they were replaced with a desire to become The Ultimate Fighter. He joined the tournament in February 2015 and went on to the quarterfinal of his bracket, undefeated. He would go on to win the tournament in July of that year, win the Performance of the Night award and a six-figure contract with UFC.
Usman debuted as a UFC fighter in December of 2015 against Leon Edward: a fight that he won by unanimous decision. His star would continue to rise over the next seven years, bringing us to 2021, which would see him defend his hard-won Welterweight title against Gilbert Burns. However, this fight was not to be; Usman pulled out. The match was postponed until February, when he successfully defended his title and earned yet another Performance of the Night award. April of 2021 saw yet another successful title defense against Jorge Masvidal and another in November against Colby Covington.
Image by Bruno Bueno via Pexels
With these fighters’ careers far from over, one wonders at the wealth of talent that is yet to come out of Nigeria. If these two fighters are anything to go by, the odds are huge that Nigeria will yet have more fighters to add to the UFC roster.