IF you were asked to think of the most famous athletes from Nigeria, the options would effortlessly roll off your tongue. The memories would come flooding back of the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, and the nostalgic glory of Nigeria’s football team would make you smile.
Now it’s Nigeria’s dominance in mixed martial arts, a sport that is captivating millions around the globe, with four Nigerian fighters at the centre of that conversation.
One would only have to look at the recent Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) 253 event between current middleweight world champion Israel Adesanya and Brazilian Paulo Costa, that made over two hundred million impressions on online platforms, to see its rise in global stature.
The Nigerian born Adesanya, nicknamed “The Last Stylebender”, is a fighter who made sure everyone in the world of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) was taking notice of him in 2018. Adesanya made his UFC debut on 11 February in 2018 at UFC 221 and has gone undefeated since then, completely dominating the middleweight class.
31-year old Adesanya’s kickboxing speciality made him become the second UFC world champion to hail from Africa, taking down MMA American-Brazilians legend Anderson Silva in the process.
The dominance does not end there. History was made by Kamaru Usman becoming the first African UFC champion in 2019. Usman conquered 2018 on his route to becoming UFC world welterweight champion and boasts an impressive UFC record of seventeen wins and one loss.
While Adesanya and Usman create history as African trailblazers in the sport, there are more MMA fighters that are bursting into the octagon with emerging talent. Names including Sodiq ‘Super’ Yusuff and Kennedy Nzwechukwu are some of the fighters that spectators can’t ignore at UFC events.
Lagos-born featherweight Yusuff made his UFC debut in December 2018, and since then has created a record of eleven wins, one loss and zero draws in his bouts. Nicknamed ‘The African Savage’, Kennedy Nzechukwu entered the Octagon in 2016, beating American Matt Foster in a TKO, and since then has made seven wins, one loss, zero draws and four TKOs.
These four may just be the athletes to push open the door for emerging and underrated African fighters to make their claim in one of the sport’s highest levels of competition. The best is definitely yet to come within the world of mixed martial arts.