Kamaru Usman, Israel Adesanya and Francis Ngannou: African-born UFC champions stars in new era of continent’s fighters



When he won the UFC welterweight title in March 2019, Nigerian Usman became the first ever African-born UFC champion.

Months later, Nigerian-born New Zealander Adesanya won the middleweight title to follow suit, while Cameroonian fighter Ngannou won his own world title belt in March 2021, defeating Stipe Miocic to become the UFC heavyweight champion.

Previously, the path to becoming a mixed martial arts fighter was not an achievable option for children in Africa – Usman recalls looking for other people who reached the highest level when he “didn’t believe “in itself to make the trip – but with the three champions, the next generation has models to aspire to.

As well as being formidable in the Octagon, Usman is hoping his trip – along with that of Adesanya and Ngannou – may be the example others may need to follow in their footsteps, a feeling the 34-year-old also knows well.

“[Fighting in the UFC] was not an example of something that was achievable and now we are that example to the masses, “Kamaru told CNN’s Zain Asher.” Because I’m coming back to my childhood growing up and starting to play sports and simultaneously ending up in wrestling, from all places, in high school.

“You’re going to research them and find out what they were doing and how they were able to break through and get to this point. It is something so powerful because you are letting the human mind know that it is achievable.

“I have never seen an example of a UFC champion and now being that example for the masses across Africa, not just Africa, all over the world is something I absolutely do not hold for. acquired.”

The trip

Born in Nigeria, Usman moved to the United States at the age of eight.

Prior to that, his father had traveled the country before to earn a living and financially support Usman and the rest of his family. Usman remembers not seeing his father’s face in person until he was four.

He was looked after by his mother, who was also a schoolteacher and shopkeeper, and a young Usman also had to work on a farm to help his family.

While he acknowledges that others have faced more difficult issues than his own, he says it was the struggles he had to go through early in his life that made him the man he is today.

“Most people will never understand what it’s like to fetch water from a well, throw it away and have to physically lift water from a well,” he said.

“Most people will never understand this and will have to boil this water to get rid of some pests. Most people will never understand me, me and my grandmother walking miles to fetch water, carrying it. on his head all the way home. Most people I will never understand that. And that was just some of the things that I had to face.

“Of course, I really don’t think this is the hardest thing. But for my time, growing up through it, there were certain events that touched me and made me the man I am today. ‘hui. “

He had to climb the ranks, but with his relentless victory over Tyron Woodley in March 2019, he became world champion and made a dream come true.

Usman has the welterweight championship belt placed around his waist after defeating Woodley.

New frontiers

UFC President Dana White didn’t shy away from carrying fight nights around the world, both in the hopes of increasing the sport’s popularity and increasing income.

And with three UFC stars, all from Africa, having a show on his home continent is the next logical step for Usman.

Combat sports have already made the trip to Africa with great success after the successful “Rumble in the Jungle” boxing fight between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in Zaire – now the Democratic Republic of the Congo – on October 30, 1974.

Usman says he has spoken to White about a UFC event in Africa “several times” and points out that he thinks it is something that “has to happen before my career is over.”

“We need it with all the different events and all the different things that are happening day to day and all the different situations that some countries and regions are going through on this African continent. I think something like that is something that will definitely shake up this continent for the better. “

Usman hasn’t returned to his country of birth since he left all those years ago, but that doesn’t mean the love for his country has waned.

Usman enters the arena before facing Jorge Masvidal on April 25.

Before each of his fights, he walks to the ring draped in a Nigerian flag. And that seems to have given him the requisite luck – he’s on an 18-fight unbeaten streak and has successfully defended his welterweight title four times.

And in the coming months, Usman hopes to finally return to Nigeria – an “emotional” thought for the UFC star.

“Being born in a place like Nigeria has helped me become the man I am today, which is why I am so vocal and I am so passionate about showing this flag,” he explained. .

“But over time, of course, you’re gone long enough and you start to miss it. I miss my people; I miss being in a certain place where you feel at home. You feel that everyone loves, respects and really cherish you, i miss it.

“And this is something that I have been waiting for a long time and I can’t wait to be within the means of it, to have my people touch me, to drink their energy and to release the energy that I have. It’s something that means the world to me. “


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