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Africa's warriors on the rise

China Daily | Updated: 2020-10-07 10:41
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Kamaru Usman of Nigeria kicks Jorge Masvidal in their UFC welterweight championship fight during the UFC 251 event at Flash Forum on UFC Fight Island on July 12, 2020 on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. [Photo/Agencies]

UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman inspiring a new generation of MMA stars

Kamaru Usman last year became the first Africa-born mixed martial artist to win a world title with the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and he has since witnessed a generation of fighters from the continent rise in his wake.

The 33-year-old Nigerian, a welterweight champion, believes this is only just the beginning for African fighters already signed by the Las Vegas-based UFC-the sport's leading global promotion-and for the next wave of African fighters who will follow them.

"There's just so much talent coming out of Africa," Usman told AFP in an online interview. "I know there are kids now who see me and I look like them. They know I've seen their paths, I've walked that journey. It's powerful."

The Florida-based Usman (17-1) claimed the UFC's welterweight belt with an unanimous decision over American Tyron Woodley (19-6-1) in March 2019-and he has since defended it twice, with a TKO victory over American Colby Covington (16-2) last December and an unanimous points decision over Jorge Masvidal (35-14), also of the US, in July this year.

In October 2019, fellow Nigeria-born New Zealander Israel Adesanya (20-0) claimed the organization's middleweight belt with a knockout of Australia's Robert Whittaker (21-5). Late last month, the 31-year-old Adesanya carved up previously unbeaten Brazilian powerhouse Paulo Costa (13-1) with a dominant second-round stoppage in Abu Dhabi.

"There's just something about us, and where we're from, that connects us," Usman told AFP, speaking from Las Vegas.

In the UFC heavyweights, the No 1-ranked contender is the Cameroon-born, France-based Francis Ngannou (15-3), destined to soon face off against American titleholder Stipe Miocic (20-3), while the likes of Nigerian-American lightweight Sodiq Yusuff (11-1) and Texas-based Ghanaian welterweight Abdul Razak Alhassan (10-2) are considered serious threats in their respective divisions.

Close connection

"When I see these guys there is a sense of camaraderie that you can't explain," said Usman. "You know deep down inside they have felt what you have felt and been through what you have been through."

It's been a remarkable 16 months for Usman. He won the welterweight titleand defended it twice-and in February was reunited with his father, Muhammed Nasiru Usman, who in 2010 was convicted of a series of health-care fraud charges before serving close to 10 years of a 15-year sentence.

"I dealt with it but it was tough," said Usman. "As an African boy there's a need to excel for your parents. I was like that. It happened when I was becoming nationally recognized. I was looking for that approval (from him) and I didn't have my dad to rely on anymore. It bothered me for years but we were always close and it stayed that way. Having him here now, the dynamic of our relationship is tremendous."

Usman's father-a former solider-had left his young family behind in Nigeria in 1989 to forge a new life for them in the United States. Usman was 2 years old at the time and it would take six years for his father to find the financial security to be able to reunite his family.

"To leave your kids and come to America to earn your visa, to give them a better life, it takes guts," said Usman. "It takes a hustler, someone who is motivated. To go through what he's been through and still be positive and have his spirits up is an inspiration to me."

A standout wrestler in high school in Texas and then a three-time All-American at the University of Nebraska, Usman said he found acceptance among his peers as a young athlete.

"All over the world we forget sometimes that sports bridge the gap between cultures and between nations," he said. "That's what happened to me. Starting to excel in sports it started to be that I wasn't just that little Nigerian boy, I was the wrestler who happens to come from Nigeria."


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