UFC Title: The ‘Nigerian Nightmare’ marches on
Usman Kamaru, a native of Auchi, Edo State defeated his American opponent, Tyron Woodley in what many followers of the game have described as a one-sided bout. It took place at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, USA.
Throughout the contest, Usman was the commander-in-chief, with each punch, each kick and shift sounding a victory cry. Usman made Woodley look like he didn’t belong in the cage with him.
It was a -1000 performance from a +140 underdog, an absolutely sensational one that cemented Usman as a pound-for-pound talent.
A day before the fight, Usman spoke with the BBC about the difficulty in choosing wrestling as a career. He also revealed how he turned down the wish of his parents, who expected him to study medicine or pharmacy. But when he spoke about the fight with Woodley, there was an unmistakable optimism in his tone. “I’ve dreamed about the moment they say, ‘and the new champion…’ and that belt is wrapped around my waist,” Usman told BBC World Service Sportsworld.
Born to Nigerian parents in the ancient city of Benin, his family moved to the United States when he was eight. Usman showed remarkable talent in wrestling, winning many bouts for the schools he attended. When he upgraded to professional fights, he showed great promise by winning his first eight UFC bouts. His ability to conjure up breathless strikes against his opponents earned him a name often reserved only for the best international Nigerian sportsman, the ‘Nigerian Nightmare.’
Indeed, Usman has been a nightmare to his opponents in the UFC cage, and proved this in November 2018, when he battered ex-champ Rafael Dos Anjos to secure a chance at ripping the UFC title belt off the waist of Tyrion Woodley.
Since 2016, the 170-pound Woodley had been the keeper of the belt, gliding four glorious times to victory each time it was contested. But Usman, the Nigerian Nightmare, has ended Woodley’s run.
With this win over Woodley, Usman has carved his name in gold in the history of the mixed martial arts, a sport with noble origins. Starting in 1993, the aim of the MMA is to find the ‘Ultimate Fighting Champion’ by staging a single-night tournament, with the finest athletes skilled in the various disciplines of all martial arts like kickboxing, grappling, wrestling, karate, jiu-jitsu, sumo and related combat sports.
Whoever prevails at the tournament is crowned the ultimate champion. This follows the rich tradition of competitive MMA dating back to Pankration, a Greek Olympic Games event introduced in 648 BC.
For years, the UFC has transformed the MMA into a premium global sports brand and media content company, with a record of being the largest Pay-Per-View (PPV) event provider in the world. The UFC broadcasts in over 165 countries and territories to more than 1.1 billion TV households worldwide, including Nigeria, thanks to DStv’s partnership with UFC in 2018.
Those who watched the bout on DStv will recognise that only one national flag was raised behind Usman, the green-white-green. Dstv continues to actively develop sports in Nigeria by providing sports content through SuperSport.
The fame that comes with the over one billion viewers of the UFC has not beclouded Usman’s sense of place in the world. This is self-evident in his post-match interview where he repeatedly reminded the world of his humble beginnings in Nigeria, and how he plans to give back to his country.
In a moment where most modern fighters would gloat over their ability and invincibility, all Usman could remember was his rough starts at Auchi, Edo State with his grandmother, and how they had to boil water fetched from the well to purify it.
No doubt, to the over one billion viewers who watched the fight, Usman is now an inspiration. This is especially so for the millennial (UFC boasts of the highest concentration of millennial, ages 18-34, in its fan base with 40 percent compared to the top sports properties). His success at the UFC further confirms that ancient creed, that man is capable of the extraordinary regardless of his place of birth.
Usman, who triumphed with a unanimous decision, winning 50-44 on two cards and 50-45 on the third, is likely to hold on to the title for a while, because of his energy and pace.
As he said after the fight: “Can’t nobody handle me. I’ve been wanting for this fight, and I’ll be honest, I might not be the best striker in the world. I might not be the best wrestler in the world. But when it comes to mixing this (stuff) up, I’m the best in the world right now.”
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