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Kamaru Usman wins Africa’s first UFC title.

06 March 2019, by: Quintin van Jaarsveld


Kamaru Usman etched his name in mixed martial arts history on Saturday night, dominating Tyron Woodley in the co-main event of UFC 235 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas to become the first-ever African fighter to capture UFC gold.

An improbable dream came true for the man known as the “Nigerian Nightmare”, who fought the fight of his life to become the welterweight champion of the world.

Woodley had ruled over the division for nearly three years following a lightning quick knockout of Robbie Lawler. The American had defended the belt on four occasions, and was favoured to turn back Usman in the fight capital of the world.

“The Chosen One” was regarded by most, myself included, as a better version of the challenger heading into their pay-per-view showdown. His Hall of Fame-worthy body of work had shown him to be the more devastating striker, better wrestler (the first Big 12 champion and Division I standout) and superior all-round athlete.

Not that Usman, a Division II champion at 84kg, had not looked impressive, quite the contrary. He entered the title tilt on a remarkable 13-fight win streak and fresh off steam-rolling former lightweight champion Rafael Dos Anjos in December.

The big question was how the Ultimate Fighter season 21 winner would fare against a battle-hardened, well-rounded champion like Woodley, who in my opinion is second only to the recently-retired Georges St-Pierre as far as all-time welterweight greats are concerned.

Under the brightest of lights, an ocean away from Auchi, in the midwestern Edo state of Nigeria where he was born, a relaxed Usman walked (and danced) to the Octagon for his date with destiny whilst proudly waving the Nigerian flag.

With a country…a nation…on his shoulders, the 31-year-old produced arguably the most dominant performance by a challenger in UFC history, outworking, outstriking and outwrestling Woodley in a five-round clinic to clinch his, and Africa’s, first world championship.

Woodley wasn’t his explosive self; he looked flat from bell to bell, and although he underperformed, he admitted in his post-fight presser that he felt hypnotised – perplexed by how smoothly Usman was able to mix his striking with his wrestling to mask the takedown and control the contest.

Usman pushed the pace from the get-go, a ridiculous pace he somehow managed to maintain for the full 25 minutes, sustained practically no damage, scored a couple of huge takedowns – soul-snatching slams when it comes to two proud, elite wrestlers going head-to-head – and controlled the 36-year-old of the ground.

Never before has a challenger ascended to the throne after 17:51 of control time and with lopsided judges’ scorecards of 50-44, 50-44 and 50-45. That’s how utterly dominant Usman was on a night that had been written in the stars for the new crown jewel of African MMA.

His crowning moment was as special as his performance. With his young daughter, who had been cage side for the very first time by his side, UFC president Dana White strapped the newly-minted welterweight world title around Usman’s waist, his family and team streaming into the Octagon…and with that, the “Nigerian Nightmare” was immortalised.

The significance of Usman’s title triumph might even be the catalyst for a historic UFC event on African soil. Asked if Nigeria was a market the organisation looked at potentially penetrating, White in his post-fight presser said, “For I don’t know how many years, we’ve had a TV deal in Africa and that’s definitely helped build the sport, but the numbers that we pull in Africa are incredible.

“We’ve been pulling big numbers there for a long time, so the fact that these guys are crazy talented and guys are starting to pop up left and right, it definitely makes sense.”

Usman, who immigrated to the United States with his family when he was seven, said in an interview with CNN his African upbringing steeled him for greatness.

“I lived with my grandmother for a year when I was very young, and even to this day when I tell my mother events that took place, she can’t believe that I can recall that far.

“I recall a lot of it. I recall the hard work that my family went through just to continue to live the lifestyle that we were living, which wasn’t by any means a great lifestyle.

“It was just an amazing lifestyle to instil certain values in a child.”

Cameroon colossus Francis Ngannou at the beginning of last year looked primed to be Africa’s breakthrough warrior but fell short in his heavyweight title fight against then-kingpin Stipe Miocic in Boston.

Ultimately, Africa had to wait just over 25 years (since the UFC’s genesis in November 1993) for a special talent like Usman to come along and clinch the most coveted title in MMA, but it may only have to wait another month to crown its second UFC champion as fellow Nigerian, the exciting Israel Adesanya, takes on American ace Kelvin Gastelum for the interim middleweight title at UFC 236 on April 14 at the State Farm Arena in Atlanta.

BET: UFC 236

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Quintin Van Jaarsveld is a former MDDA-Sanlam SA Local Sports Journalist of the Year and a former three-time Vodacom KwaZulu-Natal Sports Journalist of the Year. Formerly the sports editor and Outstanding Journalist of the Year award winner at The Fever Media Group, deputy editor at eHowzit, editor at and senior staff writer at, he boasts over 15 years’ experience and is currently a freelance sports writer.

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