Nigeria’s Kamaru Usman Makes History, Becomes First African UFC Champion

Usman solidifies the rise of Africans on the biggest stages in mixed martial arts. Kamaru Usman dethroned Tyron “The Chosen One” Woodley at UFC 235 to become the UFC welterweight champion. The win was dominant from the outset with Usman employing a relentless offensive that startled Woodley.

Tyron Woodley has been one of the UFC’s most decorated champions. The two-time All-American wrestler from the University of Missouri won the UFC welterweight championship in 2016. After defeating American Top Team teammate Robbie Lawler, Woodley went on a four-fight win streak. As a result, his wins over Stephen Thompson, Demain Maia, and Darren Till created an impervious aura.

However, during the time of Woodley’s reign, Kamaru “The Nigerian Nightmare” Usman was building an impressive resume.  The Benin City, Nigerian born athlete grew up in Dallas where he became a wrestling powerhouse. Usman became a three-time All-American at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.

After winning the Ultimate Fighter season 21, Usman racked up a plethora of impressive wins that led him to Woodley. Usaman did what only one other in the UFC could: hand Woodley an undeniable unanimous decision loss.

As a result, after five grueling rounds, Usman is now the UFC welterweight champion of the world and the first African.

African MMA On The Rise

Usman’s win solidifies a rise in Africans dominating in mixed martial arts.

Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou Nkamhoua known simply as Sokoudjou was one of the first African breakout stars. Fighting in both the light heavyweight and heavyweight divisions, Sokoudjou broke barriers fighting in all the major promotions globally.

Cheick Kongo, a French national that is a descendant of the Congo is also a heavyweight star. With amazing runs in both the UFC and Bellator MMA, Kongo is a billable star that is a pioneer for French MMA. The country has a ban on many primary moves that constitute the backbone of MMA and fighters from the country have had to fight elsewhere.

Former Bellator light heavyweight champion, Muhammad “King Mo” Lawal’s mother is Nigerian. Growing up in Texas, he had to contend with people not understanding his heritage and he is now one of Bellator’s most bankable stars.

Current, UFC heavyweight Francis Ngannou is another French MMA star. The Cameroonian is currently a number 2 ranked heavyweight and one of the organization’s poster boys.

However, the future of the UFC at present rests in the performance of a man known quixotically as “The Last Stylebender”. Nigerian-New Zealander, Israel Adesanya wow the world with his recent fight against Anderson “The Spider” Silva. The two executed a virtual dance of combat that was both beautiful and dangerous.

Adesanya, like Jon Jones, represents a new breed of MMA fighter. Fluid, tall, and wily, Adesanya is the definition of unconventional combat excitement. As he pushes up the middleweight ranks, Adesanya seems to be on a collision course with a title bout.

Watch The Throne

Traditionally, MMA has not been marketed to Black people. However, Usman’s win solidifies the prominence of Black fighters in MMA. With inroads into the continent by African-American fighters like D’Juan Owens, who provides MMA training in Ghana, a strategic approach is beginning. There may not be many MMA gyms in American neighborhoods of color yet, but Africa is taking the sport seriously and that is progress.

Back to top