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Israel Adesanya is the hottest active fighter in the UFC currently.
Calm down Conor McGregor, Stans, I said active.
This weekend the New Zealand based fighter faces Robert Whitaker in Melbourne, Australia to unify the middleweight championship.
His amazing journey from breakdancer to kickboxer to interim UFC middleweight champion has been nothing short of meteoric. As one of two Nigerian born UFC fighters to reach champion status, the other being Kamaru Usman, Nigeria and the continent of Africa are now firmly on the MMA map.
Yet it appears that the UFC has not embraced African despite the continent’s historical support of martial arts.
With current active fighters like Cameroon’s Francis Ngannou, and former UFC standouts like Cheick Kongo and Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou, African fighters have been representing for decades. With organizations like MMA For Africa, which send US based fighters like D’Juan “Dirty South” Owens to places like Ghana to teach jiu-jitsu, wrestling, and other MMA essentials to a hungry population, it’s dumbfounding that the UFC is seemingly uninterested in this new frontier.
Unlike other major sports properties like the NBA, which readily and consistently promotes league and player initiatives in Africa, the UFC has never journeyed to any country on the continent, nor made any inroads towards African fighters. Recently, Adesanya traveled to Nigeria on his own to celebrate his win. And while the UFC benefited from their affiliation with the fighter, it didn’t sponsor the outing.
China Or Bust
While Africa has produced MMA champions, China seems to be more of a priority for the organization. The country only recently produced its first UFC champion in Zhang Weili, who defeated former UFC Women’s Strawweight Champion, Jessica Andrade, at UFC Fight Night 157 on August 31st in Shenzen, China.
In November of 2018, the UFC announced plans to open the world’s largest, state-of-the-art MMA training and development facility in Shanghai, China in 2019. The announcement came as UFC brought its first-ever event to Beijing on Saturday, November 24. Ironically, UFC FIGHT NIGHT BEIJING: Curtis Blaydes vs. Francis Ngannou 2 was the main event, and Blaydes is an African-American fighter.
On June 20th 2019, the grand opening of the UFC Performance Institute Shanghai was announced. It is touted as the world’s largest, state-of-the-art MMA training and development facility. Nearly three times as large as the original UFC Performance Institute in Las Vegas, the 93,000 square-foot facility in Shanghai serves as a training hub to develop and support the next generation of MMA athletes from mainland China and the greater Asia-Pacific region.
Undoubtedly, Asia is central in martial arts and nothing can be taken away from the UFC making having an impact in Asia a priority. But with Africa producing some of the best athletes for the organization, countries like Nigeria, Cameroon or the Democratic Republic of the Congo not being on the athletic and audience development plan is a misstep by the organization.
The UFC historically has never incubated fighters that are of African descent, and it never properly marketed former champions like “Suga” Rashad Evans, Tyron “The Chosen One” Woodley, Kimbo Slice, and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, despite some of those athletes already having street cred and the hype to become marketing jewels.
Africa has produced legendary fights like “Rumble In The Jungle” and championship fighters like Usman and Adesanya, so the foundation is there for current and future success.
Yet despite this fact, it looks like the UFC is all in for China.
This should have all fans asking, will Africa, and its teeming athletic talent, get the same treatment?