In the immediate aftermath of Israel Adesanya’s incredible middleweight UFC title fight with Kelvin Gastelum, one of the first fighters to throw his weight behind ‘The Last Stylebender’ was Kamaru Usman.
Having dominated Tyron Woodley in March 2019 to become the new welterweight champion, ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ was ecstatic to be joined by his compatriot in the elite ranks of UFC kings.
With his face swollen and mouth bloated and grotesque, Adesanya was able to utter broken pidgin English and spoke about the dream of bringing a UFC event to Africa.
But first, he had plans for a victory tour of his native Nigeria.
“They’ve taken a lot of gold away from Africa,” Adesanya told Usman that night. “It’s time we take gold back to Africa.”
Having moved to New Zealand at the age of 11, Adesanya’s return to Lagos the following month was a joyous occasion as he visited his former primary school and left feeling spiritually enriched.
(Ad) WATCH UFC 261, USMAN VS MASVIDAL 2, ON BT SPORT
Usman, who became the first African-born champion in UFC history, is yet to return to his home country but wants to bring the UFC to a continent which is continuing to produce incredible champions.
“That’s what we all want to do,” Usman, who is next in action against Jorge Masvidal. “We all want to be able to go back and touch those people over there and let them know, hey, even though we are over here, we’re doing our best to give back and carry our flag to the highest place that we can.”
Africa gained yet another UFC champion on Saturday night as Francis Ngannou knocked out Stipe Miocic at UFC 260 to claim the heavyweight title, with Usman in his corner.
“This man’s life and journey inspires me so much more each day,” he wrote on Instagram. “This is just the beginning and I can’t wait to see the heights you reach. We will continue to make history together my brother.”
It is not as if this wave of African dominance was not foreshadowed; Adesanya famously predicted the future of the UFC before becoming the undisputed middleweight world champion against Robert Whittaker at UFC 243.
“Every so often there’s always a legion of a certain part of the world that starts making a come-up in MMA,” he warned.
“I’m telling you, once the Nigerians pull up, once we start to pull up with numbers, it’s going to be over for a lot of years in the MMA world.”
Usman, who moved to the States when he was eight years old, explained why there should be no surprise to see the wave of African dominance sweeping the UFC.
He told BBC Sport Africa: “That’s one thing we know how to do as Africans is fight, not just physically, but for anything that we have, we have to earn.
“It means a tremendous amount and I strive, every time there’s an African, I strive to get that closeness and create that bond and let them know that you have a community of people around you.
“Together, we can make this thing humungous in our continent.
“I bleed Africa so if there is a fighter from Africa automatically I am on their team.”
This was exemplified perfectly on Saturday night as he helped Ngannou avenge his defeat at UFC 220 to Miocic where he was bullied by the more complete mixed martial artist.
Using Usman’s wrestling knowledge, ‘The Predator’ stuffed a takedown from the former champion in the first and for many, the writing was on the wall there and then.
The welterweight champion succinctly summed up why African fighters are so determined to succeed, with Ngannou epitomising it through his incredible life story.
From the sand mines of Cameroon, to the streets of Paris as a homeless man, to the most powerful heavyweight potentially ever seen in the UFC, Ngannou has been on a journey which could well be seen on a script on the desks of Hollywood producers.
It is not just in the world of MMA where African excellence can be seen; Anthony Oluwafemi Olaseni Joshua bears a tattoo of the continent on his right shoulder underneath the word ‘Wisdom’.
“I learnt more about my family’s history and I ended up getting an Africa tattoo,” he said.
“It was a nice combination to have ‘Wisdom’ and your heritage tattooed underneath, so it went well.”
The 31-year-old can trace his entire family history back to Sagamu in Nigeria, a quiet south-western town where the Joshua family were celebrated long before he became unified world heavyweight champion.
His great-grandfather was a wealthy landowner and merchant, whose son went to Britain to study and met an Irish woman, before returning to Nigeria to have seven children.
One of those children, Robert, is father to ‘AJ’ and his love of Nigerian culture is still evident today.
As well as the tattoo, Joshua regularly can be seen on social media enjoying traditional delicacies from his home country. In fact, he even attributed his success in the ring to eating ‘pounded yam, eba and egusi’.
For his rematch with Andy Ruiz Jr, Joshua entered the ring with the dulcet tones of Fela Kuti’s ‘Water No Get Enemy’ reverberating through the air in Saudi Arabia on that December night.
And AJ has also been eyed by Ngannou, who was recently talking about the sweet science being his first love.
“[A crossover] is in the future, it’s somewhere, definitely. I’m going to box; I have to box in my career.
“My main dream has always been the noble art and even though I deviated into MMA, which I love, I still have to fulfil something in boxing.”
The surge of African champions in combat sport surely means an event is due, with UFC president Dana White admitting the popularity of MMA is continuing to grow on the continent.
Speaking after Sodiq Yusuff’s first-round finish of Gabriel Benitez at UFC 241, White said: “Actually what’s crazy —and most people might not know this— but the sport has been big in Africa for a while.
“I mean that’s why these guys are popping up, because we had a television deal in Africa for a while and then they have another organisation over there, EFC [Extreme Fighting Championship], that’s pretty popular and does well, and between those two things, it helped build a market there, and it’s real.”
With three proud Africans now holding UFC gold, the market is certainly there and the hype is definitely justified.