Dana White will often speak to our primal side while promoting mixed martial arts. “I don’t care what color you are, I don’t care what country you’re from; we’re all human beings and fighting’s in our DNA. We get it, and we like it.” One other genetic commonality Dana might agree with is the notion that we humans all have roots in the continent of Africa. Some scientists speculate that modern ‘non-Africans’ originated from a small population that left Africa around 60,000 years ago. If they are right, deductive reasoning tells us that so, too, must have the roots of fighting.
Over the last quarter century, the tactics behind real fighting have evolved exponentially. The reason for this? Twenty-five years ago, the UFC was founded. The UFC built a platform for every fighting discipline across the globe to show the rest of the world what it was made of. As a result, fighters learned from each other and a supreme martial art was born.
UFC to Africa?
MMA is ever-evolving, but I think it’s safe to say that now we know more about unarmed combat than ever before. Since the pinnacle of fighting is in the UFC, and Africa is where combat began, maybe it’s time the UFC brings a new form of fighting to the cradle of civilization.
Nothing prompts the UFC to infiltrate a new market like having marketable fighters from that area on their roster. The UFC not only has fighters from different parts of Africa under contract— they have top-ranked African-born fighters in multiple divisions.
When Francis Ngannou is on point, he is arguably the scariest fighter in the UFC heavyweight division. He’s ranked number 4 in the world and comes from the nation of Cameroon. Kamaru Usman is from Nigeria. He’s ranked number 6 in the world and has recently become known as the most avoided fighter in the UFC welterweight division. One of the most talked about up-and-coming fighters, number 9 ranked Israel Adesanya is from Nigeria.
What’s cool about Israel Adesanya, is that he is from the largest city in Africa, Lagos, Nigeria. Lagos has an estimated 21 million people living there. Compare that to New York City which has a population of 8.5 million. Despite massive populations, poverty is undoubtedly going to be a concern that the UFC considers when contemplating a trip to an African country. Francis Ngannou has spoken openly about the lifelong struggles that many Cameroon people face.
“Where I’m from, is somewhere very far. The problem for the young people there is hope. They don’t have hope –they just feel like everything is over for them. So, and I had that problem when I was there dreaming big. So I had that problem. Because people around do not allow themselves to dream. And so someone is different, come around with that kind of dream, it seems like you’re very wrong. So today they start to see how things are changing and people start to believe again. To believe that something is possible. It doesn’t matter where you’re from. You can become something. You can try. And then when I see how things have changed. That is when I really want to increase that.”
Can you imagine if Francis Ngannou had never made it to the octagon? What if he had stayed in Cameroon? The world would have never gotten to see his devastating power. He might have lived his life without ever knowing his full potential. According to former DWTNCS competitor and recent UFC signee, Sodiq Yusuff, a proud Nigerian himself, men like Francis aren’t uncommon where he’s from. “I try to tell everybody there’s a million NGannou’s walking around in Nigeria, you know.”
Sodiq Yusuff defends his belief that the UFC should go to Nigeria: “The sport is just now beginning to receive recognition. They are into boxing because the see how big Anthony Joshua is and to be honest Nigerians just support anything that shows the country positively. A lot of them feel trapped and seeing us do well gives them something new to look towards as a way out.”
Think about how much untapped talent is in the continent of Africa. The whole place holds an estimated 1.216 billion people. What happens when those people are exposed to mixed martial arts? How many gifted competitors could be discovered? How many lives might be forever changed for the better?
If the UFC ever decides to try its hand in an African country, it will be interesting to see where. One major piece to the puzzle would be determining a good venue. In a place like Lagos, Nigeria, this process could prove to be tricky. Rapper J-Cole held a concert with multiple Nigerian artists in Lagos last April. The venue for the performance was the Eko Hotels and Suites. Judging by the videos, this does not appear to be a suitable venue for a UFC event.
Lagos, and many other places in Africa have stadiums. With the right demand, the UFC could theoretically host an event in one of them. Karamu Usman recently spoke to Ariel Helwani on the matter: “–You trying to tell me, you don’t put me in Nigeria…or not just me, you put me, Francis, Israel, Razak anywhere in Africa, we will do a stadium. We do a stadium easy. Anywhere in Africa, we do a stadium easy.”
Undoubtedly, the UFC wants to have a presence everywhere in the world. The UFC has held events on every colonized continent on the planet, except for Africa. There’s an opportunity for growth, there are possibilities of undiscovered athletes being pulled from an untapped market, and there are even philanthropic benefits to be had by bringing the Ultimate Fighting Championship into Africa.
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