Kamaru Usman believes he was born to fight and on Saturday, the 31-year-old proved it by becoming the first African to clinch the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) after defeating title holder Tyron Woodley, at a flagship event in Las Vegas.
For Usman, the UFC presents the perfect arena to showcase his talent for a sport he joined at elite level in 2015. Since joining the UFC, Usman has slowly worked his way up the ranks from rookie to title challenger in the space of just a few years.
Born at Auchi in Edo State, Usman moved to the United States when he was seven, finding a passion for wrestling in high school. In 2010, he won a national title while in college at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. He hasn't looked back since and now has a record 14 wins and just one loss in his mixed martial arts (MMA) career. Usman is nicknamed the 'Nigerian Nightmare,' and is one of only five Africans in the UFC.
On Saturday, he got his wish in the eagerly-awaited showdown with the American fighter Woodley. Usman went into the bout with Woodley in good shape after dominating Rafael dos Anjos, a former lightweight champion, over five rounds in December.
Usman is of the view that growing up in Nigeria has been instrumental in his steady rise to the top of his sport.
"I remember the streets, I remember having to walk what seemed like miles and miles and miles to fetch water from the wells with my grandmother," he said in a recent interview.
"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 instill certain values in a child."
While this feat is highly commendable, there's the tendency to wonder if things would not have been a lot different had Usman's migration not materialised. Would his potentials have been discovered if he reamined in Auchi? Are the facilities to harness said potential available in these parts? Would there ever be a fertile ground for a sport that consists of hard kicks, punches and knee strikes? While we celebrate our own, these are the questions worth reflecting on.
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