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African-born champions take over UFC by storm

African-born champions take over UFC by storm
Kamaru Usman celebrates his win atop the octagon fence after a UFC 261 mixed martial arts bout against Jorge Masvidal   -  
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Gary McCullough/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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Cameroonian Francis Ngannou

Francis Ngannou has been the next big thing in the UFC heavyweight division for several years. Just about everyone believed greatness was within the powerful Cameroonian challenger's reach if he could ever put his prodigious talents together.

Last month, Ngannou stopped Stipe Miocic with ferocious punches early to a devastating 2nd round knockout to claim the American Mixed Martial Arts League (MMA) heavyweight title at UFC 260.

The 34-year-old Ngannou is a former aspiring boxer who discovered mixed martial arts after he left Cameroon for France in his mid-20s. He rose rapidly through his new sport with his fearsome power and growing all-around skill, but Miocic interrupted his ascent by winning every round of their first bout in Boston.

Ngannou has 16 wins and three losses in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), making him the man to beat in the category.

The loss staggered the confidence of a once-dynamic fighter. He barely threw a punch in his next bout, an embarrassing loss to Derrick Lewis.

But Ngannou impressively regained his confidence later in 2018 and kicked off a run of four consecutive knockout victories against veteran heavyweights, putting him back in line for Miocic.

Nigeria’s Israel Adesanya

Nigerian-New Zealand fighter, Israel Adesanya was named Fighter of the Year for 2020 at the World MMA Awards.

The UFC Middleweight champion, who now has a 20-0 career record, managed to defend his title on two occasions in the calendar year, beating both Yoel Romero and Paulo Costa in the Octagon.

In addition to receiving the Charles' Mask 'Lewis Fighter of the Year Award, the fighter has won the International Fighter of the Year award.

After his TKO victory against Brazilian Paulo Costa in the 2nd round on September 27, "The Last Stylebender» as he is popularly known, helped to understand where his decision to practice mixed martial arts came from: "Paulo is a tyrant, but for me, it's not news. I've suffered from this all my life. I have the ability to beat these people and that's what I do. I dedicate this victory to everyone who suffers from bullying, whether at school or at work. You have to respond and fight back.”

The 31-year-old recalled that before the duel, his rival had sent several messages on social media making fun of him. He clearly denounced this behavior, indicating that it is not healthy for anyone.

In the coming months, Israel Adesanya could face one of its fiercest rivals, 33-year-old Jon Jones, the UFC middleweight champion, ready to come out of retirement to fight "The Last Stylebender”.

Kamaru Usman

Kamaru Usman ended the event by winning his 18th straight bout and retaining his welterweight belt. Usman knocked out Jorge Masvidal with a right punch to the jaw early in the second round, silencing a pro-Masvidal crowd.

Usman’s knockout victory was his third in his last four fights, further showcasing his impressive versatility and ability to adjust tactics during bouts. The former NCAA Division II wrestler had only one knockout victory in his first 10 UFC fights before he stopped Colby Covington, Gilbert Burns and Masvidal with punches in the past 18 months.

Usman’s 18 consecutive MMA victories include 14 straight wins since joining the UFC in 2015. Only Anderson Silva’s streak of 16 straight UFC wins is longer in the promotion’s history.

In 2019, Nigerian-born Kamaru Usman was crowned the first African-born Champion beating Tyron Woodley as the new Ultimate Fighting Champion.