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Leaders of the New School: Africans in the UFC Ring

First, there was Kamaru Usman. Then came Israel Adesanya. And, most recently, it has been Francis Ngannou. The three African-born Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) fighters are not only world champions but have also become icons of a continent in the past two years. When he won the UFC welterweight title in March 2019, Nigerian-born Usman became the UFC’s first ever African-born champion. Months later, Nigerian-born New Zealander Adesanya won the middleweight title to follow suit, while Cameroonian fighter Ngannou claimed his own world title belt in March 2021, beating Stipe Miocic to become the UFC’s heavyweight champion. Previously, the route of becoming a mixed martial arts fighter hasn’t been a feasible option for kids in Africa — Usman remembers searching for others who have made it to the top level when he “didn’t believe in” himself to make the journey — but with the three champions, the next generation have role models to aspire to.