A few years ago, the idea of MMA being a premier sport in Africa was merely a dream. Now, with champions, TV deals and more within the area, it is a reality for the ages.
The country, with a variety of territories within it, has seem some tremendous growth within the combat sports industry. Some stars are less well-known compared to others. Others that have come from the area, like Francis Ngannou, UFC Welterweight Champion Kamaru Usman and UFC Middleweight Champion Israel Adesanya, have shown tremendous pride in where they are from.
“I stamped my chest with my bloodline,” Adesanya stated to ozy.com when talking about one of his most noticeable tattoos. “When you look at my chest, you see where I come from: the great continent of Africa and the great country of Nigeria.”
The UFC has taken advantage of their fighters being the first from Africa to become champions, showing how far the company’s reach can go. For years, Africa has been requested to host an event. With the continued success of fighters and the UFC in general (correlation is key), then a trip isn’t impossible to think.
Africa, you have your first champion!!
— UFC (@ufc) March 3, 2019
In fact, it was back in 2013 when Lorenzo Fertitta told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that the UFC was thinking of expanding to sub-Saharan Africa, where revenue is earned through streaming content. This was prior to the big sale to Endeavor and the ESPN TV deal.
“South Africa has a pretty good market for mixed martial arts,” Fertitta stated.
The UFC isn’t the only entity that has left its mark in the heart of Africa.
In 2009 an MMA organization called Extreme Fighting Championship was formed. Broadcasted in over 120 countries, EFC had over 15.4 million unique TV viewers in 2019. While some of their athletes aren’t well-known compared to those from the UFC, the pride that one gets to represent ones country can bring in a variety of fans.
Joining EFC is ARES, the first Afro-European MMA organization. Representing all brands, ARES is hoping to make an impact no matter where it ends up. One of the top stars for both promotions is Amanda Lino. Born in Ballito, the 29-year-old started her career in 2015. Lino (4-2) has held double gold for EFC in the EFC Bantamweight and Flyweight Titles. Now only the holder of the former, Lino recently reflected on the path MMA in Africa, especially for women, has gotten on since it started, via MMA Junkie.
“The sport has just grown phenomenally,” Lino stated. “I remember four years ago there weren’t even professional female fighters and now look at us. We have really good female fighters coming out of South Africa. Not only that, they’re bringing, or the EFC itself, are bringing in international fighters over there so the EFC really, really just made the best of the opportunity there with regards to the sport and they’ve grown it massively.
“And the great news is now we have ARES coming into Africa which is going to grow (the sport) even more. Years ago, and I’ll say this from experience, four years ago, us as female athletes, we couldn’t even consider MMA as a career. Now you look at it (and) it’s the fastest growing sport in the world.”
Ngannou is an intimidating force, and left Cameroon to become an international sensation. Using his status and power to do good, he is among those who are willing to do what it takes to provide for his country. Sodiq Yusuff, a Nigerian who is 5-0 in the octagon, has just cause for the UFC to head over to the area. Like TV deals and actual promotions, it shows signs of hope.
“The sport is just now beginning to receive recognition,” Yusuff stated to MMA Sucka. “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.”
When it comes to MMA, there is always an opportunity for growth. It is believed that we are just touching the surface when it comes to the sport in Africa. The UFC is just one decision away from going all in. The country has an untapped market of potential coming out of it, both in fighters and revenue. It is only a matter of time before it is more of a reality than just a possibility.