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HomesportMiserable year for top Nigerian fighters

Miserable year for top Nigerian fighters



Losers champs

For years, the trio Anthony Joshua, Kamaru Usman and Israel Adesanya have dominated in their separate divisions of combat sports. However, 2022 has been dismal for the fighters with it being the first year since 2016 where none of them will end the year with a belt.

Joshua was the first of the three to begin the six-year dominance winning his first world heavyweight title against then-defending IBF champion Charles Martin at the 02 Arena in London on April 9, 2016.

From the opening bell, Joshua had Martin on the back foot and was finding success with his right hand. Then in the second round, Joshua landed and knocked down his opponent within the opening 60 seconds.

Martin managed to just about answer the referee’s count but was then immediately back on the canvas after another explosive Joshua’s right hand which brought the fight to a close and saw Joshua fulfill his destiny and pick up his first world title.

The Olympic gold medallist would go on to earn a knockout win over Wladimir Klitschko for the WBA title in 2017 before continuing on a rampant path to also add the WBO belt to his collection in March 2018 after defeating Joseph Parker by unanimous decision.

The next year after this, 2019, would see Joshua joined by Usman and Adesanya and usher in an era of Nigerian dominance in combat sports.

It was at UFC 235 in March 2019 at the T-Mobile Arena in Nevada that Usman would be crowned the UFC welterweight king becoming the first African fighter to win a UFC title. Usman produced the performance of his career to dominate long-reigning welterweight champion American Tyron Woodley.

After the fight, he started off the press conference by greeting journalists in Arabic before switching to Pidgin.

“Nigeria, I have told them, we would do it, I told them we never fail. And we have done it today,” he said in Pidgin.

And proving Usman’s words of never failing right, it was undefeated interim champion Adesanya’s turn a few months later at UFC 243 in October 2019 when he came up against champion Robert Whittaker.

‘The Last Stylebender’ served up a master class against Whittaker and became the undisputed champion by knocking out the Australian-New Zealander. Before the fight, the Nigerian had been criticised as having no knockout power.

After the bout, he said “He threw everything we expected. We had everything planned from Plan A to Z. It‘s unreal. They said I have no knockout power.”

Four months before Adesanya’s success though, Joshua lost his belts in a shock defeat to American Andy Ruiz who knocked Joshua out in the seventh round to stun the Madison Square Garden in June.

The first year of all Nigerian champs would still be had though, as Joshua cashed in his rematch bid and won his belts back from Ruiz in December of that same year winning on a unanimous decision and ending the winning year on a perfect note.

Fast-forward to 2022, Usman faces a title defence against a foe he had beaten before early on in their careers after he had been out of the octagon for a lengthy spell due to an ankle injury he sustained in 2021.

The same night as Usman’s fight, a few hours before the ‘Nigerian Nightmare’ would enter the octagon against Brit, Leon Edwards, Joshua would be attempting to win back the IBF, WBA and WBO titles he lost to Ukrainian Oleksandr Usyk in September 2021.

Usyk won the rematch titled ‘Rage on the Red Sea’ on a split decision, taking it 116-112 and 115-113 respectively on the cards of Ukraine’s Viktor Fesechko and Britain’s Steve Gray. While Glenn Feldman of the USA scored 115-113 for Joshua.

Joshua pushed Usyk all the way and produced a largely more impressive performance than in his first fight at Tottenham Hotspur stadium last year but couldn’t find a way past his Ukrainian counterpart, who fired back to control the final stages for a split-decision win.

Just a few hours after Joshua’s defeat, there was more disappointment to come for Nigerians as Usman lost to Edwards at UFC 278 main event at the Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, USA.

The welterweight champion was making the sixth defence of his title in a rematch of his 2015 clash with Edwards. The fight looked to be heading for the same conclusion as Usman overcame a tricky start to stamp his authority on the main event.

Edwards landed a vicious kick that sent the ‘Nigerian Nightmare’ sprawling to the canvas with just seconds left of their five-bout clash to hand Usman his first defeat in 15 successive bouts and his second in his entire career.

And most recently at UFC 281 on November 13 at the Madison Square Garden, Adesanya lost his middleweight belt to his former kickboxing rival, Alex Pereira to make it three defeats at the hands of the Brazilian.

Adesanya came into the fight with an impeccable record in the UFC Middleweight division seeking revenge against Pereira who defeated him twice in kickboxing back in 2016 and 2017.

The 33-year-old dominated the fight up until the fifth round when he was knocked out through a combination of punches by Pereira.

The Last Stylebender now loses his first middleweight bout in the MMA after five successful title defenses since he became champion.

There will be no title chances for the trio this year after Joshua’s talks with Tyson Fury for a chance at the WBC belt broke down in October.

Usman and Adesanya will however, not expect to be beltless for long. Usman may get his rematch in England next year against Edwards and Adesanya could be seeing his old foe for a fourth time next year as well.

Efe Ajagba also lost his title chance last year Frank Sanchez at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas and has just started his comeback this year. However, Ajagba began his comeback from his first loss and subsequent surgery in impressive fashion on August 27 stopping overmatched Jozsef Darmos in the second round of a fight scheduled for eight rounds at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

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