Kamaru Usman, right, kicks Tyron Woodley during a welterweight mixed martial arts title fight at UFC 235 in Las Vegas on Saturday. Photo: John Locher/AP

It’s a glorious Sunday for African MMA!

That’s right, it’s true, Nigeria’s Kamaru Usman wrote his name in the history books by becoming the Motherland’s first UFC champion after defeating the dangerous Tyron Woodley by unanimous decision (50-44 x2, 50-45) to earn the welterweight title of the world at UFC235 in Las Vegas on Sunday.

Let that sink in for a moment.

After so many years of struggling to break the mainstream, slowly but surely African athletes are breaking down doors and making big things happen in Mixed Martial Arts.

And Kamaru did it in style.

Heading into the bout, Kamaru spoke of showing his heart: “It’s going to take everything to win… skill, heart. When everything is settled, I know he’s tough. I have to show him my heart and do whatever it takes.”

He knew what he was getting into, he was up against a man with a record of 19-3-1. A calculating practitioner who wasted no action or breath with impeccable grappling and striking. A man who was defending his “precious” for the fifth time. And boy, did Kamaru show his heart as he dominated Woodley for the majority of their 25-minute showdown – a rare occurrence.

From the first bell, Kamaru gave Tyron little space, that aggressive, proactive front-foot approach that smothers fighters. 

From the first guillotine approach, it was all Kamaru as Tyron tried to fend off the Nigerian throughout the fight, taking blows as Kamaru used the clinch tactically in a stalling process, landing elbows in the openings.

Known for his tactical acumen in the cage, Tyron never had the time or space to use it as Usman swarmed all over him. Woodley found himself in an unfamiliar position as he last loss in 2014 at UFC174.

After controlling the close exchanges, the Nigerian Nightmare started letting loose and let the leather fly which was received by some championship fight by a back-footed Tyron who then landed probably the only real quality punches of his fight. Kamaru then clocked some more points with a super takedown before driving home the title with more top control.

“I want to thank everybody for putting this show together, whether good or bad, at least you’re writing about something, you’re writing about me and you (are) giving me that platform to inspire and motivate,” said the new welterweight champion.

“To be the first African champion, I always heard them saying ‘And New’ in my head and envisioning Dana (White, UFC president) wrapping that belt around my waist, and just knowing all the things that I was fighting for, and not just for the continent of Africa, but for everyone across the world that doesn’t know where their next meal is going to come from ... 

“(For those who) don’t know if they will get clean water the next day, I was doing this for everyone, to motivate and inspire them to know that your current situation is not always going to determine what it’s going to be later on. With this victory, we are going to change lives, my team and I are working on some big things to go back to Nigeria and help people in places like my village.”

The main event saw UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones cruise to an easy victory over Anthony Smith. Smith lived up to his “Lionheart” nickname, surviving five gruelling five-minute rounds against one of the most dominant fighters of all time, but the judges gave the reigning champion a comprehensive victory.

@juliankiewietz

IOL Sport