Francis Ngannou – UFC Heavyweight – Cameroon
It has been described as an uppercut that came from hell and sent Alistair Overeem to heaven. It only took one punch for Francis Ngannou to sleep the Dutch veteran at UFC 218 and claim his place as the principal pretender to UFC Heavyweight champion, Stipe Miocic.
‘The Predator’s’ story is a fairy tale in itself. Ngannou hails from the Hauts Plateux in the rainy, Western provinces of Cameroon. Like many of his friends, the only prospect for work was shovelling sand from water-laden pits to the back of large lorries. Soon enough Ngannou outgrew his environment and decided to test his luck across the Mediterranean Basin. Knocking from one gym door to the next, Ngannou soon found Fernand Lopez – a compatriot and an MMA strongman that helped him to the UFC.
Since stepping into the Octagon, Ngannou has finished all six of his fights in two rounds or less. A marquee showdown versus the heavyweight champion, Miocic, now beckons for Ngannou. Miocic, an Ohio native, is the faster and more experienced striker yet it is expected to be a close contest.
Next fight: Stipe Miocic; UFC 220 main event; Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A.
Nordine Taleb – UFC Welterweight – Algeria
A quick look at his record and you understand why Nordine Taleb is one of the more underrated fighters fighting for the Ultimate Fighting Championship. The French-Canadian-Algerian welterweight is a tidy striker fighting out of Tristar in Montreal, Quebec.
The former TUF participant is finally forcing casual fans sit up and take notice with an impressive 6-2 record in the premier mixed martial arts promotion. Tabloids have recently picked up on Taleb’s second job as a bodyguard for Brazilian megastar Neymar, but with another impressive win in the Octagon, everyone will soon be talking about Taleb’s work on the mats, not off of it.
Next fight: TBD
Kamaru Usman – UFC Welterweight – Nigeria
Born in Auchi, Nigeria, Kamaru Usman moved to the United States at the age of five. Though he moved to the United States early in his life, the ‘Nigerian nightmare’ represents the motherland at every opportunity. Usman often makes his walk to the Octagon with the Nigerian flag draped around his shoulders, speaks Pidgin on social media, and has plans to help develop MMA in Nigeria.
The welterweight has stated in the past that he believes the UFC does not promote him as much as they do other fighters because of his African roots. “I don’t know if they think, ‘Well, he’s from Nigeria and we haven’t really broken into that market yet, so we can’t really sell a lot of fights there or we don’t have a TV contract there. So what’s the point of pushing a guy that’s from that area in Africa.’” He told MMA Fighting.
Nevertheless, the Nigerian nightmare is forcing everyone to take notice of his 6-0 UFC record, in which he’s won every single round.
Next fight: Emil Meek; UFC Fight Night 124 main card; St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.A.
Abdul Razak Alhassan – UFC Welterweight – Ghana
There aren’t many fighters, even in the UFC that offer Abdul Razak Alhassan’s skill-set. Accra has a long history breeding combat-sport champions, so Alhassan has a well-defined trail to walk along. Yet he is also a trail blazer in that MMA is new to Africa and he will look to accomplish the feat of becoming Ghana’s first mixed martial artist to win a belt in a major promotion.
No one can deny ‘Judo Thunder’s sky-high potential, but it’s still early days for the 2-1 judoka who might need to plug a few holes in his game and gain a little more experience.
Next fight: Sabah Homasi; UFC 220 preliminary card; Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.A.
Abu Azaitar – UFC Welterweight – Morocco
With Abu Azaitar, the UFC might have struck gold. In an industry where marketing determines the number of 0’s on your cheque, Azaitar already reigns supreme. The German-Moroccan is on an 8-fight win streak, but will now need to prove himself against the best competition in the sport in the UFC. With 838K Instagram followers, and dinners with Cristiano Ronaldo in Dubai, many will be tuning in with curiosity to see what the ‘Gladiator’ has to offer in the Octagon.
The Cologne native was billed to make his UFC debut last September, but the bout was never made. Known for his exciting and explosive fighting style, Azaitar is sure to add to his already numerous following once getting his gloves wet.
Next fight: TBD