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The Three Kings of Nigeria

On Saturday December 7th Anthony Joshua reclaimed his heavyweight belts after avenging an embarrassing defeat by Andy Ruiz. The stalwart pugilist has dominated the spotlight for years now as the pride of UK and will now continue down that same path of glory.

A post shared by Anthony Joshua (@anthonyjoshua) on Dec 8, 2019 at 1:41am PST

In Joshua you have not only a black, European champion, but a Yoruba talent that is heralded in his home nation to the same if not higher intensity as Britain. The Nigerian Heavyweight king does not remind the audience of his heritage very often, but with the UK behind him, maybe he feels no need to.

His fellow sons of Nigeria however are much more forthcoming about the origins of their blood. Collectively they are the pride of Nigeria, and the baddest men to emerge from their soil. In October we witnessed Israel Adesanya unify the Middleweight belt by devastating a dismissive champion in Roberto Whittaker. During his ascension, Israel has danced the Gwara Wara in the octagon, and spoken in his native tongue on numerous occasions. He seems to be the next emerging star of MMA, but there are still a few questions to be answered regarding his skillset as a martial artist. 

A post shared by Israel Adesanya (@stylebender) on Nov 24, 2019 at 1:56am PST

Nigeria also has a more consummate champion in Kamaru Usman who will defend his belt on December 14th in Las Vegas. He is the first African to seize UFC gold and is fueled by his identity as well as his athletic pedigree to be victorious on Saturday night. Nigerians seem to excel in the U.S. and at the very least, they are the rising tide in combat sports internationally. Israel won his second belt in October when many saw him as a punk, loud-mouth underdog. Many felt entitled to tell Adesanya how to conduct himself, but he continued to resist the limitations they imposed on him. It was poetic to see him emerge as champion just days after Nigeria’s Independence Day, and the moment was not lost on him. Adesanya made sure to remind everyone how people doubted him and how they should show contrition after his showstopping performance before Marvel Stadium.

A post shared by KAMARU USMAN (@usman84kg) on Nov 3, 2019 at 2:25pm PST

Kamaru however is more reserved than both of his Nigerian brethren. He is not as charming as Anthony Joshua, nor does he have a country behind him. He is not as endearing or charismatic as Israel Adesanya. Kamaru in fact does not speak much at all unless provoked. He does not even seem to stand out outside of dominating his opponents in the cage, but he does have before him an opportunity to silence what he sees as a problematic adversary.

A post shared by colbycovington (@colbycovmma) on Dec 8, 2019 at 11:36am PST

Colby Covington has disrespected a wide range of subjects in his path toward this bout, but Kamaru has taken personal offense to the way Colby has conducted himself over the past year or so. A turning point in the tension between the two was when Colby called Brazilians filthy animals. Usman having a daughter who is half Brazilian took exception to that diatribe.

For Usman, Covington represents entitlement, prejudice and American xenophobia. This bout is about more than the title of champion, it is about identity. This is the native verses the immigrant, the minority verse the majority, and inadvertently a fist fight on behalf of opposing political ideologies. We will see if Colby Covington can build a wall strong enough to keep Kamaru Usman from retaining his place in the palace of Nigerian royalty.

It will likely be embarrassing to be the first Nigerian to lose his crown after they have come on so strong within the past few years. It must be stressful to think of losing to someone that he despises on a personal but also ideological level. Colby supports Trump. A vocal cohort hates Trump. They also hate Trump’s politics and in turn they hate Colby Covington. Kamaru as an American would like to stifle Colby’s platform, but as a Nigerian he would like to represent Nigeria as one of its native sons.

A post shared by KAMARU USMAN (@usman84kg) on Oct 1, 2019 at 9:00am PDT

With a victory, Colby validates his support of the administration. Avid supporters of the Republican party will likely make their presence known in the immediate aftermath of this crowning similarly to the night of the election. It is certain that lots of fans and bystanders will be very upset to see a new champion get crowned then go on to do five interviews with a MAGA hat on. This makes Saturday’s showdown that more compelling. 

If the racial tension and identity politics do not excite you enough for this event, think of December 14th as somewhat of a world war: one that Nigeria has officially become a major player in. A prolonged reign as king for all three sons could change the flux of athletes that come out of Nigeria within the next twenty years. Boxing and MMA could become equal to or greater than soccer as the national past time, adding to the existing momentum of the Nigerian people around the entire planet.

On this card there are many who are fighting to cement or keep MMA as a sporting favorite in their respective nations or states whether they realize it or not. A Hawaiian is fighting a Macedonian that was born and raised in Australia, a Brazilian destroyer is fighting a Dutch kickboxer, and a quiet son of Nigeria is fighting a loud, unapologetic American. If nothing else, a win on Saturday will be a small step in the right direction for Nigerians’ longevity in the combat world.■

Cover photos courtesy of Anthony Joshua, Israel Adesanya, and Kamaru Usman via Instagram.

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