The first ever African Knockout Championship hosted by African Knockout and led by Kamaru Usman will kick off in Nigeria at SOL Beach by Box Mall, Oniru, Lagos, on Friday (today), The PUNCH reports.
26 fighters from seven African countries will battle for ultimate bragging rights and rewards in the first edition of the tourney, which will run in different segments until the first-ever AKO champions are announced in December in the final event of the year.
At a press briefing held on Thursday, Natasha Belousova, COO and co-founder of 54 Limited, the company organising the championship, explained their vision for organising the event and their plans for expansion in Africa.
“We have a dream to bring and develop MMA in Africa because Africa is rich in talents and metro diamonds in sports, and that’s why we decided to organise this platform and give the opportunity to talented and skilled athletes in Africa and Nigeria to participate, to rise, and to demonstrate their skills in Africa and around the world.
“This is just the start, we are starting slowly. This year we’re starting the championship, which consists of five events; three regular-season events, one semifinal, and one final in December, where we’ll crown the first African MMA champions. Next year, we plan to expand it to eight events in more African countries, and that is the platform that will give African athletes chances to showcase their skills and move forward. “In this tournament, we have 14 African countries, and next year, we plan to have 25 African countries and increase the number of divisions,” she told The PUNCH.
Belousova also told The PUNCH how they plan to give the African fighters a chance at the big stages, saying, “We’re helping them to make their MMA careers in sports professional so they can partner with the top promotions. Our partner, Kamaru Usman, reached the top level of his career, and we want to discover more Usmans, more Israel Adesanya, and more Francis Ngannous here in African countries and then build their careers up.”
She also praised Nigeria as the heart of Africa, explaining the reason why the first edition of the tournament was launched in Nigeria, “There are many reasons, first of all, the first MMA African Champion is Kamaru Usman, he’s Nigerian, another champion in the UFC is Israel Adesanya, both Nigerians. Nigeria is the biggest country, Nigeria has the biggest population, Nigeria has the biggest potential, and Nigeria is the heart of Africa.”
Ryan Fahad, Director of AKO, is expecting a very exciting fight night and aims to develop mixed martial arts more in Nigeria and Africa.
“We’ve been working hard to put the fights together; we have over 15 countries that are involved in this competition. In terms of the event, this is what African Knockout has been doing since we were established in 2020, we are bringing excellence in this area, and you’ll see an event you’ve never seen the likes of in terms of the setup and the fights themselves. We planned to have 16 fights, but we faced some injuries, and it’s now 14 fights, but we’re expecting to have a very exciting night,” Fahad told The PUNCH.
“The main vision for African Knockout is basically to provide a platform for all these talents to showcase their talents internationally. Our main aims are to develop the sport of mixed martial arts in Nigeria and Africa generally. MMA is the core of sports in general. It allows everybody to just go to the extreme and make their dreams happen. Last time Kamaru was here, he was saying, ‘You have two legs, two hands, you can fight, you just need to train hard and have the mentality of a champion, and the sky is the limit. Kamaru is a very live example of that for these guys,” he said.
President of the Kickboxing Federation of Nigeria, Wilson Okon, is excited about the first-of-its-kind tournament, “The promoters have been doing very well, and MMA has come to stay in Nigeria with AKO at the forefront. I have a couple of fighters who are fighting tomorrow, and I expect them to do very well because this is Nigeria, and we have all the stuff.”
Chukwu Juliet, a bantamweight female fighter, is excited for her matchup against Nweke Bibiana, “I’m expecting to win. As an athlete, you don’t always plan for a knockout, but if the opportunity presents itself, nothing will stop it,” she told The PUNCH.
She also hailed African Knockout for their encouragement, saying, “I feel very good, and I am so happy for the emergence of the African Knockout Championship. No amount of words will be enough to express how I feel about them. They are giving us the best encouragement we can get in the game.”
Former UFC welterweight champion, Usman, was not present at the briefing but followed the event proceedings through his Instagram Live, sharing it with thousands of viewers.