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Excitement, applause greet heroic MMA team to 13th African Games in Ghana

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Say their names: Albert Idowu! Benard Eweh! Eze Daniel! Blessing Karo! Busayo Idowu! Muzan Richard! Joy Obanla! Winifred Peter! Olanike Sodiq! Indeed Nigeria has to hail these patriots for they have just made us all proud following their heroics in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), which made its first appearance as a demonstration sport at the ongoing 13th African Games in Accra, Ghana.
On Friday, March 15, the contingent made up of the victorious athletes, coaches and officials were honoured at an elaborated reception hosted by the management of Lagos Continental Hotel in courtesy of the General Manager of Continental Group Nigeria, Karl Hala, who described the medallists as role models for Nigeria youths. “We are proud of your performance in Ghana and this is another importance of sports and youth support, which we hope will bring a bright future and hope for a long and fruitful partnership with Boxing and MMA Hall of Fame (HOF),” Hala said.
For Kehinde Soyannwo, General Secretary of Boxing and MMA Hall of Fame, the official representative of the Global Association Of Mixed Martial Arts (GAMMA) in Nigeria, the road to triumph in Ghana for the athletes was not without its obstacles.
“The national tournament which took place on February 18, at Teslim Balogun stadium in Lagos State featured 60 athletes from different States of our country, with a purpose to select the national team to represent Nigeria at the 13th All African Olympic Games in Accra, Ghana. In conclusion, a team of 9 athletes with their coaches and GAMMA Nigeria officials formed our delegation, and I can proudly say all of them are in front of you now, each wearing a medal. Boxing and MMA Hall of Fame mission, as our honorable founder said, is to give a chance to excel and make Nigeria proud on the World stage as amateurs and even professionals. And we are witnessing this moment of pride now,” he added.
However, the road to glory for these new Nigerian heroes was practically strewn with several obstacles. The least of these was qualifying for the African Games via a grueling national MMA championship held in February by the Boxing and MMA Hall of Fame, which represents the sport’s global ruling body – Global Association of Mixed Martial Arts (GAMMA) – in Nigeria.
That the nation paid scant attention to their qualification for the African Games is also underscored by the fact that this Nigerian contingent of nine MMA fighters had to make a tortuous road trip lasting over 10 hours to be in Accra, Ghana for the Games.
However, it did not matter to the Nigerian Nine that the MMA was only being featured – for the first time – as a demonstration with six other sports among 30 total disciplines at the Games, based on amateur MMA rules drawn up by GAMMA.
Uppermost on their minds was proving their mettle against the strong competition from Benin Republic, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Egypt, Sudan, Togo, Uganda, Libya and host, Ghana.
Therefore, against severe odds, the nine Nigerian fighters triumphed at the 13th African Games by sweeping the medals in the nine weight categories they featured in.
In grand style, they claimed five gold, three silver and one bronze medals.
Muzan Richard claimed the gold medal in the men’s 120.5kg after beating Cote d’Ivoire’s Dago Fanny. The remaining gold medallists are Eze Daniel (83.9kg), Busayo Idowu (52.2kg), Olanike Sodiq (61.2kg) and Joy Obanla (65.8kg).
The silver medallists are Blessing Karo (61.2kg), Benard Eweh (65.8kg) and Winifred Peter (47.6kg). The solo bronze medallist is Albert Idowu (70.3kg).
Silver medallist Idowu, who started as a boxer described her Accra experience as “worthwhile”, stressing that it has strengthened her resolve to make a name for herself in MMA.
She said: “My father encouraged me to do Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). When I was little, my father always watched WWE. That was how I picked interest in combat sports.
“Also, my boxing background has helped me a lot in MMA and I hope to become a World Champion. My role model in the UFC is Usman Kamaru; his charisma in the rings gives me joy and by the Grace of God, I will be known by the world,” Idowu said.
Acknowledging the support she had received up to this point in the sport, Idowu added: “I want to thank everyone who believed in me and always supported me during my training. I promise not to disappoint Nigeria and Africa at any international championships.
Similarly, silver medallist Eweh said: “I feel happy and excited about winning silver in the African Games. I am optimistic that if MMA is officially recognized by the African Games, it will become a goldmine for Nigeria.
“I see the Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) as a gift from nature. I started with kickboxing in 2009 before switching to MMA.
“I would love to dedicate this medal to my wife. She doesn’t watch me while I’m fighting but she reviews my bouts when I win.”
Officially MMA has been recognised in Africa by the Association of African Sports Confederations (AASC), GAMMA has 20 recognised and active member federations on the continent, including the host federation – Ghanaian Mixed Martial Arts Association.
GAMMA’s vision is to see Mixed Martial Arts formally recognised as a sport by the Olympic movement and listed at the Olympic Games.
Acceptance into the African Games provides a milestone for the sport as it advances MMA’s quest for recognition.
For Africa, the achievement is an accolade to the continent’s MMA athletes as the sport continues to grow across Africa.

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