Nigeria’s boxing sensation, Israel Adesanya lost his bid Saturday to retain his light heavyweight title to Polish boxer, Jan Blachowicz, but that defeat bears the mark of another Nigerian who helped Blachowicz to stardom.
He is Izuagbe Ugonoh, a Polish boxer of Nigerian descent who is part of Blachowicz’s coaching crew. You may have noticed him when Adesanya was shaking hands with everyone—Ugonoh also shook his hand.
It was a close fight that needed the judges’ decision. After five rounds, Blachowicz was unanimously declared the winner.
The Pole rode to victory with two takedowns in the fourth and fifth round and was also aided by his abilities to evade Adesanya’s striking, Pulse’s Steve Dede notes.
Dede says in his analysis that Blachowicz learnt how to cope with Adesanya’s famed kickboxing abilities from training with Ugonoh, who was specifically recruited to help take down his fellow Nigerian.
In a pre-UFC 259 documentary released by the UFC, there are clips of Blachowicz and Ugonoh grappling.
“Trying to imitate Israel’s style, which is not easy because he is one of the most talented strikers at the UFC,” Ugonoh said in the documentary.
Ugonoh is a former kickboxer and now a mixed martial artist born in Poland to Nigerian parents.
His father migrated to Poland to study to become a sailor in the late 70s. After schooling and having failed in relationships with Polish women, he travelled to Nigeria to marry a woman from his village.
The new couple returned to Poland, where they had all their children, including Ugonoh: four girls and a boy.
Ugonoh told Africans In Sports in a 2020 interview that growing up “was challenging,” citing surviving many attacks.
He has often spoken of how he fought to survive every day on his almost 45-minute commute to and from school.
That set him on the path of becoming a professional fighter.
After attempting to play football, he started kickboxing at the age of 19. Four years into his kickboxing career, he won the Kickboxing World Championships in 2009. The next year, he became the European champion.
It was his skill as a kickboxer that Blachowicz needed to be familiar with before fighting against Adesanya.
After kickboxing, Ugonoh ventured into boxing and had a record of 18 wins, two losses and 15 knockouts before making another switch to MMA.
Although he was born in Poland and represents the European country as a fighter, he hugely identifies with his Nigerian roots.
He said their parents made sure they were brought up the Nigerian way at home.
He made a trip with his family to Nigeria in December 2019 for the first time in 22 years.
“I felt very welcomed, I felt that I didn’t need to prove anything. I just landed and I’m home. It was a good feeling,” he told Africans In Sports.