Prior to Francis Ngannou’s UFC debut in 2015, Cameroon didn’t have a prominent place in the MMA space.
Ngannou changed that in swift fashion and over the span of five years became one of the UFC’s biggest names. Ngannou, along with UFC champion Kamaru Usman and Israel Adesanya, has since proved to the world that Africans have a lot to offer at the highest level of mixed martial arts.
Undefeated light heavyweight prospect Tafon Nchukwi (3-0) is aiming to be the next fighter to continue that trend – and he has the opportunity to take one step closer when he takes on Al Matavao (8-2) at Dana White’s Contender Series 32 at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas on Tuesday.
Born in Bamenda, Cameroon, Nchukwi moved to the U.S. in 2005 at age 10. Nchukwi has fond memories of Cameroon and playing outside with all the other children. However, he recognizes his experiences were confined to childhood ideology.
His family moved to the U.S. in hope of opportunity, Nchukwi recently explained to MMA Junkie. When they settled into their new living environment, there were some things Nchukwi needed to get used to.
“It was a culture shock, for sure, to adjust,” Nchukwi told MMA Junkie. “It took me a little bit, but not too much, because my first language was already English. The main thing I had to adapt to was how fast people over here speak and trying to dial in on their tones and accents and ways of talking. Adjusting to that, that was really mainly it. Other than that, it was weird to get more access to a lot. There were more opportunities. The first time I came here, I was stunned by all the technology and stuff – big TVs, cars everywhere. When I first came here, it was definitely a lot to take in.”
Getting settled into school, Nchukwi started playing soccer. In high school, he picked up football. After graduation, Nchukwi moved on to college – but found MMA when he saw a 30-day free trial advertisement for a local gym.
As a result, Nchukwi dropped out of college – a move his parents weren’t thrilled with.
“Your parents come here to give you better opportunities, and you tell them you’re trying to go be a fighter,” Nchukwi said. “They’re not too happy to hear that.”
Three fights into his pro MMA career, Nchukwi’s family have warmed up to his pursuit of fist-fight glory. Positive feelings go both ways. Reflecting on his upbringing, Nchukwi said he draws inspiration from his immigrant parents.
His parents’ blue-collar past motivates Nchukwi, but he also is driven by visions of his own future. By making Cameroon’s flag more noticeable and more meaningful on the world’s stage, Nchukwi hopes he’ll tip the scales in making the first UFC card in Africa happen.
“It would mean a lot, too,” Nchukwi said. “Especially to my people, who are always watching and giving me support. I’m definitely using this platform to definitely show out for my country and my people. I’ll let them know we out here. … We’re coming to take over. We’re born fighters.”
While success is great, Nchukwi said he doesn’t want his career to be all about him, however. He hopes his success can be absorbed by thousands who come from similar places or situations.
“Coming where I come from, there are not many opportunities,” Nchukwi said. “Then coming here, I’m about to be on one of the biggest stages in the world. That’s definitely something I’m humbled by. I know this going to be an inspiration to many others coming from this same position as me.
“I’m aiming to be an inspiration to them, hopefully – so they can see this path and stick to it knowing if they work hard to chase what they want, they’re going to get there. It doesn’t matter how long it takes. As long as you work hard and basically don’t give up, you’re going to get there.”