UFC Philadelphia will mark the promotional debut for undefeated light heavyweight prospect Kennedy Nzechukwu and we got to know a little about him before his fight this weekend.
Kennedy Nzechukwu is an absolute monster of a man. At 6’5″ with an insane 83″ reach, Nzechukwu is nothing short of a giant. To start the interview off, he was such a nice guy and asked about my health and why I was in the hospital. Such an impressive young man is bound to make waves in the UFC. He fights on the upcoming UFC Philadelphia card against Paul Craig. I had a chance to sit down and talk with him for my podcast and get to know a little about him.
Nzechukwu’s start in MMA was like any story should start. “It was always something I wanted to do, especially when I was back in Nigeria. I used to read newspapers and see Chuck Liddell, and see other guys like the Gracies. I was like, ‘What is this for, people fighting for money? This is something I would love to do.'”
Kennedy didn’t start right away. He came from Nigeria to the United States in 2010 but never took it up.
“I always had it in the back of my mind, but I never engaged in it.”
Tragically in 2014, Nzechukwu’s mother was diagnosed with ALS. As the disease progressed, Kennedy’s mother wanted him to go for what he loved, despite him having to drop out of college to take care of his mom.
“What is that one thing you love watching? The combat sports,” she told Kennedy. “It’s mixed martial arts, but I can’t do it now, I have to spend time with you.” Nzechukwu even took up a second job to help the family out. She told him to just do it and that God would make a way.
Nzechukwu remembers the exact day he started. “It was February 12, 2015.” As he practiced, he fell more and more in love with the sport. “Every day I became more and more competitive. One day I was like, ‘You know, I would love to win a belt in this light heavyweight division,'” says Nzechukwu.
Nzechukwu didn’t get the contract on the Tuesday Night Contender Series his first go through. Fighting through a tough split decision in the first season it was back to the drawing board for Nzechukwu. Then season two came around and Kennedy had a second shot at a UFC contract. With a first round knock out of Dennis Bryant in the first round, Kennedy Nzechukwu earned the UFC contract.
“I was 2-0 [during the first Contender Series fight] and I wanted to see where I was at. Let me test my skills against these guys, let me see where I am and what I’m about,” says Nzechukwu. “My coach agreed. He brought the subject of the Contender Series. He threw me in the shark tank. I didn’t do as good enough to get the contract. But I was proud and I knew I had to do more work to get where I wanted to.”
You know, I would love to win a belt in this light heavyweight division.
He did just that. With two huge knockouts at XKO 40 and LFA 40, the Nzechukwu camp got the phone call again. “When I got the contract I was glad but I was not happy with my performance. So I went back to the drawing board again. Keep sharpening the tools, putting more weapons in the toolbox, increasing the artillery.”
Being from Africa, seeing Kamaru Usman win the welterweight title was a big deal for Kennedy Nzechukwu. With all the new Africans in the UFC, it was only a matter of time before someone from the continent would be champ.
“It’s awesome. We always knew eventually we’re going to get an African champ. I’m happy for Kamaru Usman for opening that door and shedding that light on Africa. We never had African stars until he came around. Now, there is him, [Francis] Ngannou, Sodiq Yusuff, Israel Adesanya, and Mark Diakiese and myself. I’m not in the limelight yet so I have to perform. I don’t consider myself a UFC fighter or a prospect so I have to perform like I know I can.”
Kennedy Nzechukwu has a task at hand with Paul Craig. “I’m ready man. I’m sharpening my jiu-jitsu because I know he likes jiu-jitsu. He’s a good jiu-jitsu grappler. But I don’t think he’s on my level as a jiu-jitsu grappler. You can’t overlook that though. You still have to sharpen your tools and get better,” says Nzechukwu. “I increase my wrestling, I increase my kickboxing. I’m not only training for this fight. I’m training for that light heavyweight belt.”
The light heavyweight division is becoming more and more crowded with all the new contenders on the rise. With former champ Luke Rockhold making his 205 debut, as well as up and comers like Johnny Walker, Thiago Santos, and Anthony Smith, Kennedy Nzechukwu sees himself as a force to be reckoned with in the division.
“We have a lot of prospects. I’ve been working on speed, conditioning, and cardio. These guys can’t carry their body around for these five rounds or three rounds.” Five rounds. Nzechukwu already has title fights on his mind.
“I’ve watched tapes and tapes and tapes on these guys’ fights. I know cardio and conditioning is a huge, huge factor in the fights. I was a long-distance runner as well as playing soccer. So my lungs are ready to go for days. I’m ready to capitalize on these guys’ mistakes. I’m ready for this division. And I’m ready to make a run for that belt.”
With the big superfight coming up between Max Holloway and Dustin Poirier, I asked Nzechukwu about the little guys and how he thought that would play out.
“I pick Holloway. He was another guy when he was close to my age when he made his run. I was happy for that dude. Him and Kelvin Gastelum are the guys were in my age bracket. I was excited when these guys start smashing people. Now, I love Dustin Poirier too, he’s a great guy. I just think Holloway has made that huge leap since he’s started. Poirier made that leap, too. If Holloway can stop the takedowns, because Dustin Poirier has great jiu-jitsu, he can win the fight. If Holloway can’t stop the takedowns, Poirier will win the fight and will choke him out or control the fight due to the takedowns.”
Take a listen to the podcast if you want to hear more about Kennedy Nzechukwu! Available on iTunes, Spotify, Google and everywhere else!