Nigerian-born UFC featherweight Sodiq Yusuff feels the pressure to continue his success and loves every second of it.
Sodiq Yusuff was prepared for a war in his last appearance inside the cage at UFC Philadelphia, and that is exactly what he got. A longtime believer in the idea that mentality plays a big role in this sport, preparation was everything and mental strength prevailed.
“I knew how good [Sheymon Moraes] was, we both are high on people’s prospect lists. I 100-percent prepared for a war. In a fight with someone that good you have to wait for the perfect moment, I did that and it got me a big win.”
The Nigerian-born featherweight has believed in himself his whole career, and his gym, Team Lloyd Irvin, has made a name for itself on cardio, and game planning. For a guy like Yusuff who has finished over half of his professional fights, finishes are not always on his mind.
“A lot of people think if I don’t get a finish, I’ll feel like its a failure, that isn’t true. I’m the same guy in round one as I am in round three. My gym prides itself on cardio and I can go all day in the cage. Finishes are fun and flashy but wins are wins, and that’s what I look for in this sport.”
Since Yusuff’s last appearance in the cage, two other Nigerian fighters have had some impressive accomplishments in the Octagon. Kamaru Usman defeated Tyron Woodley to become the first ever Nigerian champion in UFC history. It wasn’t long before Israel Adesanya became the second, taking home an interim championship with a win over Kelvin Gastelum. Yusuff may not have a belt wrapped around his waist, but the victories were emotional for him.
“Personally, I was so happy. Their success is a win for the country. I remember wondering why all these Irish would go crazy for Conor, it makes sense to me now. I almost cried watching Usman wave that flag and win the belt. Nigeria keeps on winning, I want to add to that.”
Yusuff remembers watching the UFC as a child, but seeing, as he put it, “no one that looked like me,” in the cage, he now believes he and his fellow Nigerian fighters have a chance to make a statement to change lives.
“Kids watching the UFC today, they can see a guy who looks like them, holding a belt, helping them turn a dream to a reality one day. The idea that I could be changing some child’s life, inspiring a kid, that is such a special feeling to me.”
For those who missed out on the three-round war between Yusuff and Moraes, do yourself a favor and watch some highlights. It seemed as though the two were seemingly using their best shots, yet both stood there accepting and giving punishment out at will. We asked Yusuff, a man built around positive mentality, what goes on in a fighter’s mind when you hit your opponent with a big shot, yet they seemed unharmed, a theme of their three-round war.
“It isn’t that I was hitting him with my best shots, it was the frustration of not being able to hit him with what I wanted. My team and I watched a ton of film and he corrected a lot of stuff we wanted to capitalize on. Finally, in the third round, I caught him, that’s life though, a small window of opportunity and you gotta take what you can get.”
Some may not know, but the Dana White Tuesday Night Contender Series signee lost his brother before his UFC debut at UFC Adelaide in December of 2018. Situations like this have continued to build mental toughness in the 26-year-old’s head. Going through a tough childhood in Nigeria, toughness is something Yusuff will never be short of. But he thanks his first career loss for his ability to dial in, because he believes that is what cost him his first and only loss.
“I’ve prepared myself my whole life. No matter what the stakes are, ever since my first loss, I don’t let myself get distracted. Even when I lost my brother, I found out only a little before the fight date. I told myself at the beginning of each round, I’d say, ‘Okay, five minutes of work,’ luckily, it only took two.”
After Yusuff’s most recent win, he took the microphone and gave an interesting call out, one UFC fans all got excited for, Kron Gracie. Gracie, a member of the storied BJJ Gracie family, enjoyed a first-round submission in his UFC debut. It would more likely than not be the toughest fight for each of the fighters to date, but Yusuff isn’t so sure it’ll happen.
“Callouts are hit or miss, don’t think Kron wants that matchup, it is what it is. I’m waiting for who the UFC gives me, I liked the idea of the July 6 card, but it’s filling fast. Maybe that Abu Dhabi card. Damn, that would be so cool, but it’s up to the UFC.”
Whoever Yusuff is across from in the cage next, it could legitimately be to win over Dana White for a chance to crack the top 15 of the division, and deservedly so. Yusuff may not care who his next opponent is, or where it is, but there is one place he has interest in fighting at some point in his career.
“We need a UFC Africa. No question I’m on that card, I don’t care how or when but the first-ever event in Africa, you better believe I’m there.”
Sodiq Yusuff is closing in on a featherweight ranking, and can thank not only his MMA prowess, but his strong mentality for the chance at glory. Yusuff will continue to inspire those who shall come after him, and will continue to push to become the next Nigerian UFC champion of the world.