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Updated Jul 15, 2020

A profile feature on Senegalese combat sports stars in the Jeune Afrique weekly demonstrates how the sport of mixed martial arts (MMA) has grown from a predominantly European and American affair into a world-class phenomenon. African athletes in sports such as boxing and wrestling have entered the fray and are gaining a large following.

As the name suggests, MMA is a combat sport that pits two fighters against each other who may use techniques from boxing, judo, jujitsu, karate, kickboxing, and other disciplines to defeat their opponent.

 

Promoters are increasingly turning to African countries to discover new talent

 

Grappling is a common element within MMA, which makes it a natural fit for competitors coming from a tradition of Senegalese wrestling, which involves grappling and sparring. It has become one of the country’s most popular sports, and its stars enjoy a celebrity status similar to that of professional football players.

Senegalese wrestling champion Yakhya “Yekini” Diop (left), photographed during his last fight, on July 24, 2016, in Demba Diop Stadium in Dakar. (Seyllou Seyllou/AFP)
Senegalese wrestling champion Yakhya “Yékini” Diop (left), photographed during his last fight, on July 24, 2016, in Demba Diop Stadium in Dakar. (Seyllou Seyllou/AFP)

As traditional wrestling, known as “laamb” in Wolof, gains more mainstream exposure through its growing connection with MMA, the opportunities become more lucrative and more high-profile. Promoters are increasingly turning to African countries to open up new markets and discover new talent. Two African athletes who have already made a name for themselves on the MMA circuit are Israel Adesanya from Nigeria and Francis Ngannou from Cameroon.

 

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