Crushing power and vicious striking carried Jimi Manuwa into the UFC on an 11-fight winning streak. None of those bouts were left in the hands of the judges and only two lasted beyond the first round.
More of the same followed once he set foot in the Octagon.
Three fights. Three wins. Three stoppages.
Thirteen months after his promotional debut, “Posterboy” had established himself as a player in the light heavyweight division and earned himself a massive opportunity in his hometown – a main event showdown with Alexander Gustafsson in the Swedish standout’s first appearance following his epic championship clash with Jon Jones at UFC 165.
Despite having home field advantage and the partisan crowd in his corner, stepping up to face one of the division’s elite talents proved to be too much as “The Mauler” handed Manuwa the first loss of his career. In the process, however, he helped the dangerous British knockout artist begin the next phase of his development – a phase that is still in progress and includes training alongside his former opponent.
“Going over to train at Allstars, it’s showed me the levels of things that you have to do,” Manuwa said of working with Gustafsson and the team at Stockholm’s Allstars Training Center. “It’s just propelled me up levels and given me a chance to see the levels of training with Alex and showed me a lot of things that have helped me in my game.
“I think when I first came into the UFC, it was just off of raw talent – I still was trying to swim in the deep end.”
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Losing to Gustafsson forced Manuwa to reflect on the mental side of things and make changes, while his loss to current No. 1 contender Anthony Johnson two fights later in his North American debut prompted him to examine the physical side of things, as prior to the blow that turned the fight on a dime and proved to be the beginning of the end, the now 37-year-old Londoner was running even with “Rumble.”
“Once you get to the elite side of the division, there are things that you have to change in your mental and physical self,” said Manuwa, who rebounded from his loss to Johnson with a blistering second-round finish of Ovince Saint Preux last October at UFC 204 in Manchester. “Me knocking out OSP in the second round, that’s just the beginning of things to come.”
Manuwa had hoped to build off his bounce-back performance against Saint Preux sooner than this weekend, but finding a dance partner proved difficult.
He was linked to a bout with perennial contender Glover Teixeira at UFC 208 when the event was scheduled to be held at Honda Center in Anaheim, but when the show was postponed and the first Pay-Per-View of 2017 shifted to Brooklyn in February, the pairing came apart. Teixeira was added back to the event opposite Jared Cannonier and Manuwa was left searching for an opponent.
“It was a bit frustrating because I wanted to carry on the momentum from my last win against OSP back in October, so I wanted to fight in December or January,” explained the 16-2 fighter currently stationed at No. 4 in the light heavyweight rankings. “I asked to fight Glover Teixeira and we were scheduled to fight, but somehow, the fight didn’t happen.
“He ended up fighting someone outside of the Top 15, which I thought was odd and made me think that he wanted to hang on to his No. 3 spot. I wanted to fight someone in the Top Five, so I asked to fight Shogun after that and he said, ‘No,’ so it was a bit frustrating getting an opponent.
“Then I got offered Corey Anderson for London, so it was a fight I couldn’t turn down.”
Former Ultimate Fighter winner Anderson is one of the rising stars of the 205-pound weight class.
Part of the New Jersey-based “Iron Army” headed by Frankie Edgar that includes Edson Barboza, Eddie Alvarez and Kaitlyn Chookagian under the guidance of striking coach Mark Henry, the man now known as “Overtime” has climbed into the Top 10 less than four years after making his professional debut.
In some ways, this weekend’s main event is a twisted replica of Manuwa’s first headlining assignment in the UFC, as the contest against features an up-and-coming talent testing himself against a more seasoned, more polished foe. This time around, however, it’s Manuwa playing the role of the veteran and Anderson as the upstart.
That one ended in the second round and Manuwa is confident that Saturday’s finale will as well.
“It’s always great fighting in the UK, especially London because it’s my hometown,” he said. “To get the support of all of the arena - plus it’s convenient for friends and family to come and support – it’s a great thing. I’m looking forward to it a lot. I’m looking forward to putting on a great performance.
“Fans can expect what they always see when I fight – an exciting fight,” he added. “Don’t blink. I think the fight will end in round two.”