Pay attention when Oluwale Bamgbose speaks, because if you don’t, it’s like one of his first-round finishes: you might miss something. So while most UFC debutants keep a low profile, especially when taking a fight on short notice against an established veteran, Bamgbose is not rattled in the slightest by the reality that he will be facing Uriah Hall on Saturday, a little over two weeks since signing his UFC contract.
“I still have space to grow, but I don’t have time to waste,” Bamgbose said, and though he’s referring to the style that has led him to a 5-0 with five first-round knockouts pro MMA record, he may just be capturing the entire Bamgbose Experience, a Technicolor ride in which the rest of the world is in black and white. Call it that New York attitude, but the 28-year-old from the Bronx really believes that he can do anything. And he wants to do everything.
“Anywhere you go in the world, just stay in your lane and you’re going to make it,” he said. “Don’t try to use your location to blame your life or circumstances. I hope I can be a reflection of that. Anybody anywhere, even in the Bronx, can make it. Just stay focused.”
It’s almost hard to imagine anyone being focused with so many things going on at once in his life. When Bamgbose is asked why he fights when he has an education that includes an Associate’s degree in Liberal Arts from Morrisville State College, a Bachelor’s degree in Child and Family Studies from SUNY Oneonta and a Masters degree in Public Administration from Alfred University, and before he answers, he laughs, likely because he’s heard that question more than once.
“I went back to school because eventually I want to own a chain of recreational centers, and I want to implement social services within that recreational center,” he said. “I want to build a safe haven for athletes where they could go for their academics, to build on their athleticism, and just overall have fun with life.
“When I was in college, I was an RA, I was playing lacrosse, I was on the taekwondo team, I was active, and that was what kept me in college and I was able to graduate,” Bamgbose continues. “If I was just studying, I think I would have jumped off a bridge. (Laughs) School’s not easy. Having recreational involvement was a great stress reliever. So I want to be able to give this to middle schoolers, teenagers and young adults.”
Giving back to the community isn’t the first thing on most young pro athletes’ minds, but at this point, you’ve probably figured out that “The Holy War Angel” is cut from a different cloth than most. Also on his eventual “to do” list is going to the land of his parents’ birth, Nigeria, and bringing his sport to the people there, which was another reason for him continuing his college studies.
“I eventually want to be a pioneer in bringing MMA to Nigeria, so I needed to go back to school to understand the administrative aspects of that,” he said. “And there’s a whole bunch of other stuff I want to do too. But right now, the key is getting that belt. I know I can get it because I was blessed with a lot of things, and you’ll see August 8th. I’ve got a lot of God-given talents, and then on top of that I’m a hard worker and I’m also a traditional martial artist, so I’m just the total package and I’m scary to go against.”
Charismatic, educated, energetic, confident. But can Bamgbose fight? His pro record thus far shows that he can, and the fact that he is coached by one of the old-school Chute Boxe stars, Luiz Azeredo (a PRIDE veteran who was also the first man to beat Anderson Silva), proves that when it comes to the fight, he is there to finish, not dance.
“I’m not gonna lie to you,” he deadpans. “If you ever watch Bloodsport, I’m literally like a modern-day VanDamme. I’m not even joking. I’m one of those people, it’s either I give it all or I’m not doing it. I don’t have time to play with my life. I went through some things a couple years ago, and I just gave my life to God and I’m grateful, and this is the product of that – freedom. So I go in there and I’m free. I don’t have nothing to worry about. I don’t have time to think or doubt, it’s just ‘go do your job,’ that’s it.”
There are a lot of UFC newcomers who arrive with a lot of confidence and a gaudy pro record and then end up getting a reality check when the first person they hit doesn’t fall down like opponents did on the local scene. But where Bamgbose differs is that his pro fights have all been in the Ring of Combat promotion that has launched the careers of several top-flight UFC competitors, and that even before that, he had a string of amateur fights that saw him face adversity that he hasn’t dealt with in the pro ranks. And to him, that was the point of the whole thing.
“During my amateur career, I looked at it as an opportunity to explore,” he said. “Explore losses, explore weaknesses, explore different kinds of fighters. So I didn’t play any games. I wanted to fight some of the best guys in my amateur career and I wanted to know how it felt so that when I went pro, it’s not a new feeling. Some people look at an amateur career as a way of getting easy fights. No, this is the time when you’re supposed to grow and face challenges and difficulties. And that’s what I did.
“My amateur fights were actually way more intense than my pro fights because that was the idea,” Bamgbose continues. “I went in to my amateur career like ‘I need to grow here.’ So when I went pro, I was like, ‘I don’t need to go the distance anymore. I don’t need to waste time. I already know what to do, I know what’s going to happen. Oluwale, let’s go home.’”
That’s the plan on Saturday night, but whether it comes to fruition may depend more on which version of the erratic Hall shows up. Bamgbose doesn’t worry himself with such matters though. He’s a kid from the Bronx with a Chute Boxe attitude that is likely going to make him a lot of fans.
“I’m all about time efficiency and seizing opportunity,” your new favorite middleweight said. “He (Azeredo) taught me how to bang. And in this sport, that’s what sells tickets, and that’s what saves your life. I dedicated pretty much my whole life to being here and it’s finally here.”