Izu Ugonoh: Meet the Nigerian who trained UFC champ Jan Błachowicz to defeat Israel Adesanya

Ugonoh gave Adesanya's opponent some tips on grappling and kickboxing.

Izu Ugonoh helped Jan Błachowicz to defeat his Nigerian brother Israel Adesanya (Instagram/Izu Ugonoh)

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While Israel Adesanya was saluting everyone in Jan Blachowicz's camp after their UFC 259 bout, one of them stretched out his hands and took the Nigerian-born fighter in a hug.

That was another Nigerian, Izu Ugonoh, a Polish fighter of Nigerian descent.

Despite sharing a Nigerian root with Adesanya, Ugonoh was part of Blachowicz's coaching crew that trained him to fight against the Nigerian.

It was a close fight that needed the judges' decision. After five rounds, Blachowicz was unanimously declared the winner.

The Pole rode to victory with two takedowns in the fourth and fifth round and was also aided by his abilities to evade Adesanya's striking.

The grappling he did for those takedowns and how to cope with Adesanya's famed kickboxing abilities were what he got from training with Ugonoh, who was specifically recruited to help take down his fellow Nigerian.

In a pre-UFC 259 documentary released by the UFC, there are clips of Blachowicz and Ugonoh grappling.

"Trying to imitate Israel's style, which is not easy because he is one of the most talented strikers at the UFC," Ugonoh said in the documentary.

Ugonoh is a former kickboxer, boxer and now a mixed martial artist born in Poland to Nigerian parents.

His father migrated to Poland to study to become a sailor in the late 70s/early 80s. After schooling and having failed in relationships with Polish women, he travelled to Nigeria to marry a woman from his village.

The new couple returned to Poland, where they had all their children, including Ugonoh-four girls and a boy.

Life as a black kid is tough in Europe. It's still tough now, let alone in the 80s and 90s when Ugonoh was growing up.

"It was challenging," he told African in Sports in an October 2020 interview.

With the emergence of racist skinhead culture in Europe when he was growing up, Ugonoh had to survive many attacks.

He has often spoken of how he fought to survive every day on his almost 45-minute commute to and fro school.

That set him on the path of becoming a professional fighter.

After attempting to play football, he started kickboxing at the age of 19. Four years into his kickboxing career, he won the Kickboxing World Championships in 2009. The next year, he became the European champion.

It was his skill as a kickboxer that Blachowicz needed to be familiar with before his fight against Adesanya.

After kickboxing, he ventured into boxing and had a record of 18 wins, two losses and 15 knockouts before he made another switch to MMA.

Although he was born in Poland and represents the European country as a fighter, he hugely identifies with his Nigerian roots.

Their parents made sure they were brought up the Nigerian way at home.

He made a trip with his family to Nigeria in December 2019 for the first time in 22 years.

"I felt very welcomed, I felt that I didn't need to prove anything. I just landed and I'm home. It was a good feeling," he told Africans In Sports.

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