Late Bloomer

By Tim Leidecker Feb 12, 2013
Jimi Manuwa has finished all 12 of his opponents. | Photo: Jim Page/

Jimi Manuwa was born on Feb. 18, 1980 in Sacramento, Calif. It later went down as the most prolific year for child births in the history of the “Golden State” and included the arrivals of Hollywood actor Jake Gyllenhaal, socialite Kim Kardashian and New York Yankees ace Carsten Charles Sabathia, whom baseball fans know as “CC.”

Unlike some of his peers, Manuwa did not go on to become an accountant, a schoolteacher or a software engineer. Instead, his life proved far less linear.

Manuwa’s family, which included an older brother, moved back to its home country of Nigeria, where he spent his childhood. Then, just as he had settled in, the family relocated again, this time to England. The London-based knockout artist came to mixed martial arts as a late bloomer. Prior to falling in love with the sport, he was a quintessential troublemaker. He dabbled in fistfights, on the street and in nightclubs, and stayed afloat by breaking into office buildings to steal computers. Manuwa, who turns 33 next week, even spent some time in prison.

“I did not start training in martial arts until I was 28 years old,” Manuwa told “It has been nothing but a great experience, and I’m learning new techniques every day. I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing to be a late bloomer. For me, it’s just the only way I know how. I’m prepared to do what I need to do to become a great martial artist.”

One definite advantage of not excelling at one particular discipline, like boxing or wrestling, earlier in his development is the fact that Manuwa never had the chance to fall into some of the bad habits those sports bring on their own.

“The very first martial arts class I went to was at an MMA club, so I learned MMA right from the beginning,” he said. “I’ve then started with jiu-jitsu and Thai boxing and added boxing pretty late. A good thing for me is that I’m pretty balanced in all areas.”

* * *

Even though he did not have an extensive amateur career or personal achievements in traditional martial arts on which to fall back, it quickly became apparent that Manuwa possessed a tremendous amount of raw talent and physical ability. He also never settles for mediocrity. As such, only one year and five fights into his career, the muscular light heavyweight decided he should henceforth be known as the “Poster Boy.”

Manuwa quickly found a partner in crime in eccentric Ultimate Challenge MMA promoter Dave O’Donnell. The bald-headed former Cage Rage mastermind did not hesitate to put his organization’s world title around Manuwa’s waist once he witnessed the nasty knockout power the newcomer possessed. From the moment he won the UCMMA title in May 2009 until his exit from the promotion two years later, all five of his opponents eventually kissed the canvas, and only one of them made it out of the first round.

Photo: Jeff Sherwood/

Diabate has a wealth of experience.
Word reached the rainy streets of London and beyond that O’Donnell had a potential star on his hands. Soon, other promotions developed an appetite to showcase Manuwa’s raw power, and the Ultimate Fighting Championship was one of them. However, UFC’s matchmaker Joe Silva’s first two attempts to retain Manuwa’s services were unsuccessful, as he turned down offers to debut at UFC 120 and UFC 138.

“It was very important for me to make the jump into the Octagon at the right stage of my career,” he said. “I wasn’t just going to jump at any chance to fight in the UFC. I think it is important to make that step when you’re ready, because once you’re in there and you lose a couple of fights or you don’t look good, you get thrown straight back out.”

Even though he was unsure how the UFC would react to its advances being refused, Manuwa’s confidence never wavered. He knew he would reach the Octagon someday.

“I always knew that I’d end up being in the UFC,” he said. “I wasn’t really that bothered when I turned them down, because I always knew that if I kept fighting the way I fight -- and my style of fighting is exciting -- I’ll end up in the UFC, because that’s what they want to see. They want to see exciting fights and exciting fighters.”

* * *

Manuwa made his promotional debut at UFC on Fuel TV 5 in Nottingham, England, in September. In a wild and brutally lopsided bout, he defeated “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 11 alum Kyle Kingsbury, forcing a doctor’s stoppage after the second round. The American Kickboxing Academy representative had suffered multiple facial fractures from the battering he absorbed from the “Poster Boy.” Kingsbury’s left eye was swollen completely shut.

In his sophomore appearance inside the Octagon, the 32-year-old heavy hitter will square off with another knockout specialist in Frenchman Cyrille Diabate at UFC on Fuel TV 7 this Saturday at the Wembley Arena in London. The venue is just a 45-minute ride from Manuwa’s home.

“Cyrille is very experienced, and I’ve got nothing but respect for him,” he said. “He already had 60, 70 fights before I even picked up my first pair of gloves. He’s a very tough opponent. He’s never been stopped under the Unified Rules. He’s never been TKO’d by punches, which is what I do, and that makes for a very exciting fight.”

Manuwa’s confidence did not remain hidden for long.

“I will become the first man to knock Cyrille out because he hasn’t fought anyone like me; he hasn’t fought a knockout specialist like me,” he said. “That’s what I do. This is my strength. I’ve got nothing but respect for him -- he’s a real fighter -- but at the end of the day, he’s signed a contract to fight me, and now it’s going down.”

It was very important for me
to make the jump into the
Octagon at the right stage
of my career. I wasn’t just
going to jump at any chance
to fight in the UFC.

-- Jimi Manuwa, UFC light heavyweight

Manuwa -- who has stopped all 12 of his opponents, 11 of them by knockout -- issued a stern warning to the rest of the 205-pound division.

“I’m ready to headline events and challenge for the title soon,” he said. “I’m the ‘Poster Boy.’ I just fight the way I fight and those fights finish early. I just do that when I fight: hit people and they fall down. I was born ready, and I’m ready to do this. Thanks to my fans for supporting me. Don’t miss my fight. It’s going to be another ‘Poster Boy’ performance.”


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