(Manuwa celebrates a win in UCMMA with Dave O’Donnell)
This Saturday night, reigning Ultimate Challenge Light Heavyweight Champion, the Jimi ‘Poster Boy’ Manuwa (7-0) faces a stern test as a game late replacement Reza Mahdavian (5-2) comes to try and take his belt. Manuwa can’t wait to get in the cage ahead of his title defence.
“I’m really excited,” declared Jimi. “I’m excited, but a bit disappointed that Valentino’s pulled out. It put a downer on things for about a week or so, but his teammate’s stepped in and I’m looking forward to fighting another TSG boy. They’re a good camp and I’m sure it’ll be a good fight.”
Mehdavian is a replacement for Valentino Petrescu, who was initially meant to challenge for the strap. Like Manuwa, Petrescu is undefeated, and a win over him would have been a sure fire way for Jimi to claim top spot in the UK Light Heavyweight scene.
“I was really confident,” said the ‘Poster Boy’ of his original foe. “I would have been the top light heavyweight in the country if I won that as well. ‘Misiek’ is up there, but Valentino knocked him out a couple of years ago, so the winner of our fight would probably have been number one. It’s a fight that’s got to happen.”
Coming into this, Mehdavian is a relative unknown, although this hasn’t made it harder for Manuwa to prepare. “I don’t know a lot about him, but he’s 5-2 and we’ve had the same amount of fights, but he’s lost a couple,” told Jimi. “I saw his last fight on YouTube when Dave O’Donnell sent it to me, but I’m not really taking note of that fight because it just looked like there was nothing about him there. I’m not taking him lightly.
“They’ve not been as good as I’d have liked because I had an injury about three weeks ago, but it’s healed now,” continued Manuwa on his training ahead of this bout. “I had a rib injury and tore my intercostal muscle, but it’s good now. That happened before Valentino pulled out, and I was still going to fight, I was training and working around it. I wasn’t going to pull out because of it. When he pulled out about a week later, I wasn’t sure if I was going to fight, but the week after it got better and I said I’d fight. Things haven’t gone 100-percent, but it’s going well now and I’m peaking.”
Jimi has gone from being in a fifty-fifty fight to being a lopsided favourite, and he admits he doesn’t relish this position. “I don’t really like it, because I just want to fight top level competition now,” he reasoned. “I’d say it’s like a warm-up fight until I get the chance to fight Valentino, or someone else who’s in the top five.”
In spite of this, Manuwa is extremely confident, although he couldn’t pinpoint how or when the bout would end. “I don’t like predicting fights, but most of my fights end in the first round because I go in there to finish the fight,” declared Jimi. “I’m not messing about in there, trying to look fancy or anything like that – I go and try to finish the fight as soon as possible. He looks like he’s a brawler, and there’ll only be one thing that happens if he tries to brawl with me, and he’s going to get hurt. It could go to the first, second or third round, but I will win.”
Manuwa’s also convinced he’s by no means a one-dimensional fighter. “It seems like it’s the stand up side is my strongest because in most of my fights I’ve either won by ground and pound, or standing and punching, but I’ve got good Jiu Jitsu. I was awarded my blue belt the other day, and trust me, it’s not easy to get a blue belt at my club Nova Forca. Any competition they go into, all the white belts always win, and all the blue belts always win, and it’s really hard to get a blue belt there. On the weekend just gone, I entered and won the blue belt competition and won, so my ground game’s there.”
The ‘Poster Boy’ is also convinced he has all the tools to make it to the very top of the sport. “No doubt I can go all the way,” declared Manuwa. “I’ve just got that confidence, and I can just see it happening. I can’t see myself getting beat by anyone I get in the cage with. I’m learning new things every day. I have a new boxing trainer as well now in Alan Smith who trains the likes of Sam Webb, so he’s really good. This is as well as Alan Keddle, Ricardo Da Silva and a strength and conditioning coach. I’m getting better all the time in everything I do.”
With the future looking bright for Manuwa, big offers are soon to surface, but Jimi is happy to remain on the domestic scene for a little longer. “I’m happy to do a couple more fights in the UK because I know I’m still learning, because I’ve only been doing MMA a couple of years,” he admitted. “I’m still learning all the time in my boxing, my Thai boxing and my Jiu Jitsu, and I’m getting better all the time. I don’t mind a couple more big fights in England, and there’s a couple of people that want to fight me as well. I don’t mind beating them before I move on.”
Considering the small amount of time Jimi has practised MMA, many are surprised at the progress he’s made, but for Manuwa himself, it isn’t as big a deal. “It surprised me a little bit, but before I went and fought, I watched a lot of the UFC and I knew I could do it, and I knew I could fight,” he stated. “I just needed to get into the training, and get my Jiu Jitsu and striking sorted out. I took my first fight after six weeks of training, and I haven’t looked back since then. When I came to Ultimate Challenge, I started fighting medium level guys, and that’s when everything started coming together.”
Now, Manuwa is solidly in the top 5 of the Country’s light-heavyweight roster. Will he hold on to that? Reza Mehdavian will certainly hope not.
For more information on UCMMA ‘Never Back Down’ and for tickets visit ucmmma.com.