• Sunday, April 14, 2024
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My dream is to make MMA big like football in Nigeria – Ebere

Bernard Ebere is a PhD holder in Geophysics and works in the oil and gas industry. He is in charge of Youth Development at the newly recognised Nigerian Mixed Martial Arts Federation, (NMMAF) He organises MMA events for young fighters and has given scholarship to some of them. In this interview with Seyi John-Salau, he disclosed his plans for Mixed Martial Arts in Nigeria and his upcoming event. Excerpts:

Where you involved in Mixed Martial Arts during your school days?

I started Martial Arts in my teenage age and I have done it for about 30 years now. I used to be in the Nigerian army, I was in the Special Forces for 11 years. It was martial arts that prepared me to be in the army and also to be deployed in the Special Force Unit which required a lot of physical and mental execution.

Even when I was in the army, I used to teach unarmed combat to troops over the years and once you have a black belt, which is the grade of leadership, it brings you training to all kinds of people and prepares you for leadership roles across any sphere of life and that has really helped me.

When I started martial arts in the early 90s, it was not organised as it is now, I started with Kung Fu, so there was no kind of competition. What we did then was similar to what we have in Mixed Martial Arts now. Learn about the skills and everything is about survival, you are not training because you want to go for competitions.

Then, we used to envy other martial artists like those that do Karate, Taekwondo, and Judo because we see them going to different competitions to win medals. It was until I got to the University of Port Harcourt that the Judo coach approached me and wanted me to compete in the university game since I am into Martial Arts. That was my first tournament and I won a laurel in that event since then I started doing Judo for the school.

I later switched to kickboxing and I was among the first people that pioneered kickboxing in Nigeria.

Your plans to promote Mixed Martial Arts in Nigeria?

MMA, which is the branch of what I am promoting, is one of the fast-growing sports in the world. We have the UFC and different MMA promotions, unlike other traditional martial arts like Karate, and Taekwondo where you have to go for competition, this one is business. We have our own Kamaru Usman and Israel Adesanya in the UFC, they are employees of the UFC and that is what I intend to do.

I have my own promotion called ‘Akalaka Spirit of Warrior MMA Promotion to create employment opportunities and youth development for Nigerians.

After being recognised as a federation, what are your programmes for the year?

We now have the Nigerian Mixed Martial Arts Federation and I happened to be the director of youth development, firstly is that we just got approval from the ministry of sports and that makes us the newest federation in Nigeria and other countries in Africa are looking unto us and the international body is interested in what we do.

In 2022, we brought in the World President of the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation at the 2022 National Sports Festival in Asaba, Delta state.

We did an exhibition to let the officials of the sports ministry know what MMA looks like. We did another one in Lagos at Onikan stadium and it was after those two exhibitions that the minister now gave us approval.

We are a registered federation with a board and government representative and we also have the Nigeria Olympic Committee endorsement. What that means is that we will be participating in the next National Sports Festival, and we are trying to reach out to all the states to have coaches and representatives.

We are going to key our programmes into the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation calendar and we are looking to see if Nigeria will be hosting the World Championship, which is the major event that we are interested in. Now that we have been approved, the international body is interested in what we do to make the sport popular, especially at the amateur level.

As the Director of Youths Development, NMMA, how do you intend to discover young fighters?

For the past three years, I have used my promotion, Akalaka Spirit of Warrior MMA to do lots of outreach and reach out to young kids. I go to different places and hold big street fights. In March 2022 in Rivers State, we hosted one of the biggest MMA street fights in Nigeria.

It was more international because it brought an American ex-marine from the United States. We also had fighters from Cameroon and Ghana and that tournament helped us to discover talents. Notable among the talents we discovered a rising female bantamweight fighter from Benue state, Doose Terlemun, and in December last year, she won her fight.

We also had another big event on January 28 at Muson Centre in Lagos state, Terlemun defeated the Togolese champion and people across Africa want me to bring her for another fight, and that is what I am interested in doing, to empower the youths.

Ebere in the middle of young Mixed martial artists
Ebere in the middle of young Mixed martial artists

I also discovered another heavyweight fighter in Lagos in December, Kabiru Adediran who won his fight at Muson centre. Besides that, my promotion uses Martial Arts to reach out and I have given a scholarship to a student, Stanford Ebere, for winning his fight and he is at the University of Port Harcourt. He has fought three fights, three amateur records, two professional wins and one draw.

We also gave a lady, Queen James, the mother of three children who does not have a place to live, hangs around the stadium, and sells Indomie in the evening.

After winning her fight in one of the events we had in Bayelsa state in 2022, we gave her a two-room apartment.

As a PhD holder in Geophysics who works in the oil industry, what is the passion behind taking interest in Mixed Martial Arts?

I was already doing Martial Arts before I went into studying Geophysics and found myself in the oil and gas industry.

Read also: Our goal is to support sports development in Nigeria – MD, BetKing

Your MMA events for young fighters?

I have a calendar filled with events, we have a big MMA fight that is coming up in Abuja on April 29th, featuring fighters from Benin Republic, Gabon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Algeria and Nigeria.

After that, we are looking at hosting a free street fight in the northern part of the country and we are considering Kano state just to make the sports popular and attract sponsors. In areas like Kano, the people like this kind of sport.

We hope to bring back another big fight in Lagos, Port Harcourt, and Asaba. We want to make MMA a popular sport in Nigeria. I have plans to visit major suburbs in Lagos like Mushin, Agege, Okokomaiko, and Ajangbadi and hold big street fights and by doing that, we are discovering new talents.

The way football is popular in Nigeria, I want MMA to be the biggest sport in the next coming years. Then, we will not be talking about Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi, we will be talking about our own local boys and girls and will get paid and gather fans from all over the world for fighting. These will keep our youths away from crime and other social devices, those are the things I am looking at.

How do you intend to keep the talents you have discovered and make them go international?

The MMA promotions are sports entertainment and not about professional fighting and making money and not about attending tournaments. But there is the tournament aspect which is organised by the federation. Apart from the event that we are looking at bringing to Nigeria, other countries in the world will be hosting MMA championships, so the federation will prepare athletes and take them to these championships. Most of the young kids are going to fall on that level.

Normally, you fight as an amateur and after some time, you gather experience and move to the professional level, but MMA means the athletes are making the sport a business.

What are your challenges?

It’s been challenging trying to do this alone because when you start something new, you don’t get sponsorship. It’s a whole lot of capital-intensive programmes. I plan to run an economy of 10 years and it does not mean I must make a profit now. For the event we had at the Muson Centre, we could not sell tickets, we are just trying to create awareness and from that, we hope to get sponsors, and then we make it big like the UFC and other MMA promotions in the world.

But the bottom line is that this is not about me, I am doing this as a business to create employment for the youth. The annual turnover for companies like UFC is about $1bn, am not saying that we are going to make that profit in Nigeria, but we can start from somewhere.