If it wasn’t for the absence of a fight, this week would be deemed a typical fight week in the eyes of UFC lightweight contender Jimi Manuwa. It comes with all the hallmarks: the excitement, the anticipation, the drama, the thrill of the chase.
All that’s missing is the fight. The conclusion. The climax. For Manuwa, there will be no pay-off this weekend. No fight. Instead, he will be sat Octagon-side as Daniel Cormier and Anthony ‘Rumble’ Johnson contest the UFC light-heavyweight title and then eyeing a shot at the winner. A fight of a different kind; a fight for what, Manuwa believes, is only right.
“I feel like I’m fighting this weekend,” he told Fighters Only on Thursday. “I’m so tuned in to what’s going on. I’m flying over there to Buffalo tomorrow (Friday) to go and get my belt, to get my title fight. I’m keeping a very close eye on all the interviews they’re doing. I know I’m going to be facing one of these guys.”
Manuwa’s recent form certainly entitles him to some kind of reward. He has, after all, folded Corey Anderson and Ovince Saint Preux in back-to-back fights, grabbing ‘Performance of the Night’ bonuses for each knockout, and simultaneously emerged as one of the can’t-miss fighters in the 205-pound division. He’s racking up wins the right way: quick, conclusively, with drama.
His last outing, the aforementioned victory over Anderson at a sold-out O2 Arena, seemed to capture a fighter at the peak of his powers. Never more confident, Manuwa, 37, is striking with conviction, striking with a belief he is the hardest-hitting light-heavyweight on the planet, and walking and talking like a Londoner about to strike gold.
“It was great,” he said. “I’ve been telling people the London event was like a movie to me. The build-up to it, the main event, my hometown, getting the knockout. I felt like a superstar. It was a great feeling.”
‘The Poster Boy’s insight ahead of Saturday’s UFC 210 main event is valuable for two reasons. It’s valuable because he is in line to face the winner, but it’s important also because Manuwa, in September 2015, spent five minutes and twenty-eight seconds in an Octagon with Anthony Johnson at UFC 191. More than just a challenger keen to face the winner, then, Manuwa is, in actual fact, one of a few light-heavyweights unfortunate enough to have sampled the strength and punch power of the man they call ‘Rumble’.
It’s perhaps why he’s hesitant to back Cormier, the champion, the man who has already controlled and conquered Johnson, to retain his belt on Saturday night.
“I can’t call it,” says Manuwa, 17-2. “It depends what Anthony ‘Rumble’ Johnson turns up. Everyone knows what Cormier is going to do. He’s going to get his hands on him and smother him and punish him, drag him into deep waters. He’s got to get past that initial onslaught.
“’Rumble’ smothered his work in that last fight. Even that punch everyone’s talking about that knocked Cormier down wasn’t as hard a punch as everyone’s making out. He did go flying, but he was kind of off-balance as well. He rushed in and got his back taken.
“If ‘Rumble’ takes his time, he can put him away. Everyone is saying Cormier can take a punch but he hasn’t been hit properly. I question whether his chin is so good. He hasn’t been hit on the button. If anyone gets hit on the button, they’re going to go out. You’re not superhuman. You can’t just walk through punches like that.”
Regardless of who wins, Manuwa won’t be on hand in Buffalo to pick up the pieces of a broken dream. He’s there for one reason and one reason only. He’s heading straight for the champion.