UFC light-heavyweight contender Jimi Manuwa sounds like someone with more options than he can count. Someone who is liable to overlook what is front of him. Someone one step away from landing on a banana skin. He also, however, sounds like a man who has thankfully learnt from past mistakes and is now acutely aware of the importance of the present.
This week, while trying to focus his mind on Saturday’s (July 29) opponent Volkan Oezdemir at UFC 214, Manuwa has had to answer all manner of questions, few of which pertain to the Swiss striker looking to cause damage to him in Anaheim, California. They are instead questions about Daniel Cormier or Jon Jones, who meet in Saturday’s main event. They are questions about an imminent title shot and a hypothetical match-up against the winner of Cormier vs. Jones. They are, worst of all, questions about leaving MMA, at least temporarily, and boxing a boxer in a boxing ring.
“Obviously the other fights make more headlines, but the guy I’m fighting this weekend is a dangerous guy,” Manuwa told Fighters Only editor Michael Owens on Thursday. “People are just drawn to the big names and big stories. It’s up to them. Nonetheless, this will be an exciting fight.”
Nobody doubts that. The meeting of Manuwa and Oezdemir is an intriguing one in the UFC’s light-heavyweight division, a match between vicious strikers, both of whom carry not only power but momentum. They are in fine form; they are crushing foes with one punch. It should be dramatic; it should be quick.
“I was excited to get the fight,” added the Londoner. “It’s a good match-up. He’s a good striker and he comes hard and fast. It could steal the show. The other fights I can see going to decisions, but not my fight.
“I see a knockout in round one or two.”
After the fight Manuwa will sit down and, like the rest of us, take a keen interest in the night’s main event between Cormier and Jones. Unlike us, however, he knows there’s a very good chance he’ll be next in line to face the winner.
“It’s been said. It hasn’t been 100% confirmed or anything because anything can happen, but I definitely know a big fight is coming next, whether it’s the winner of DC and Jones or David Haye.”
This, I should warn you, is where it gets weird.
The Cormier vs. Jones winner is a healthy enough distraction. I’ll give you that. It is, in actual fact, the logical progression should Manuwa defeat Oezdemir and make it three wins in a row. A boxing match with David Haye, on the other hand, a well-known veteran boxer from the UK, who was stopped in his last outing, is more than just a left-field option. It’s also one that would seemingly take Manuwa, 37, away from his immediate goal, which is to fight for the UFC light-heavyweight title, and land him in a situation from which the only upside is a payday.
“It would be at the O2 Arena,” Jimi said, seemingly having given it some thought. “There’s no other place that would make sense. We’re both from South London and it’s becoming the home of boxing in the UK. It’s a great arena; one of my favourite arenas.”
We get it. The hybrid ‘superfight’ between Floyd Mayweather, the boxer, and Conor McGregor, the mixed martial artist, will, rightly or wrongly, open the floodgates and lead to more of the same if there’s money to be made and the demand is there. But what makes a potential boxing match between Manuwa and Haye so bewildering is it’s very lack of appeal and demand; nobody, whether a follower of boxing or MMA, appears to have much interest in it, nor cares to see it materialise. This isn’t a superstar vs. superstar scenario like MayMac. Far from it. Which begs the question: why is it being mentioned at a time when Manuwa, in particular, is making healthy progress in his own sport?
“I’m focused on my fight because nothing’s a sure-thing,” said Manuwa, 17-2, readdressing the balance. “I’m just trying to focus on it. I’m not one of these people who look past my opponent. I respect my opponent, he’s a dangerous guy. I need to stay focused, keep my wits about me and get the job done. At this level, as I’ve learnt, one mistake and it could all be over.”
There could be some bizarre decisions to come, but, for now, Jimi Manuwa is making all the right noises.