Omaha, Nebraska-based featherweight Emeka Ifekandu finds himself on the books of Legacy Fighting Alliance, a company that plays host to some of the finest prospects in the professional ranks. His pro debut took place eight weeks ago, and he’s already 2-0, both wins coming by way of TKO.
His LFA debut couldn’t have gone much better. 7-fight veteran Devin Turner was fighting in his home town of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and looking to add to a résumé that already included a pair of first round submission wins. Far from bagging a third, however, Turner would find his lights dimmed just 94 seconds into the very first round. Having eaten a couple of strikes early, Ifekandu showed resilience and poise, retaliating with a smart combo that resulted in a scorching right hand that put paid to his opponent’s plans.
Impressed onlookers knew they were witnessing a man of real potential, particularly in the striking stakes – but outside of the cage, Emeka comes across as a humble man, and admits he didn’t always see things panning out this way. In fact, his MMA journey began more out of self-exploration than through any innate sense of competition. Far from feeling a burning desire to test his skills against other martial arts practitioners, Emeka started by looking to resolve a recurring issue he had felt as a young man both growing up in Nigeria, and when he returned to his country of birth, the United States.
Speaking to The MMA Vanguard, Emeka explained: “What attracted me to MMA was a battle I was always having within myself. Every time I would get into a street fight there was this feeling that always came over me, a ‘do or die’ kind of feeling. I wanted it gone,” he says, before adding: “When I saw UFC fights [for the first time] I thought it was close to what a real fight is like. So after years of watching, and finding out that my roommate-slash-brother had been fighting for 2 years, I said ‘Okay, let me try it and see what it’s all about’.”
Even so, Emeka’s future was far from clear. It wasn’t merely doubts that plagued Emeka at the start of his MMA odyssey, he also held reservations about the nature of the sport. “I never liked MMA,” he admits, “but [there was this] was puzzle I couldn’t figure out and I still needed that question about that ‘do or die’ feeling answered, which I guess I don’t actually have anymore, come to think of it,” he laughs. “I never really wanted to hit people for what I call ‘no reason’, but I said ‘Okay, I’ll take one fight and see what happens and go back home’.”
Emeka joined Omaha MMA veteran Tim Bazer’s gym, and was introduced to local fighter TJ Benson and Jeremy Wise. Emeka says they taught him for three months, but didn’t feel he had what it took to fight for a living, particularly given his apparent reluctance to hurt people without any kind of emotional incentive or cause. Still, Emeka would stick to his word, and would fight for the first time as an amateur at an Omaha Fight Club event run by Bazer. “And what do you know,” Emeka tell us, “Turns out I was a striker, won 5 fights by TKO, [but I] still didn’t like it since I thought I didn’t have the skills yet and shouldn’t be winning so easy!”
Far from coming across as boastful, Emeka appears reflective, almost a professional-by-mistake sort, but not one any potential opponent should take lightly. Perhaps it was due to Emeka’s mentality that his amateur record now extends to 13 fights – but by the time Ifekandu was beginning to commit himself to the sport, he had other needs he felt he had to meet. Impressing his coaches, in particular, being a priority.
While they didn’t feel Emeka had what it took early on, Ifekandu himself had his doubts, and held on to some of them. Reminiscing on his pre-professional career, the Danbury, Connecticut-born featherweight felt he could have been in better shape for some of his amateur losses. “My first loss came against Arturo Roman by split decision; I didn’t really know anything then, didn’t know what cardio was, running, lifting, [any of that], all I did in those days was train in grappling that I didn’t understand at all,” he admits, before adding that if there was one loss he would like to avenge across a 9-4 overall record, it would be against a recent UFC capture: “I won’t say any particular opponent was my toughest [in my amateur career] as I was just learning then, but there are couple of them I won’t mind getting at again. Raufeon Stots, who should make his UFC debut anytime now, [for example] because I never really wanted that fight in the first place, and never really fought [the way I wanted to] so I wouldn’t mind actually fighting him again.”
Stots finds himself in rarefied air here. Emeka clarifies: “Those other split [decision]s I lost, I can kill those guys now so I don’t need to try again, but my other loss was to one Eric Ellington, [a guy] who just wrestled. I don’t care about people who wrestle and run away, to me those aren’t fights, so I don’t need to fight him again [either].”
While Emeka knows that striking is not the only facet to MMA, clearly every fight starts on the feet – and with 6 TKO finishes from 9 amateur victories, combined with his perfect 2-0 in the professional ranks, Ifekandu knows how capable he is now that he’s proven a lot not only to himself, but to his former coaches at Bazer’s gym, as well as his coaches at Mick Doyle’s gym. It was after the loss to Roman that Emeka made the decision to switch to Doyle’s gym full time, and it was here he achieved a major step forward. He elaborates: “My biggest achievement as an amateur was getting the nod from my coaches that I was ready to turn pro. I [mean I] could have turned pro anytime, but I really wanted someone to say ‘Yes, Emeka, from your last fight I know its time [to turn pro],’ so winning bantamweight belts meant nothing [next to that].”
That nod came from Doyle himself, as well as coaches Matt Bentley and his boxing coach, the aptly named Rocky! Imbuing Emeka with the kind of focus and dedication he knew he had long been gaining. If the early days were filled with uncertainties and doubts, when it came to the point where Ifekandu was beating guys like Mike Murphy and Mason Teeters in his twelfth and thirteenth fights respectively on cards run by Victory FC and Dynasty Combat Sports, it was clear he was ready. It was a big time in Emeka’s life, but that actual debut fight seemed to take an eternity to come around. For a man that had regularly fought anywhere between three and six times a year, Emeka wasn’t used to the contractual waiting game that comes with being a professional prize fighter.
“I made my pro debut in March  after waiting for an opponent for 8 months, [so I] was happy when [my] second chance came to do it again [just one month later], and seeing my age and how young this game requires us to be I prefer to fight back to back as long as I am winning.”
Emeka’s reference to age (he’s 30) immediately speaks of a real urgency to get things done whenever the opportunity comes calling. He does, however, maintain a sense of self-preservation. “I might take a month break from the fights and not train, just [focus on] my health, but fighting to me is no big deal [now],” he says, before explaining that as a fighter, losses at this stage can cost a fighter so much that he feels he has to be careful about how he goes about taking his next step.
But as Emeka says, that sense of self-preservation is weighted against a need to make statements, quickly. While he may have waited 8 months for his first pro opponent, Emeka actually took that fight on 2 days notice. That’s a trend that a rested Emeka is likely to repeat in the future. “I may come back today or tomorrow since I take short notice fights,” he explains, “but I am for sure fighting in July, August and September both at LFA and VFC [this year]. I gave up everything for the sport, including schooling, [so] I want to get to the biggest stage and earn the biggest pay check [possible], that’s what I want right now, but I bet as soon as I get enough to comfortably live on then it will all be about belts and being the best in the world.”
And frankly, who can argue with that logic? Emeka Ifekandu, The MMA Vanguard looks forward to detailing the rest of your professional MMA career!