Jimi Manuwa retires with a special legacy

Jimi Manuwa

Jimi Manuwa entered his UFC Stockholm fight with Aleksandar Rakic with three losses in the rear-view mirror, two of which came by way of knockout. Ahead of this bout, amid growing concerns that his best days had come and gone, he tried to remind fans that it wasn’t all that long ago that he was dishing out violent knockout wins of his own.

“I think MMA fans and the MMA community itself have got a very short memory,” he told MMA Fighting’s Peter Carroll ahead of the fight.

It’s hard to argue with the British striker on that point. As fight fans, we tend to fixate on the things we’ve seen most recently. And for that reason, there’s a good chance many fans will remember Manuwa, who retired after losing to Rakic, as a fighter who absorbed a ton of punishment, and not much else.

Yet there is a lot more to the career of Jimi Manuwa than the tough losses that ended it. Although he never fought for a UFC title, and will likely never be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame, he deserves our respect and remembrance for the simple fact that he was always fun to watch.

Almost every fighter participates in a boring fight here or there. Jimi Manuwa never did.

On the day of his retirement announcement, let’s take a quick trip down memory lane.

Long before his recent losses to Volkan Oezdemir, Jan Blachowicz, Thiago Santos and Rakic, and even before his most recent victories, Manuwa stood out as one of the scariest prospects on the UFC roster.

He entered the promotion in 2012, with an impressive 11-0 record. All of those victories were finishes and none came later than the second round.

He then won his first three bouts in the Octagon, all in truly violent fashion. He wasn’t just finishing his opponents, he was badly injuring them; kicking their legs so hard that their knees imploded; clubbing their faces so ferociously that their bones crumbled and their eyes swelled shut.

Eventually, of course, Manuwa’s undefeated run came to a close. At 14-0, he met his future training partner Alexander Gustafsson, and lost by TKO in a Fight of the Night winning battle.

From there, he settled into a status as a middling contender. He defeated Jan Blachowicz, then lost to Anthony Johnson. He knocked out Ovince Saint Preux and Corey Anderson, getting as close as he ever would to a light heavyweight title shot, then embarked on his career-ending losing streak. He won some, he lost some. Some nights, he left his opponents unmoving and cadaverous under the arena lights. Other nights, he himself needed to be scraped off the canvas. But the result was always entertaining.

Even when it became clear that he was becoming more fragile, Jimi Manuwa never shied away from a brawl. Just look at his penultimate fight, a knockout loss to brick-fisted Brazilian Thiago Santos.

The Brit had been knocked out or rocked in the two bouts that preceded that fight, and still happily engaged the powerful Brazilian in a wild slugfest, all in the name of entertainment.

Entertainment was Manuwa’s Modus Operandi — even if it was at the expense of victory. He always seemed to be more proud of an exciting fight than a triumphant one, so much so that he tended to favor a reckless, brawling style when a more technical, measured approach might have produced better results.

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“What a fight last night,” he wrote proudly in an Instagram post shortly after his 2018 loss to Santos. “I hope everyone enjoyed the war. Big respect goes out to [Thiago Santos]. He did the business. Much love goes out to all my supporters around the world, I have so many messages saying how everyone enjoyed the fight.”

Manuwa’s determination to entertain was undeniably to the detriment of his health — it’s impossible not to worry about the condition of his brain. But from the perspective of a completely selfish fan, there were few things better than a Jimi Manuwa fight. When he walked into the cage, there was a certainty that violence would follow, one way or the other. And now that his fighting days are done, that’s what we should remember him for.

This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 6/4/2019.