Feature story by Anthony Springer Jr
Inside the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, a little known fighter stepped into the ring at Pride 33: Second Coming. With just three previous fights under his belt, he stepped into the ring against heavy favorite Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.
After a mere 23 seconds of action, Nogueira lay sprawled out on the canvas and the world of MMA had its newest rising star.
On that day, the legend of Sokoudjou was born.
To be more precise, Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou Nkamhoua. The African Assassin followed up the spectacular knock out of Nogueira by proving that lightening strikes twice, putting MMA veteran Ricardo Arona on dream street at Pride 34- Kamikaze.
After two highlight reel KO’s, a nickname befitting his finishing style, it’d be easy to expect that there’d be a Hollywood type back story to why the 24-year-old Cameroonian fighter is solely referred to by his last name—but there’s no such story to be found.
“It’s mainly for the announcers,” he tells this writer. “It’s easier for people to remember Sokoudjou.”
It’d be difficult to forget Sokoudjou after his back-to-back wins, not bad for a guy who discovered his knockout power after beginning formal MMA training.
“I had never hit anybody,” he says about discovering his abilities. “Judo is about throws, so that’s all I did.”
Sokoudjou credits his confidence in the Octagon to his extensive Judo background and while it’s serious business inside the cage, there’s a lighthearted nature to “The African Assassin” outside the realm of combat.
When asked why he began a martial arts career, he coolly replies: “Money, women and fame my friend. That’s all.”
The answer belies the serious with which he called out one of the sport’s best—and most feared—fighters. After a TKO victory at UFC 84: Ill Will, Sokoudjou directly expressed an interest in fighting Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. The intensity of the callout was deceiving, as there is no animosity between the two.
“I just wanted to see how far I’ve come as a fighter,” he says, explaining the motivation behind wanting a fight with Rua. “He’s one of the toughest in MMA. My goal is to be one of them. Fighting “Shogun” would tell me how far I’ve come.”
A quick start in Pride fast tracked the young fighter in the minds of many MMA aficionados, some of Sokoudjou’s lessons have been learned the hard way. In his Octagon debut at UFC 79, he faced unbeaten Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida. After a hard fought bout, Machida scored the victory via arm triangle and Sokoudjou walked away with another blemish on his record and a valuable lesson. “I learned that MMA is all about having fun,” he says of the loss. “It’s about doing what I can do and not what people want me to do. I had a game plan, but listening to other people kind of threw me off. I can only do so much.”
These days, Sokoudjou spends his time training with and cornering fellow Team Quest members with the latter adding a bit more stress than actual combat.
“I get more nervous in the corner than actually fighting. I see so many things that I want the other guy to do and he doesn’t. I’d rather be in the cage fighting than cornering.”
Sokoudjou will get an opportunity to actually fight when he meets Luiz Cane at UFC 89: Bisping vs. Leben this Saturday in England. Sokoudjou is tight lipped about the fight, divulging nothing about his strategy and saying little about his opponent.
“He’s got knockout power so it’ll be an interesting fight,” he says of the contest.
Make no mistake about it, Sokoudjou will arrive in the Octagon fully prepared for Cane—because his livelihood depends on it.
When asked why he wins this fight, his response—like his many others—is fitting of a man finding his way in the sport and still having fun: “I need to get paid and I love fighting.”