Combat sports around the world is catching like wildfire with the UFC being one of them and Nigeria can boast of two champions in the person’s of Israel Adesanya and Kamaru Usman.
While these Nigerians are flying the nation’s flag, another group here in the country are creating ripples that is fast gaining ground with the traditional sport of Dambe and giving it an international flare.
We caught up with Anthony Okeleke, one of the co-founders of Dambe Warriors and he speaks on various issues about the sport and plans to make the sport global.
Enjoy the interview.
Congratulations on the conclusion of Season One. What would you say were the challenges?
I would say that while Season One of the Dambe Warriors League (DWL) was considered a success, we navigated logistical challenges through the brilliance of our teams to take ownership of and solve problems. This was done while ensuring the well-being of the fighters amid the evolving nature of the Dambe culture and combat sports.
Give us an insight into what inspired you and your team to invest in Dambe?
In 2016, my business partner, Chidi Anyina, found his initial inspiration sparked by the profound portrait of Dambe captured by the Nigerian photographer, August Udoh. Together, Chidi and I envisioned an opportunity not only to preserve a traditional martial art but also to promote this cultural gem globally and provide a platform for talented fighters. Prior to this, Chidi was the Head of Content for TRACE Africa, while I was the Global Operations Development Manager for JUMIA. We transitioned from conventional work to embrace the call of Dambe.
With the rave reviews the sport has gained, would you say you are satisfied and have achieved your goals?
With the most extensive and high-quality Dambe catalogue, global media coverage, and our recent warm reception by the Emir of Kano, Ado Bayero, in November marking significant progress, our goals extend beyond. Achieving widespread recognition means inspiring a kid in the favelas of Brazil with the grass-to-grace story of Zazu who fights in the middleweight division.
Securing consistent sponsorships envisions a transition from the 4,000-spectator sand pit arena of Kano to the dazzling lights of a 120,000-capacity stadium in Vegas. Enhancing the overall experience for Dambe Warriors League fighters aspiring to the Olympics, while fans watch from their television and mobile devices in Antarctica, remains an ongoing objective.
Financing is a major ingredient in advancing any sport, for Dambe how has it been with sponsors?
In 2023, our foreign partners, Hugh Guill and Kingsley Pungong the co-founders of African Fighters League through their strategic acquisition of Dambe Warriors expanded on their mission to unite Africa through its warriors, honour, and traditions.
This week, a strategic partnership has been forged with MTN to expand the reach of Dambe Warriors League by providing unique fan engagement opportunities in time for the start of Season 02, which begins on December 24th, 2023 in Lagos. By tapping into the 77 million MTN subscriber base, we have made Dambe accessible with content options at affordable prices on the Dambe Warriors app, which is available on both the Apple and Play store.
Securing sponsorships has been integral to the growth of Dambe. Our Season Two sponsors include Bet9ja, Hero Hunter Motorbike, Indomie, Hypo, Colgate, and Power Oil. Additionally, from the Mamuda group, we welcome Pop-Cola and Infinite Power Energy Drink. We remain committed to exploring innovative ways to attract sponsors and financial support.
Season Two is upon us, what will be different from the first season?
Season Two will feature enhanced production quality of events across five cities which includes Lagos, Minna, Abuja, Kano and Kaduna. A more standardized weight classification of fighters across the lightweight, middleweight and heavyweight categories. An expanded fighter talent in the Promotional Fight 02, and increased fan engagement initiatives both in the arena and on all media platforms. We aim to build on the success of the first season, offering a more entertaining and captivating experience.
In terms of insurance and medical care, to what tune are the Warriors going to benefit?
We are prioritizing the health and well-being of our fighters. In Season Two, AIICO Insurance will continue to provide improved insurance coverage and medical care for our fighters, ensuring their safety during matches and for the duration of the season.
In most combat sports, the athletes are not allowed to wear rings, ornaments but Dambe Warriors do, how would you tackle this given that the sport is gaining international grounds?
In embracing cultural authenticity, Dambe allows fighters to wear traditional rings and ornaments. However, the use of sharp or hard objects is strictly prohibited in adherence to the safety guidelines of the Dambe Warriors League; while, we celebrate certain unique cultural aspects that set Dambe apart in the international sports arena.
In Season One, there was a Saudi who fought twice, are we expecting more foreigners?
Building on the success of Season One, where Hussain Al-Muntairi from Saudi Arabia competed twice in Kano, we anticipate increased international participation in subsequent seasons owing to the growing number of requests from fighters from diverse backgrounds, further contributing to the global appeal of Dambe.
What about security for the Warriors and fans?
Ensuring the safety of both Warriors and fans is paramount. When you watch our events you can easily spot our security personnel on ground. We’ve implemented stringent security measures and collaborate with local and state authorities to provide a secure environment for all Dambe events.
Will there be an in increase in Warriors fight purse and ultimately the star prize?
Marking a significant milestone, our fighters receive a salary, an appearance fee for Circuit events, and bonuses for qualifying for the SuperFight finals. Similar to Season One, three winners across the three weight categories will each receive the star prize of 1 million Naira. And with the expansion of Promotional Fight 02, two winners in each of the three weight categories will receive a cash prize of N500,000 each and secure a contract to replace the eliminated fighters in Season 03. As our partnerships continue to grow, the fight purse will increase, underscoring our commitment to rewarding and motivating the fighters who make Dambe Warriors so compelling.
Is there anything being done to get international recognition for Dambe?
It is noteworthy that Dambe Warriors League has rapidly emerged as a standout in the world of combat sports and drawing substantial attention from the diaspora. Over 55% of our viewership success has resonated strongly with audiences in the USA, Europe and Asia, and we have witnessed a significant increase in our own event attendance, showcasing the effectiveness of our diverse team’s dedication to curating world-class sporting events.
Active steps are being taken to promote Dambe on the international stage. We’re engaging with global sports networks, exploring partnerships, and participating in events to raise awareness and secure international recognition for Dambe.
Finally, what should fans expect in terms of getting other fighters across West Africa join?
While DWL remains committed to the development of our grassroots base, our fans and stakeholders can anticipate an inclusive approach to encouraging fighters from Africa and around the world to join the Dambe Warriors League. Initiatives will be rolled out to identify and nurture talents from diverse regions, fostering a more dynamic league.