Africans to note on UFC's 2018 calendar

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Africans enjoyed a banner year in combat sports in 2017, but the coming months are shaping up to be even bigger for the continent's fighters across the various organizations.

The UFC has released its events schedule for the first quarter of the year, so KweséESPN looks at the top African fighters on the cards over the next few months.

Francis Ngannou - Heavyweight (Cameroon)

As a reward for his first round knockout of Alistair Overeem at UFC 218 in December (ESPN's Knockout of the year), the UFC granted Francis 'The Predator' Ngannou a championship fight against current heavyweight belt holder, Stipe Miocic.

The Cameroonian will face off against 35-year-old Miocic at UFC 220 on January 20th from the TD Garden in Boston. Ngannou (11-1) has been itching for a championship fight over the past year and finally gets his opportunity.

Miocic is 17-2-1 and has defended the belt successfully in his two fights since winning the belt in May 2016. He will undoubtedly be Ngannou's toughest fight and greatest test since the Predator joined the UFC, but Ngannou would have it no other way.

Victory will be as sweet as can be for the man from Batié, as well as his fellow African MMA practitioners and fans, if his hands are raised at the end of the fight and he becomes the first African champion in the UFC.

Kamaru Usman - Welterweight (Nigeria)

The Nigerian Nightmare returns to the Octagon this Saturday as he takes on Norwegian Emil Weber Meek.

The 11-1 Welterweight from Nigeria and the 9-2-1 Norwegian were originally supposed to tangle at UFC 218 last December, but the fight wasmoved to UFC Fight Night in St.Louis, Missouri.

Usman is coming off a knockout win over Brazilian Sergio Moraes last September at UFC Fight Night in Pittsburgh. If he is to get back into the top 10 of the UFC welterweight division and secure top opponents, a comprehensive victory over his Scandinavian opponent will go a long way towards impressing UFC boss Dana White.

Abdul Razak Alhassan - Welterweight (Ghana)

The 32-year-old Ghanaian will be fighting Sabah Homasi in a rematch of their fight from a month ago. In December, Alhassan defeated Homasi in a controversial early stoppage by TKO due to punches.

At UFC 220 in Boston, "Judo Thunder" Alhassan will square up with Homasi again. Alhassan is 8-1 and trying to start another winning streak after losing to Omari Akhmedov via split decision last May.

Israel Adesanya -Middleweight (New Zealand-Nigerian)

Lagos-born middleweight Israel Adesanya will be fighting at UFC 221 Whittaker vs Rockhold from Perth Arena in Australia on February 11th.

After moving to New Zealand at the age of 12, Adesanya trained in Kickboxing and Muay Thai from his new homebase in Auckland. The 28-year-old has racked up an 11-0 record which he will put on the line against 11-1 Rob Wilkinson from Australia.

Jimi Manuwa - Light Heavyweight (British-Nigerian)

In another rematch, Jimi "The Poster Boy" Manuwa is set to take on Jan Blachowicz at UFC Fight Night 127 on March 17 at the O2 Arena in London. Manuwa (17-3) took on Blachowicz in 2015 and defeated the Polish light heavyweight via decision on the night.

Manuwa's last fight was a loss to Swiss fighter Volkan Oezdemir in California last July. Oezdemir will be fighting current light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier at UFC 220, while Manuwa will be hoping victory over Blachowicz will position him for a championship fight against the winner of Oezdemir vs Cormier.