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Sodiq Yusuff of Nigeria reacts after the conclusion of his featherweight fight against Alex Caceres during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on March 12, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
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Sodiq Yusuff: An Attitude Of Gratitude

Returning Featherweight Discusses Year Away, First Main Event, And Living The Life His Younger Self Aways Wanted

Some divisions in the UFC feature constant movement and shifts; names rising and falling in the rankings on a seemingly weekly basis as matchups come and go. Each week, someone new enters the Top 15 while someone else loses the number next to their name, the cycle repeating itself week-over-week because every couple of events feature a collection of dynamic, critical matchups in that particular weight class.

Featherweight isn’t one of those divisions, which is something Sodiq Yusuff is selfishly happy for as he readies to return to action this weekend.

Check Out The UFC Fight Night: Yusuff vs Barboza Event Page

“Featherweight is one of those weight classes where a lot of movement doesn’t happen often,” laughed the 30-year-old, who returns to action this weekend opposite veteran striker Edson Barboza. “I hate to celebrate this, but a lot of us in the rankings are always injured or consistently injured; we all just stick around.”

“Super Sodiq” has a point.

The Top 15 in the 145-pound weight class has featured mostly the same names for the last couple years, with Alexander Volkanovski cemented atop the division, and fighters mostly jockeying for position within their individual five-person cohort.

Sodiq Yusuff of Nigeria kicks Alex Caceres in their featherweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on March 12, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Sodiq Yusuff of Nigeria kicks Alex Caceres in their featherweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on March 12, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Matchmaking, injuries, and the level of talent that inhabits the rankings has made it difficult for new names to break through, and when they do, it tends to take a little time for them to matriculate their way through the different tiers within the rankings.

As such, it means that someone like Yusuff, who has been out of action since making quick work of Don Shainis just over a year ago has been able to maintain his place in the Top 15, sitting at No. 11 as he heads into his return assignment on Saturday.

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“I fought Bruce Leeroy (Alex Caceres), which was backwards, Don Shainis, which was super-super-backwards, and now Edson Barboza. It’s one of those things where the division doesn’t move as much as you would like, so that helped out a little bit.”

How Yusuff ended up in his current position actually highlights the reality of what he’s saying, as he only landed in the Octagon with the newcomer Shainis after his highly anticipated clash with fellow ranked featherweight Giga Chikadze was scuttled the week prior to their meeting. That bout was scheduled to take place on September 22 of last year, and Chikadze only made his way back to the Octagon at the tail end of August, defeating Caceres.

Yusuff was hastily booked opposite Shainis a coupe weeks later, tapped the debuting New England native in 30 seconds flat, and then was forced to the sidelines soon after, remaining there for the last year.

Sodiq Yusuff of Nigeria reacts after defeating Alex Caceres in their featherweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on March 12, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Sodiq Yusuff of Nigeria reacts after defeating Alex Caceres in their featherweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on March 12, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

“A week or two weeks after that fight, I herniated two discs in my back and one of them was really bad, the L4/L5, so it was very painful to stand up or walk around,” explained Yusuff, who has gone 13-2 overall in his career, including winning six of seven inside the Octagon. “They told me six months and I tried to speed it up as much as I could, did as much PT as I could, got a couple cortisone injections, but I couldn’t really beat the projections.

“I would get back to training, but every once in a while, I would just feel a pop and my whole back would lock up, so it took a while to get to where I could get through a camp and take a fight.”

FREE FIGHTS: Sodiq Yusuff vs Andre Fili | Edson Barboza vs Shane Burgos

The relatively static nature of the weight class made things a little easier to accept, but more than anything, the DMV resident forced himself to acknowledge that the best thing he could do for himself and his career was simply let go of all expectations and take a bigger picture view of things.

Rather than focusing on being injured and what he was missing, the thoughtful Nigerian-born contender would take stock of where he is, what he had already accomplished, often thinking about how his younger self would be so thrilled to be in his current position, even if he were stuck on the sidelines for the time being.

Sodiq Yusuff of Nigeria punches Gabriel Benitez of Mexico in their featherweight bout during the UFC 241 event at the Honda Center on August 17, 2019 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC)
Sodiq Yusuff of Nigeria punches Gabriel Benitez of Mexico in their featherweight bout during the UFC 241 event at the Honda Center on August 17, 2019 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC)

“It’s one of those things where in my mind, I had to give up trying to have control of too much,” said Yusuff. “It became ‘whatever the situation is, I have to move accordingly,’ because you would drive yourself crazy.

“There are people that are going through a lot worse than I am. I’m still living my dream. I get paid well enough to where I’m able to make it through to the next fight, but it is what it is at this point. I’m one of those guys that is so appreciative of the opportunities the UFC gives me that every time I get to get back in there, no matter how long it’s been, I’m still appreciative of it.

“I always think back to a young Sodiq, when I was a kid, a teenager thinking about what I was going to be and here I am. I always envision me talking to my younger self like, ‘This is what we’re doing; look at who you became,’ so there is always a deep sense of appreciation.”

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This weekend, his focus on getting healthy and having patience with himself pays off as he finally returns to action, headlining Saturday’s event at the UFC APEX opposite Barboza, a divisional stalwart and 13-year UFC veteran who has shared the cage with a laundry list of the top names across two divisions over the course of his career.

Sodiq Yusuff of Nigeria kicks Sheymon Moraes of Brazil in their featherweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Wells Fargo Center on March 30, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC)
Sodiq Yusuff of Nigeria kicks Sheymon Moraes of Brazil in their featherweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at Wells Fargo Center on March 30, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC)

The two men were penciled in to face each other during the pandemic, but Yusuff was forced to withdraw from the bout. Now, they’re standing opposite one another on the poster and primed to do the same inside the Octagon this weekend, and it’s another one of those touchstone points that present day Sodiq would love to go back in time and tell his younger self about if he could.

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“I actually got Edson right at the beginning the pandemic, but I couldn’t go to Fight Island because I didn’t have a passport, so all that excitement came back,” he said when asked about getting the news that he would be facing the Brazilian veteran, who collected a second-round knockout win over Billy Quarantillo last time out.

“Again, it’s back to that Childhood Sodiq: when I was a kid, I used to have dreams of fighting UFC fighters, and it wouldn’t actually be the fight — it’d be me at the hotel, going to do media stuff, fighting Jeremy Stephens or Cub Swanson.

“They say, ‘Your idols become your rivals,’ and when I had my second fight in the UFC, Edson was fighting (Justin) Gaethje. I told him then, ‘I’m such a big fan,’ and now I get to fight him. I wish I had a time machine where I could go show younger me, when I was running on a track by myself, ‘Look at yourself on a poster!’

“That stuff makes me so happy.”

Sodiq Yusuff | On The Hunt For The Top Spot
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Sodiq Yusuff | On The Hunt For The Top Spot
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The happiness is evident in his voice and on his face — an ever-present smile growing wider as he talks about returning to action, facing Barboza, and being positioned in the main event.

But it’s not just because he’s getting to live out his dreams and cross some things off his personal and professional wish list; it’s also because this weekend shows him that the UFC sees in him what he’s always seen in himself, and that means the world to him.

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“Not to be a broken record, but I appreciate the fact that the UFC sees in me what I see in myself,” Yusuff said when asked about headlining for the first time. “Not to toot my own horn, but I’m very good on camera, I’m very good at interviews, I hold myself very well in conversations, and I’m one of those people where I’m not super-problematic.

“And a bonus is that I fight in a very exciting way, so I tick off a lot of boxes for the UFC,” he added, laughing. “Every time they put me on a stage to perform, I’ve never disappointed, so I’m happy that they see in me what I see in myself.”

Main Event Preview | UFC Fight Night: Yusuff vs Barboza
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Unlock MORE of your inner combat sports fan with UFC Fight Pass! Fighting is what we live for. And no one brings you MORE live fights, new shows, and events across multiple combat sports from around the world. With a never-ending supply of fighting in every discipline, there’s always something new to watch. Leave it to the world’s authority in MMA to bring you the Ultimate 24/7 platform for MORE combat sports, UFC Fight Pass!

Unlock MORE of your inner combat sports fan with UFC Fight Pass! Fighting is what we live for. And no one brings you MORE live fights, new shows, and events across multiple combat sports from around the world. With a never-ending supply of fighting in every discipline, there’s always something new to watch. Leave it to the world’s authority in MMA to bring you the Ultimate 24/7 platform for MORE combat sports, UFC Fight Pass!

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Main Event Preview | UFC Fight Night: Yusuff vs Barboza
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After just over a year away, the ever-grateful featherweight will finally get to make the walk from the dressing room to the Octagon, and feel the UFC canvas under his feet again and the familiar emotions and energy that comes with being inside the cage.

And he understandably cannot wait to get in there.

“It’s gonna be insane,” he said, his smile widening even more. “By the time I make the walk to the Octagon, I feel like I’m hypnotized — I feel like I’m a berserker, so I know what that feeling is and I’m ready to feel it again.

“I’m ready to get in there, start swinging, get touched a little bit, and from there, it’s muscle memory and autopilot.”

UFC Fight Night: Yusuff vs Barboza took place live from the UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada on October 14, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!