Jimi Manuwa wasn’t in a boxing gym when he first learned of his natural born ability to throw punches harder than the average human being.
He was at a London fairground, in front of an electronic punching bag game.
“We used to go to the fairground [funfair], and there’s that punchable thing that measures your power,” Manuwa told ESPN.com. “It was from one of those that I knew I could punch. My friends would come around, and we’d have competitions.
“I broke my hand on them. A couple times.”
Manuwa, 34, is an undefeated UFC light heavyweight with serious marketability -- but he’s only been training in mixed martial arts since 2008. He’s 3-0 in the UFC but hasn’t faced anyone in the upper echelon of his division.
On paper, Manuwa (14-0) should not defeat Alexander Gustafsson this weekend at UFC Fight Night 37 in London. It’s not a knock on Manuwa, who is headlining his first UFC event -- it’s just a fair assessment of the fight.
In interviews, current UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones has called this weekend an “easy path” back to a title shot for Gustafsson. Jones defeated the Swede via unanimous decision in a close fight at UFC 165 in September.
The thing Manuwa has going for him, though -- and everyone seems willing to agree on this -- is that he possesses devastating, can’t-be-taught, either-you-have-it-or-you-don’t knockout power.
It’s “God-given,” as Manuwa puts it. When asked if a specific moment stands out when he really knew he had shook someone, Manuwa replied, “I have 14 stoppages. There are a lot of those moments.”
Manuwa has put together one of the most peculiar runs in UFC history. He’s finished three consecutive fights -- all of which were accompanied by unusual circumstances.
His UFC debut in September 2012 ended after the second round when a ringside doctor declared Kyle Kingsbury could no longer see out of a battered left eye. In February 2013, Manuwa earned a TKO when Cyrille Diabate didn’t answer the bell for the second round due to an Achilles injury.
And in his most recent appearance at UFC Fight Night 30 in October, Manuwa kept the weird streak alive when he defeated Ryan Jimmo -- after Jimmo suffered an awkward-looking leg injury in the second round.
Manuwa says you’d have to ask his opponents why they keep “quitting” on him during fights, but he guesses it has something to do with the pressure he applies.
“It’s a bit less satisfying when that happens, but I’ll take the win,” Manuwa said. “They all probably know deep down in their heads they lost those fights.”
It is unlikely Gustafsson (15-2) will fall apart on Manuwa. The 27-year-old is built as durable as they come, but of course even he is susceptible to a big hit.
Gustafsson believes he beat Jones when the two fought for the title in Toronto, but he admits the entire complexion of that bout changed when Jones landed a spinning back elbow with less than one minute remaining in the fourth round.
It took him the entire fifth to recover from the shot.
“It was the elbow that changed that fight,” Gustafsson said. “The whole fifth round I was trying to recover from that elbow. I saw three of him out there and I couldn’t attack. I was just defending and trying to recover.
“When I finally did recover, the fight was over.”
The fact that Jones, perhaps the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, hurt Gustafsson once doesn’t mean Manuwa will do it on Saturday at the O2 Arena. Oddsmakers have booked Gustafsson at a near 4-to-1 favorite.
Manuwa doesn’t mind the odds. In fact, he says plenty of friends and family have taken advantage of them and will cash in should he earn win No. 15.
“My technique has come along by leaps and bounds,” Manuwa said. “I throw some of the hardest kicks now; those are some of my main weapons. My punches are harder and faster. I’m just a wrecking machine at the moment.”