A week from Saturday, Efe Ajagba will step into the ring at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas and get the crowd ready for the third Tyson Fury-Deontay Wilder bout by facing off with fellow unbeaten Frank Sanchez in the evening’s co-main event.
Next year, he expects to be the one doing the headlining.
“Yes, of course,” Ajagba said. “Next year is gonna amazing for me and, obviously, I have a lot of stuff to do to get ready for next year after this fight.”
The way Ajagba talks about his October 9 clash with Cuba’s Sanchez (18-0, 13 KOs), taking his career to the next level in 2022 is already a done deal. It’s not an arrogant mindset from the 27-year-old Nigerian, just a matter-of-fact confidence that becoming heavyweight champion is written in the stars.
“It's not about this fight,” he said. “It's all about the future and getting ready for bigger fights. I'm already prepared for this fight.”
He’s been ready since July, when he was originally scheduled to meet Sanchez before Fury tested positive for COVID-19, pushing the entire card to next week. That’s the bad news for Ajagba, last seen in April knocking out Brian Howard in three rounds on the Joe Smith-Maxim Vlasov undercard in Tulsa. The good news, he and his fiancée Tiya welcomed their first daughter, Tahari, into the world.
Now dad, also father to a son, Tiyon, has even more reason to get to the place all fighters want to get to. And no, it has little to do with simply fighting. He has loftier goals than that.
“It's not that I just want to fight,” Ajagba said. “Everybody's fighting for the belts, and everybody wants to go to the top. And I went to get there for myself. Nobody's fighting for me; I'm fighting for myself.”
And fight he can, even though he’s only been doing it for a decade. But since lacing up the gloves for the first time, he’s been a quick study in the hardest game, and when you throw in his six-foot-six frame and his thudding one-punch power, it’s no surprise that fans and pundits believe that with a little seasoning and some refining of his raw talent, he will be a major player in the heavyweight division sooner rather than later.
Ajagba is in no rush, though, as he knows that he’s still young for a heavyweight and still learning the finer points of his craft under head coach Kay Koroma. So despite his belief that 2022 will see his career skyrocket, if it doesn’t, he will just keep grinding until he arrives at where he wants to go.
“I'll be patient because I've tried to work on some of my boxing techniques, my training, my jab, and I'm not trying to jump up to go fight the big guys yet,” he said. “I'll take my time to get prepared for bigger fights.”
The fight with Sanchez can be described as big, given the stage it’s on. And though Ajagba has fought on high-profile cards at Barclays Center and the MGM Grand Garden Arena, he knows that it doesn’t get bigger than next week…with an asterisk.
“This is the biggest fight,” he said. “I'm not talking about the opponent; I'm talking about the event. The undercard of Fury and Wilder as the co-main event, that's a big event for me.”
It is, even if Sanchez wasn’t the challenge he was expecting next weekend. That’s a blessing and a curse for Ajagba, who wants to fight killers but also knows that there’s a process to building a heavyweight champion. Luckily, he’s being moved by a promoter in Top Rank that is perhaps the best in the business in building a fighter properly. So Sanchez is no stiff. He’s a legit challenge for a 15-0 (12 KOs) up and comer, who has never fought an opponent with a losing record. Bring that up to Ajagba, and he may not consider that a badge of honor (he should), but he does enjoy taking undefeated records, like he has against Luke Lyons (5-0), Nick Jones (7-0) and Ali Eren Demirezen (11-0).
“Nobody wants to fight me,” he said. “The old management team tried to give me some easy guys, but I told them I don't want easy guys because they may not fight me. That's why I shoot for the guys that haven't lost. And I can't wait to fight these guys in order to push my record up.”
Sanchez hasn’t lost, and if the Cuban can put a mark in Ajagba’s loss column, that’s a career-changer for him. But Ajagba doesn’t even consider such a possibility. And he has no reason to doubt himself at this point. His power is scary, he’s actually gone viral for making an opponent quit as the opening bell rang (Curtis Harper), and while he got dropped and pushed by Iago Kiladze in a wild 2019 bout, he knocked the Georgian out in the fifth round, and has continued to progress, winning his next three bouts in dominant fashion.
In other words, he may very well be right when he talks about 2022 being his year.
“Hopefully, by God's grace, next year I will get a world title,” Ajagba said.