A Bachelor of Art in human kinetics and ergonomics and psychology helped Awolaja pursue a career in mixed martial arts (MMA).
The road to becoming an MMA fighter requires an athlete to wake up with the correct mindset and Zimbabwean-born Alexander Awolaja has been doing just that since 2010.
The 25-year-old Johannesburg-based athlete began his journey as a karate kid while at school, using the skills he gained in his training over a two-year period as a platform to get into MMA.
In 2013 Awolaja commenced his academic studies at Rhodes University, Grahamstown. He originally wanted to study law but had a change of heart when he decided to align his studies to his sport. Therefore, he took psychology, which included sports psychology, human kinetics and ergonomics as subjects in order to be in line with what could potentially be seen as sports science in his eyes.
With the help of studying psychology, the knowledge gained helped Awolaja with his own mental processes and keeping his focus in place. The subject linked the athlete’s mind to his body with the assistance of ergonomics. Ergonomics helped Awolaja understand how certain tools can be used to correct and strengthen his posture during training in order to be able to achieve a better movement speed in the ring.
Studying human kinetics taught the MMA amateur how humans move by focusing on human anatomy. This has helped Awolaja exploit his opponent’s weaknesses when competing as he is able to predict the movements of his opponent based on body language. “I even know what to look for if I want to break an arm,” he said.
Amy von Witt, 25, Awolaja’s girlfriend, had her eyes wide open when he explained how he could go about breaking an arm. She said that it’s the small things such as Awolaja running up to her to demonstrate the new sequence he had thought of that allows her to see his passion come through on a daily basis. “His passion is completely noticeable and tangible. It’s so cool to see someone who is so motivated as it also motivates me to reach my own goals,” the visual artist and preschool teacher said.
Awolaja’s passion to develop a more in-depth understanding of how the human body works allowed him to understand that in order to be a professional fighter in the future, his mind had to be in focus at all times. The Rhodes graduate said, “It goes beyond the training and surviving the session. Eating healthy to train and fight and being in the right frame of mind to cut weight, diet and succeed is a very important part of the process.”
Richard Quan, 32, has been training the introverted yet friendly athlete in Johannesburg since 2012 and has identified the mind as being a crucial element in the sport. “The mental aspect in this sport plays a valuable role. If the athlete’s mental aspects are not in line with the physical, then they won’t be able to perform to the best of their abilities,” said the coach.
Awolaja is a 70kg lightweight category athlete who knows that every thought, punch, kick and step count when he is in the ring. Standing at 1.8m tall, his mannerisms in the ring are as precise as placing a thread in a needle on the first attempt. He made his first appearance as an amateur fighter on June 30 and won after three rounds and a unanimous decision by the judges. On August 18, his powerful arm and footwork allowed him to knock his opponent to the ground in the first three minutes which resulted in the referee’s decision to end the fight due to the opponent not being able to defend himself.
Even though the results of being in the ring are due to an individual’s performance, Awolaja explained that having a strong support structure is a big part of his success. “People are the center of the world and having the right support structure helps with everything from the mental to the physical,” he said. His support structure is made up of his immediate family, his girlfriend, his coach and the athletes whom he trains with.
MMA professional Luke Michael, who has been training with Awolaja since he moved to Johannesburg last year, explained how Awolaja taught him to mentally get his head in the game and be more involved in the team environment. “I have learned a lot from him, skill wise I do a lot of strikes and stand up drills which are his strength, and that has improved my overall game,” said the 22-year-old.
Awolaja claims that it is all about the standards that you set for yourself and that one can only perform based on how they train. “There is a deep structure embedded in the chaos of the sport,” he said. His passion and dedication to the sport can be seen through his training sessions, how he maintains a healthy lifestyle and in the goals set for himself, both long and short.
Awolaja’s dedication to his sport and his constant mind over matter method has permitted him to be the best version of himself. He is grateful to have studied what he did and for the path that he is on. This is just the beginning and his mind will continue to wonder as his journey to becoming a professional athlete continues.
FEATURED IMAGE: Alexander Awolaja prepares for training.
VIDEO: The training process of Alexander Awolaja.