“He’s grown into that” is a tremendous choice of words from Saud, as a quick scroll through Nzechukwu’s Instagram feed shows that he’s physically matured a great deal in his time away as well.
Still rocking the chin-strap beard and short Afro he sported during his twin Contender Series appearances and first two forays into the Octagon, the 28-year-old, who was born in Imo State, Nigeria, has filled out his six-foot-five-inch frame, adding a considerable amount of muscle to transform from a long, wiry young man into a powerful, imposing looking man.
“I’ve focused more on my size,” he said, laughing when I reference a picture of him and Mohammed Usman, the older brother of current UFC welterweight titleholder Kamaru Usman, a gigantic human being that doesn’t look as uncommonly large when stationed next to Nzechukwu. “I know I have conditioning, but the size was a big thing to add, so I added more muscle, trained harder, and I feel great.
“I’ve been working on my skills too to add upon my size so that I can make it all work in there in the Octagon,” he added. “And I’ve got to work on my mindset and get myself focused and tuned in.”
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That, more than anything, is the key for Nzechukwu and everyone else as far as Saud is concerned.
“When you get in there, it’s 90 percent your mind,” began the highly respected coach. “Everybody is in shape, everybody is trained, everybody has worked hard, and all around the world there are a lot of good teams, but it’s about getting your mind right and being ready to step up in those moments and make the right decisions.
“He’s fought well — he’s 1-1 and Paul Craig is a ranked guy now — but he hasn’t had smooth fights,” added Saud. “I think he has so much pressure on him and now that 18 months have passed, he’s in a spot mentally where he can…”
Saud pauses, trying to find the words to express what he truly feels about the returning light heavyweight.
“If Kennedy gets going, he’s got an 83-inch reach, he doesn’t get tired, he’s got a great chin, and he’s got tons of power,” he said in the tone people use when they feel no one is going to believe what they’re saying, even though they know what they’re saying is absolutely true. “If you saw him in the gym, your mouth would drop.