Angel in the Octagon
Fighting with a Higher Purpose: the Oluwale Bamgbose Story
The clock read two p.m. and the 20-person mixed martial arts class began to scatter, packing up their equipment in order to make the trip home from Prospect Heights in Brooklyn. Following a Muay Thai boxing class and a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class, a group of six fighters remained for the main event at the Class1 MMA gym; a chance to spar off with the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s Holy War Angel.
Oluwale Bamgbose, a 29-year old, 185 pound middleweight put his explosiveness on display when taking on the very people he called his students the past three hours. In multiple two-minute rounds, he laid out his five competitors with ease, striking them down with a flurry of jabs to the body, hooks to the face and takedowns from below the belt.
Being a competitor in the UFC is a full-time job. It takes a tremendous amount of training in at least one of the mixed martial arts. It generally means being selfish. In the octagon, a combatant has one priority, and that is him or herself. There is no mercy for your opponent’s body because they will not have any mercy for yours. Essentially, the UFC is not a man’s world. It is a warrior’s world. A seemingly unholy world.
Enter Bamgbose. Finding a love for mixed martial arts after taking karate classes as a teenager, the Bronx native began working at McDonalds at age 17 to fund his taekwondo classes. “Taekwondo is a part of me. It will always be a part of me. It was the first real art I was able to commit to.” Even when he began his studies at SUNY Morrisville and SUNY Oneonta, Bamgbose would continue fine-tuning his fighting skills three to four days a week, commuting into the city to pick up his shifts at at Billabong. This is despite the fact MMA was only legalized in New York April of 2016.
Now over four years in the octagon, the five-time Ring of Combat champion has compiled a career record of six to two, beginning his career with five straight wins. In spite of all six victories coming via the knockout, Bamgbose would not consider himself a knockout master but an efficient striker. “I focus on being accurate,” said Bamgbose. “ I know that I am a well rounded MMA fighter right now, because it is not about knocking the guy out. It is about just beating him everywhere.”
He credits his success on his team, including Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black-belt master Luis Azeredo, fellow Jiu Jitsu coach Jorge Luiz and Howard Neagle. Bamgbose first met Azeredo about four to five years ago when the latter had a fight coming up and needed a body to train on. Following several defeats to the Brazilian, Bamgbose knew he had to have Azeredo as a coach. “You need a teacher to help you grow, to guide you in the right direction, and Master Luiz has been that for me.”
Also, Bamgbose has accumulated four black belts over his time fighting MMA. Withi his vast experience in martial arts, he has also turned to teaching without finding trouble transitioning from Ralph Maccio to Mr. Miyagi. This has led to many people attending his classes at Class1 MMA as well as at Life Health &Fitness in Whitestone, Queens. “People flock to you. They wanna know. They wanna train. They wanna grow. They want to embrace what you’ve embraced.”
The 3-year UFC veteran does not buy into the unholiness of the sport. Bamgobose unleashed the “Holy War Angel” nickname from the onset of his career, “The Holy War Angel was a name that God gave me to reflect his love,” said Bamgbos, who began attending church around the same time he took up his Taekwondo classes. Instead of accepting a bachelor’s life that prioritizes drinking and money, the middleweight found salvation from God and training to fight MMA. “I chose my own path. I didn’t follow the ways of the world. I decided to do my own thing and create my, dig my own road, pave my own road with God’s help.”
It does not matter whether he is preaching in a church, teaching his class, at home, or in the octagon. Bamgbose considers himself to be a man of God continually. Before every training session, he says a prayer with his group of students. Bamgbose as the Holy War Angel enters the octagon to “Godly” music in hopes it along with his fighting style speaks a spiritual message to his audience. “Angel is basically a messenger, so me being a messenger of God is fitting, and that is just basically my job. To compete in the most exciting way possible, and to deliver the message that God loves you.”
His first UFC fight was a dream come true. Bamgbose was a last-second, last-round replacement at UFC Fight Night 73. All his faith and preparation finally put him in the position he sought after since he was a teenager in his first karate class. Yet, Bamgbose fell in his first UFC match-up against Jamaican middleweight Uriah Hall in the first round. Instead of rolling over, the Holy War Angel went back to the drawing board reinvigorated, putting an effort on developing his ground game. “That fight just woke me up. It put me in a different estate. Now I know I am in the big leagues. It was one of those wake up calls like ‘Whoa. This is a different label of competition’. Now I am ready. Now I am about to step up to that level of competition that I first faced, and I am ready to dish out punishment and take what is mine.” He came back in his second UFC fight to knock out Daniel Sarafian in the first round.
Back at Class1 MMA, Bamgbose headed to the dressing room behind the metal drawers. It was finally time to go home. Even angels have to rest their wings. Waiting for him at home was his six-year old son Olugo (translated as God’s Power). Known around the gym as the Red Ranger — due to his love for the Power Rangers — Olugo is one of his father’s many students training in MMA, but Bamgbose does not need his son to be a fighter as long as he takes up his other mantle in his future. “He is going to be the next version of Holy War Angel. And hopefully, it is going to be something that he passes on to his kids, and so on and so forth. And if they end up becoming fighters, then great. If they don’t, they have something to keep them in shape. The have self-defense understanding. And, yea man, they’ll be a part of a legacy that I was able to build with God’s help.”
Bamgbose plans to retire from the UFC in the next three to five years to pursue social work endeavors, such as aiding the poor public of Nigeria. Until the moment he switches arenas, he pictures having a UFC championship belt hugging his shoulder.
You can catch the Holy War Angel in his next fight against undefeated Brazilian Paulo Henrique Costa in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, on June 3, 2017.