Sodiq Yusuff discusses emotional debut win after brother's passing

Sodiq Yusuff won his debut UFC fight last Saturday, defeating Suman Moktahrian by first-round TKO. Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

Sodiq Yusuff is used to fighting for his family -- they are the reason he does it -- but this last one was different.

Yusuff (8-1) scored a first-round knockout against Suman Moktahrian in his UFC debut last weekend in Australia. The Nigerian featherweight immediately dedicated the performance to his older brother, Tope, who passed away last month due to typhoid fever.

Yusuff, who lives in Baltimore and trains with coach Llyod Irvin, didn't know his brother had fallen ill or slipped into a coma until after he passed away. His mother hid it from, so it wouldn't affect his fight preparations. He found out a week before leaving for Australia, from another family member.

"To know my mother was trying to go through that on her own, it hit me like a ton of bricks," Yusuff told ESPN. "I started crying, and when she saw that she freaked out and said, 'No, no! Stop! You have to focus!'

"I understand she didn't want put that pressure on me, but this sport don't mean anything, man. I do it to support my family. And when I saw her crying, I turned into a monster. I locked that feeling up and threw it in the back of my mind."

Yusuff was born in Nigeria, in a polygamist community. His father has four wives, and they all lived as one family. Yusuff has four siblings with his birth mother, but says he's one of 16 children in the family.

His mother brought him and his younger brother to the U.S. when he was 9 years old. The rest of his family is still in Nigeria and has never come to the United States. It is difficult for them to obtain visas.

Yusuff and his brother were the lucky ones.

"My mother says one of her biggest regrets in life was only applying for me and my brother to come to the U.S., but she wanted to maximize her shot," Yusuff said. "It was a probability thing, and we were the two youngest at the time."

As one of the lucky siblings who made it to the U.S., Yusuff has always felt a need to send money to Nigeria after each of his fights. He says nearly every cent he has made in his career, which began in 2016, has gone to his brothers and sisters.

"I wasn't making much in my early fights," Yusuff said. "What am I gonna do with $700? I grew up broke anyway. My coach gave me a decent job working at the gym. I'm good, and that money multiplies back home.

"I do feel that's my responsibility because it was only the two of us that got the opportunity to come to this country. Once I saw what my talent level was and what I could do in this sport, I said, 'I could change a lot of people's lives with this.'"

And even though Tope's life was cut short at age 34, Yusuff believes he did make a difference in it. And Tope made a difference in his.

"The part of Nigeria he lived in is not very developed," Yusuff said. "Every time he told people he had a little brother in America, let alone one in professional fighting, they didn't believe him. They thought I was a celebrity when I went to visit.

"I love my country, but there is a lot of shady stuff over there. Sometimes you get an immunization, and you won't even get what you paid for. That's one of the biggest reasons I want to bring my brothers and sisters here, because that would never happen here.

"But honestly, out of all my brothers and sisters, he was the only one who wasn't really pressed to come over here. He'd ask me to send back money, and I would later find out he bought a little house for some pregnant lady and her daughter with it. He was always helping people."