Senegal's Oumar Kane—better known by the nickname "Reug Reug"—could be the next big thing in mixed martial arts.
The 29-year-old heavyweight will look to take another big step toward that end in the opening bout of Wednesday's ONE on TNT 1 card, when he takes on Iran's Mehdi Barghi. It's unquestionably the biggest fight of his combat sports career thus far—but certainly not the first challenge he's faced.
Reug Reug was born in Thiaroye-sur-Mer—a suburb of Dakar that subsists primarily on the fishing industry. While many of his neighbors made their livings off the postcard-worthy Senegalese coast, he chose a different path.
At 16, he began practicing "mbapatte"—a grappling-based martial art created by Senegal's Seereer people hundreds of years ago. He quickly parlayed those skills into a career in "lutte avec frappe," a form of wrestling that allows punches—and Senegal's national sport.
"In Senegalese wrestling, I had about 15 fights, and I won them all," Reug Reug told Bleacher Report, speaking in Wolof through his manager and translator, Laity Sene o Mbellonguithie.
Despite his success as a wrestler, Reug Reug gradually began to feel the pull of another sport: mixed martial arts. While an MMA career presented opportunities for bigger paydays, he says his main motivation to switch sports was a simple love for combat.
"I'm somebody who loves combat sports, so I decided to shift from Senegalese wrestling to MMA," he said.
Once he'd committed to moving to MMA, Reug Reug got to work learning the unfamiliar components of the sport—submissions, kicks, knees, et cetera. He admits it was a challenging transition.
"There's a lot of differences between MMA and Senegalese wrestling," he explained. "In Senegalese wrestling, once your opponent is on the sand, it's the end of the fight. Here in MMA, it's totally different. You continue punching, going for the submission or the TKO."
Before long, Reug Reug was scheduled for his professional MMA debut. That debut occurred under the Ares FC banner, in the Senegalese capital of Dakar, where he took on the significantly more experienced Sofiane Boukichou.
Despite his experience deficit, Reug Reug made his debut look easy, reducing his foe to ruin inside two minutes.
"I'm extremely happy with my pro MMA debut in Senegal," he recounted. "We worked very hard to win that fight.
"I was happy to fight in my home country. I didn't feel any pressure, even though it was in my country. I was already used to representing the country [as a wrestler]."
Reug Reug's pro debut was impressive enough that it resulted in a life-altering phone call from Singaporean martial arts promotion ONE Championship. There was little hesitation on his part: He signed on the dotted line, joining one of the biggest promotions in combat sports.
"I was very glad and extremely happy to sign with ONE Championship," he said. "It's a great organization. I'm always thanking them for giving me the opportunity to fight for them."
Reug Reug made his debut with ONE Championship in late January. He was welcomed to the promotion by Hong Kong-based Cameroonian Alain Ngalani, a former muay thai champion with plenty of experience in MMA.
The first minutes of that fight were tense, as the two giants circled one another, attempting to establish their distance and timing. As the round neared its conclusion, however, Reug Reug exploded into action, bulldozing his foe to the ground, and finishing him off with a meteor shower of ground strikes. At the four-minute, 32-second mark, the referee decided he'd seen enough.
That victory over Ngalani set Reug Reug up for an even bigger spot—his imminent showdown with Barghi. It's not an opportunity he's taking lightly.
"Training is my job," he said. "Every day I'm training.
"I'm praying for God to give Mehdi Barghi health until the day of the fight," he added. "Then everyone will see how hard I've been working."
The expectation is that if Reug Reug wins his fight with Barghi—particularly on a platform like TNT—he'll take another step toward MMA superstardom. In fact, comparisons to Nigeria's Israel Adesanya and Kamaru Usman, and Cameroon's Francis Ngannou—all UFC champions—already feel inevitable.
Reug Reug admits he draws inspiration from those men, but it's not his intention to follow in their footsteps. Instead, he intends to surpass them altogether.
"I like them," he said. "I like how they fight, and all the effort they're putting into the sport, but I want to do more. I want to do more than they're doing. I'm good at wrestling—everybody knows that. I want to become as good at MMA as I am at wrestling.
"I will be the ONE heavyweight world champion, and I'll keep the title for more than 10 years. Nobody will beat me."
Those are lofty aspirations from a fighter who's still just 2-0 in MMA, but a big win on TNT will go a long way to proving they're achievable.
That's precisely his objective.
"The day of the fight, everything that Mehdi comes with, I'll beat," he said. "I'll get the finish, and it won't take a long time."