Years after his retirement from competitive football, former Super Eagles goalkeeper Carl Ikeme began a professional career in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
Just before Vincent Enyeama withdrew from the national team, Ikeme replaced him. Throughout his ten games for Nigeria, the former Wolverhampton Wanderers player did a fantastic job between the posts.
His professional life was sadly cut short. Leukemia forced Ikeme to leave the game of professional football at the age of 29.
Ikeme eventually overcame the illness, but he was unable to play football again.
The 36-year-old, though, started to fall for something else. The ex-Wolves player made the decision to learn martial arts.
Ikeme revealed in an interview that he was always interested in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, but he decided to try it out when he saw the advert for a taster session at a petrol station.
“I was just filling up my car at a petrol station near home and saw a sign for Gracie Barra, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu academy in Sutton Coldfield,” Ikeme told Daily Express and Star in the UK.
“I had always wanted to try that discipline, so I signed up for a taster session.
“I was in really good shape at the time, it was around when I had done the 100-mile Velo cycle ride for charity.”
“But I went along to the class, and I remember being absolutely gassed after a three-minute round.
“My legs were cramping, my back was in bits, and I suddenly realized that you don’t really know anything about fighting until you actually do it!”
The hobby has now become a profession for Ikeme, as he since become a British open-age champion.
He also won a bronze medal at the European Championships in Rome last year.
“Competition really wasn’t in my mind at the start,” Ikeme added.
“I just wanted to learn an art, and I found it all a really humbling experience, to be honest.
“And it’s about realizing that nothing else matters when you are on the mat as it’s just two people concentrating on trying to get the better out of each other.”
Carl Onora Ikeme (born 8 June 1986) is a former professional footballer who played as a goalkeeper.
He spent his entire career at Wolverhampton Wanderers, making 207 appearances across all competitions. He was part of their teams that won the Championship in 2009 and League One in 2014, and made one Premier League appearance in 2012.
Throughout his time at Wolves, he was loaned to eight other clubs. Ikeme was born and raised in England but chose to represent Nigeria at the international level, earning ten caps between 2015 and 2016.
In July 2017, Ikeme was diagnosed with acute leukemia. A year later, after being in complete remission, he retired.
Ikeme was born in Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands, and was eligible to represent England or Nigeria at the international level, choosing the latter.
He was first called up to the “Super Eagles” squad in March 2007 by new manager Berti Vogts, who named a 37-man provisional squad for a 2008 Africa Cup of Nations qualification match against Uganda that introduced other foreign-born players such as Gabriel Agbonlahor, Victor Anichebe, and Toto Tamuz.
He made his international debut for Nigeria on 5 September 2015 against Tanzania in a 2017 Africa Cup of Nations qualification game.
Ikeme made three appearances early on in Nigeria’s successful qualification campaign for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, but could not go to the final tournament due to his cancer treatment, which manager Gernot Rohr called his greatest regret.