Impa Kasanganay refused to be defined by a disappointing UFC run.
In 2020, Kasanganay signed with the promotion from Dana White’s Contender Series with a 7-0 record following his second appearance on the show. Then 27, he was viewed as a promising prospect, and he defeated Maki Pitolo in his UFC debut.
Kasanganay’s second UFC fight proved to be memorable, but for all the wrong reasons. Joaquin Buckley caught him with one of the most unbelievable kick knockouts in MMA history, a highlight that was replayed countless times. Two fights later, he was out of the UFC.
Fast forward to today: Kasanganay is the PFL’s light heavyweight champion and $1 million dollars richer after winning a 2023 league tournament. On The MMA Hour, he revealed that six months ago, he was living in his car and explained how that situation came to be.
“I got distracted with life,” he said. “I was in the UFC, thought I was going to be there for a while, three months later I get cut after the last fight. I started working this executive protection job, and it was solid, I understand they’re running a company, but at first they said, ‘You could fight.’ That was the deal. Then they go, ‘You have to pick between us and fighting,’ essentially, and I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to choose what God’s called me to be.’
“MMA is my ministry. I love what I get to do, and it came down to me saying I’m going to trust God’s plan for my life. I really didn’t have any more money. I spent everything moving to Florida. Got a cool apartment, thought I was going to be in the UFC for the long haul. It wasn’t in God’s plan.
“I’m so grateful the UFC cut me. It became a blessing. Look where we are today.”
In the UFC, Kasanganay failed to find his footing after the loss to Buckley. A drop down to welterweight resulted in a win, a loss, and a parting of ways with the promotion, which was then followed by a forgettable split decision loss to Raimond Magomedaliev at an Eagle FC event.
Kasanganay got back on track with a win over Jared Gooden and then received the call to compete on the PFL’s Challenger Series. A knockout of Osama Elseady earned him a spot in the league’s upcoming light heavyweight tournament, and four wins later, he was a champion and millionaire.
Considering where he was 12 months ago, the turnaround can only be described as surreal.
“This time last year I was living on the farm, I had just got done living out of my car and my teammate’s couch,” Kasanganay said. “I was in my car for about six months, I was on my teammate’s couch for about a month, and then I moved to a farm in Doral, pretty much going into the Everglades. They had pythons, they came on the property. They had chicken, cows, cattle, sheep, and peacocks that ran around everywhere for some reason.
“I was living on farm in a yurt in the forest. I had a trailer, but I wanted to live off the grid, keep things simple. … I did that for almost a whole year, signed with PFL, and have a house now on Delray Beach, but I started my year out on the farm.”
Kasanganay never let his spirits sink too low, even as he made the decision to keep professional struggles separate from personal ones. The son of Congolese immigrants, he had a relentless work ethic and a strong sense of accountability drilled into him at a young age.
When he found himself living out of a car, he not only made the most of the situation, he even found himself relishing it.
“When I got to that car, it was the only place I could be peaceful, in that front seat,” Kasanganay said. “I would Instacart stuff to the gym, eat, but it was probably one of the best times in my life, too. I’d wake up at 5:30, get into the gym by 6 a.m., I was in the parking lot, so nobody could see me. Hop in the shower, brush my teeth, and I would start [figuring out] how can I reorganize myself. I started working in accounting again, but I made sure I never missed training, and get to stand before you as a champion, I never lost sight of the goal.
“It was just being patient. Being patient and getting reorganized. That’s what got me there, a lack of organization, a lack of patience, and now I’m at one of the better points of my life.”
Kasanganay was reluctant to ask friends, family and Kill Cliff FC teammates for help, knowing they would jump at the opportunity to do so. He eventually stayed with a teammate, but he refused the offer of a bed in favor of sleeping on the couch.
Were it not for his struggles, Kasanganay doubts he’d have found success.
“It was due to that time and those people in my life,” he said. “If I got a handout early on, I don’t think I’d ever be where I am today. So that was it, that couch I used the recliner, and I was pretty good. I could make it to practice, and that’s all I needed.”
Kasanganay estimates that during his vagabond days, he was living off of a couple of thousand dollars in his bank account at the best of times, and he occasionally dipped into the negative. Through it all, he continued going to the gym and worked odd jobs with the understanding that the lion’s share of any money he earned during that time was earmarked for training.
At no point did Kasanganay consider quitting. It’s a mentality he attributes to a mother, father and sister, who showed him what it means work hard.
“I owe it to them,” he said. “I owe it to the kids back in Congo, kids here in the United States, around the world, I can’t go quit. For what? Because my situation’s hard? I live in a First World country, I’m blessed, I’m grateful, there’s stuff going on, wars, kids getting killed, persecution, and I’m going to sit here and be, like, ‘Yeah, because fighting is hard.’
“I chose to fight. I could go and be a CPA, live a comfortable life, no, when God calls you to do something you stick with it, no matter how you feel.”