Kamaru Usman: Defeat spurred me onto title run

By Stephen Kihn

Nigerian Kamaru Usman says he will empty the tank against Tyron Woodley in his bid to become Africa’s first UFC champion.

Usman (14-1) will challenge dominant welterweight champ Woodley (19-3-1) for the strap at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas this weekend.

Cameroon’s Francis Ngannou (13-3) had an opportunity to make history when he fought Stipe Miocic (18-3) for heavyweight honours in January 2018, but lost via unanimous decision.

‘The Predator’, now back in title contention after running through Curtis Blaydes (10-2) and ex-champ Cain Velasquez (14-3), has backed Usman to succeed where he came up short.

Usman knows he faces a steep task in dethroning hard-hitting Woodley, who is making his fifth title defence and is among the best to ever do it at 77kg in the octagon.

“It’s gonna take everything [to win] . . . skills, heart,” said Usman, who was born in Benin City and moved to the US at age eight.

“When everything is settled, I know he’s tough. I have to show him my heart and do whatever it takes.

“To fight me you have to be confident. I know I’m a hard guy to deal with. I’m tough for anybody.”

The 31-year-old has racked up nine straight wins in MMA’s top promotion, with his last defeat coming against Jose Caceres (14-8) six years ago.

The Hard Knocks 365 standout – a powerful wrestler with phenomenal cardio and respectable boxing – insists he has evolved since that first-round submission loss.

“I remember it like it was yesterday,” said Usman.

“I had just got into the sport, I didn’t know much. I was a wrestler and thought I was okay, but I had to learn to grapple and discover the intricacies of jiu-jitsu and kickboxing.

“I took the time to learn everything. I can’t be caught – it will never happen again.”

Usman says it has been many years since he visited Nigeria, but he still feels a strong connection to the country.

“Absolutely,” said Usman. “All of my extended family is there while here in the US I’ve my parents, two brothers and sisters, and two uncles.”

Currently based in Dallas, he concedes that MMA is still gaining awareness in Nigeria and is happy to help “shed a light” on the sport.

“You guys have a star,” he said to his countrymen, hoping they will tune in to watch the biggest test of his seven-year professional career.

‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ will fight America’s Woodley in the co-main event of UFC 235, which also sees Jon Jones (23-1) defend his light heavyweight crown against Anthony Smith (31-13).