You know Kamaru Usman is currently between fights by virtue of the fact he’s eating a steak omelette, mushrooms, peppers and spinach for breakfast. “The good food,” is how he describes it.
Usman, like any fighter, enjoys these moments. Lives for them, in fact. But he’s also just as keen to get back into training and prepare his mind and body for the next fight. It’s that, the promise of a next fight, which truly drives him, motivates him, gives him purpose.
He’s done enough waiting around. He’s hungry for more than just a good breakfast. He wants a challenge. Most of all, he wants to shake the feeling of being the avoided man in the UFC’s welterweight division.
“I’ve quietly been stating I need a big name for a while now,” Usman tells Fighters Only. “For some reason they haven’t offered me those fights yet.
“I need to get to the title. With the title, they (the UFC) have no choice but to promote and push you. That’s what I want. The fastest route to that, I thought, was Rafael dos Anjos. He doesn’t have an opponent, so clearly it makes sense, but he decided it’s a dangerous fight and doesn’t want to take it. He opted out of it.
“They give you that mic (after a fight) and tell you to call someone out in front of the fans. I called him out and the fans went crazy and want to see that fight. But he completely denied the fight.
“I then went for Mike Perry. He ‘liked’ a comment I made on social media but I heard nothing else. After that, Neil Magny came out and said he’d take the fight, but next thing you know he’s booked to fight Carlos Condit. I was like, what do I have to do to get one of these guys to fight me?”
Chances are, if things continue in this vein, Usman could wind up with a title shot on account of Tyron Woodley, the current UFC champion, simply running through the rest of the top contenders and Usman being a fresh face (read: someone he hasn’t already beaten). That’s not the way the Nigerian wants to land his opportunity, but concedes it could be the case if his fellow contenders don’t fix up and fight him.
With six straight UFC wins to his name, including a stunning first-round knockout of Sérgio Moraes in September, there’s little doubt Usman, 11-1, is doing his bit. He’s winning. He’s staking his claim. But he also knows he could be doing so much more – if only given the chance to do so. Give him a chance, he says, and he’ll prove he’s the best 170lb fighter on the planet.
“If you really look at the division, you look at each guy and you can say he’s weak here or he’s weak there,” explains Usman. “With me, you can’t really do that.
“The champ (Woodley) tends to gas out a bit. ‘Wonderboy’ (Stephen Thompson) doesn’t have ground. He’s all striker. (Jorge) Masvidal is all striking. (Demian) Maia doesn’t really have striking. He’s a grappler.
“You look at all those guys and you can pick out a flaw or two. You can’t do that with me. There’s an expression I like to use: classically trained. I’m classically trained. I’ve been with my coach, Henri Hooft, from the start, developing. I learned how to throw an accurate one-two with him and I still use that to this day. I was trained wrestling classically from high-school through to college and to Olympic level. These are all things I believe have created a great set of fundamentals.
“Also, I love to compete. You won’t see me get tired because I want to compete and push you to your limits. You’re going to break first because I’m not going to break. I think guys are starting to look at my film and say, ‘Oh s**t, we can’t deal with this guy. I’m going to try and navigate around him.’”
Still only 29 years of age, Usman has time on his side. It’s why he can afford to remain patient in the face of the cold shoulder. It’s why he’s content to learn and improve while stuck in the waiting room.
By next summer, though, he hopes to finally locate the thing he has long been searching for: a fight against UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley.
“I would be extremely disappointed if that fight doesn’t happen next year. I’m looking at July,” says Usman.
“I’d absolutely beat Tyron Woodley, probably by KO in the third round. I think by the third round he would have had enough. I wouldn’t take my foot off the gas.
“Much respect to the champ, he’s champ for a reason, and he packs a lot of power in his punches, but I just don’t think he’s really been working in those areas like I have. I’ve spent more time in certain areas than he has had to. He hasn’t had to dig deep in a long time. He hasn’t had to rely on grappling. He hasn’t been in fights where you’ve had to go until you can’t go any more. He hasn’t been pushed.
“I think that’s a way I would be able to get at him. That’s what I bring to the table. That’s what I bring to every guy, and that’s why they want to get around me. You fight me and the only thought in your head is, how can I survive? You don’t think about winning, you think about surviving.”
*** For our in-depth Kamaru Usman feature check out the upcoming December issue of Fighters Only ***
*** Picture: Ryan Loco ***