LOS ANGELES — Kamaru Usman thought the hard part was done when his long, arduous climb up the welterweight ranks culminated in his dominant victory over Tyron Woodley to claim the welterweight championship earlier this year at UFC 235.
Turns out that was where the real work started.
First, double hernia surgery kept Usman on the shelf. Then, a much-anticipated bout with former interim champ Colby Covington took much longer to make than expected, as the bout fell through for UFC 244 before being rescheduled for UFC 245.
It’s been an eye-opening experience for the new king.
“I just wanted to fight to get to a title, and I thought once I got to the title, everything else would be easier after that,” Usman told MMA Junkie at Tuesday’s Dominance MMA media day. “That’s actually not the case. A lot of people are misinformed. They think you are the champion, you are picking who your next fights are. That’s not the case at all, you know?
“I’m still just a guy that’s told you’re going to fight this guy at this point,” he continued. “So I’m told ‘you’re going to fight this guy,’ and I’ve always accepted. The only thing that drew this out a little more was that I had a really tough surgery after the fight.”
But now the fight with Covington has been made, headlining a blockbuster three-title fight bill to close the UFC’s 2019 pay-per-view schedule on Dec. 14 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
And it’s likely to become something of a circus, as the bout transcends MMA and represents a flashpoint in the culture wars: Usman, the hard-working immigrant of color from Nigeria, taking on Covington, who’s MAGA-spouting schtick has taken him all the way to the White House for a visit with President Donald Trump.
“Let’s be honest, this thing is big,” Usman said. “It’s really, really big. Not just because it’s a fighter against another fighter, it’s what this whole fight represents. I’m an immigrant, and what this guy is putting on, the persona, what’s really behind it? You can’t just fake something if you don’t actually somewhat believe it, so this is much more than just a fight. It represents a lot of different elements, which is going to bring a lot of different people from all walks.”
When the cage door locks, they’re going to get a show between two fighters who have displayed endless cardio. But while that on paper might seem like a recipe for a 25-minute showdown, Usman says the result of the fight just might surprise.
“If he’s tough enough, it might last 25 minutes like I did to the last guy,” Usman said. “If he’s tough enough. I just don’t think he’s that tough. I just think he plays off fatigue, making a coward of his opponents. How does that work on him? I think it’s going to be quite quick. I think the fight might, they’ll be relieved but at the same time they’re gonna be disappointed if they don’t get enough blood, so we’ll see.”
To hear more from Usman, watch the video above.