Kamaru Usman is fighting for legacy at UFC 286 — and, yes, a title belt too

Trevor Wittman had one question for former world No. 1 Kamaru Usman after Usman’s KO loss to Leon Edwards last August at UFC 278: Why did he turn off the gas in the last round?

Seven months ago, Usman (20-2) was on the verge of breaking Anderson Silva’s UFC record of 16 straight wins when Edwards (20-3) landed a beautiful last-minute header. The strike will forever be remembered as one of the greatest comebacks in UFC history and set the stage for an immediate title rematch at UFC 286 this weekend in Edwards’ backyard in London.

Wittmann, who has been Ousman’s head coach for the past two years, did not necessarily anticipate the impact was coming, but he did notice that Ousman unexpectedly gave his opponent space. Edwards was clearly on the losing side and seemed to have come to terms with the loss by decision. The UFC commentary team saw it. Edwards’ own corner saw it. Wittmann saw this too, but still considered Edwards a threat. After all, it is a struggle and there is always a threat. And at this point, Usman was giving this threat more space than the game plan allowed.

“I thought, ‘What is he doing? Is he tired? Does height affect it?” Wittman told Sportzshala. “I should have asked him [at some point after the fight]but I wanted to give him some time before I did it.”

As it turned out, Wittmann didn’t have to ask. After the defeat in Salt Lake City, they drove back to Wittman’s home in Denver together. In the middle of an eight-hour trip, Usman did not provoke him.

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“He said, ‘I wanted the knockout,'” Wittman said. “Once you have a one-punch knockout like Kamaru on Jorge Masvidal, you become addicted to him. He stopped fighting and started looking for ways to get the knockout, and that’s not him.”

As we begin the Saturday trilogy, it’s impossible to overestimate what’s at stake for Usman. Remember Usman was 56 seconds from setting perhaps the greatest record in UFC history. He was widely regarded as the #1 fighter in the world. It would be his sixth UFC welterweight title defense and he would likely move up in weight to challenge for second belt this year. Perhaps he would have moved up two weight classes.

Now, nearly eight years after defeating Edwards the first time they met, he’s facing a scenario in which he could lose to the same man in back-to-back fights – a blow that threatens his grip as even the greatest welterweight. his era. It’s a huge legacy difference made possible by a single mistake.

“I love how quickly things can change in this sport when I look it,” Usman joked in an interview with Sportzshala. “But I don’t like it when I participate in it.”

Despite what’s at stake, Usman says he’s under less pressure ahead of this fight than before, now that the weight of the title and historic winning streak is gone. But there are small hints of a potentially different approach. First, the usually very media-friendly Usman told his manager, Ali Abdelaziz, to decline virtually all interview requests during his camp.

“When you’re on the rise, your only job is going to the gym, and that’s when you catch up, you pick up the pace,” Usman said. “When you’re a champion, you have to do this and this and that and it’s just a lot of noise. Obviously, the defeat silenced a lot of things, and I decided to keep that silence while preparing.”

Being a champion comes with additional responsibilities. Usman went even further and invested in his brand on the big screen with a role in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. He had sponsors, and he rose above the octagon.

“There was a moment when I thought, ‘Dude, I just want this noise to stop,'” Usman said Wednesday on the DC & RC show. “It gave me the opportunity to feel it again. Gave me the ability to block out the noise when it was just me and my daughter driving to and from the gym. Or I just drove and came back. I got that opportunity again. I feel like I’ve recovered and I’m ready to go out there and put on a show.”

According to Wittmann, Usman also studied film much more. And although he had mostly studied opponents before, he paid more attention to observing himself. What are his inclinations? What is the other side trying to use? What possibilities does he allow for something like this headbutt to happen?

“I can’t say that what Leon did was an accident,” Usman said. “I’m sure he’s trained this technique before. I gave him the opportunity, and that’s what “luck” is, right? When preparation meets opportunity.

At UFC 286, Usman is ready not to offer Edwards any opportunity. He called the fight a “business trip” to London. A necessary deal that will not erase the past, but will greatly affect how that past is remembered.

Perfection will never return to Usman, who was undefeated in the UFC until August. He will never again be in the same class as Jon Jones, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Floyd Mayweather – essentially perfect combat athletes. Does it offend him or does he like the story better?

“That’s a great question,” Usman said. “I thought about this in my head many times during UFC 278. Of course, being perfect is great, but few people can understand it. When I first got into MMA, I watched the Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard rivalry and thought, “Dude, I’d love to be a part of this.” What I didn’t take into account is that in order to have a rivalry or a trilogy, you have to lose. And behold, now I am in a position to do so.”


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