Zuffa LLC / Jeff Bottari
When Kamaru Usman entered the Octagon with Colby Covington at UFC 245, he wasn't just fighting to defend his welterweight title – it was personal. Covington has not paused until their fight when it comes to the trash talk for which he is notorious. He shot everything, from Usman's Nigerian heritage to his late manager Glenn Robinson.
Covington, who supports MAGA, vocalized several times, boasted of his support from the Trump family, and asked if Usman had received calls from the "Chief of Nigeria with smoke signals". In response to Usman's claim that he was "more American" than Covington, he said, "What has his family ever done for America other than serving in federal prison?" But the only thing that sneaked under Usman 's skin was when he brought Robinson into their beef and said: "(Usman) ducked me so long that Glenn Robinson died of it because he ducked me so hard and not me fought. ”Robinson died suddenly in September 2018 of a heart attack.
On December 14, 2019, Usman received the final say when he replied with the wiring from Covington's mouth. He defeated Covington by TKO in the fifth round, breaking his jaw. It was poetic justice for Usman, who admits that the insults fueled his fight when he was in the octagon, but otherwise remained largely silent.
When he talks to Usman, it's clear that he's confined to the cage and the gym. In everyday life, the Bruiser, who was born in Nigeria and grew up in Texas, is kind and articulate. He spoke to Muscle & Fitness about his career, preparing for fights, and his surprising career as a backup.
Before this fight, things got pretty personal. Can you talk about it and do you think it fueled your profit?
Things got personal because Colby doesn't have the integrity to preserve what it means to be a mixed martial artist. The principles on which martial arts are built are honor, respect and discipline. And nowadays we have people who focus exclusively on the entertainment aspect of the game and reject all of these principles.
I think he felt so disrespectful that he would be able to rattle and pull me out of character and make me angry enough to fight emotionally. For me it's about competition. I chose it because I had a burning desire to compete and be the best, and these guys don't understand that. So he said everything he said. I just said to myself, "Okay, I'm going to put this on the bench." Similar to when officials read your Miranda rights to you: everything you say can and will be used against you if we are locked up in this octagon.
I am only interested in this competition. People won't hit me in any aspect of this game. When a guy like him has such a loud mouth, it's so much easier for me because you just get all the drive and motivation I need to really punish you. And that's exactly what he did.
Why did you choose mixed martial arts?
I made the decision in my last years as a wrestler at the Olympic training center. I was familiar with mixed martial arts in college early on, but I was still afraid of it. It's pretty controlled in wrestling, so I was initially afraid of not being in a controlled sport. But I knew that I had to leave the Olympic training center after 2012 because I had some injuries and the possibility that the Olympic team slipped.
I was real with myself and thought, "OK, what should I do here? I have to do something else because I still have a burning desire to compete. “I was very interested in boxing, so I decided to start boxing and go through another four-year cycle to try to make the Olympic team ridiculous. When I finally left the training center, I thought, “Will I just give up this skill that I've built over 12 years? Or am I going into a sport where I can still apply wrestling principles and include boxing, which I am getting into? “After that it was a no-brainer. And with people like Rashad Evans calling me and telling me to do it, it was an easy decision for me to get into mixed martial arts.
How do you prepare for fights? Is there anything specific you have done in terms of exercise and nutrition to prepare yourself for your struggle with Covington?
I'm honest, I'm not doing anything crazy. I work the way I work. The only difference this time was that I brought a wrestler with me. I brought my former trading partner who was struggling with Colby Covington while they were in college together, and I also brought former NCAA champion Jason Tsirtsis with me. They gave me the extra boost with my wrestling to keep me sharp and honest.
My diet was similar to Trifecta. I work with Clint (Wattenberg, director of nutrition at the UFC Performance Institute). He made a full assessment of my needs because not the same plan applies to everyone. For someone like me, I am extremely slim and my body needs food that promotes endurance that suits my fighting style.
When you talk about Trifecta, tell me about your relationship with them and what drew you to them.
I've always cooked for myself throughout my career. I like to cook. But the higher your career, the bigger the fight, the more stakes are at stake, and it's more difficult to cook for myself. I was looking for a suitable menu company that could help me but also ensure that I ate high quality food.
I turned to Clint and he told me that there is this great company Trifecta that UFC is starting to work with and that he thinks is good for me. And Clint is someone I trust – he was a top level wrestler in Cornell. So I said, "Let's try it." And I've been with them for my last three fights, which happened to be my three biggest fights. Since I still like to cook, I choose the a la carte option. That means I get all the big, prepared ingredients and can put together my own meals. I can put things over a hot stove to give myself the illusion of cooking it – I still love doing it. But it's so much easier now that the food is already there and available and I no longer have to worry about finding the right macros and going shopping.
If you hadn't come to MMA, what would you do?
I would be a marriage counselor.
"Really?" Marriage counselor?
It's just something that excited me about college. One of my favorite things to do was studying with the family. I loved it so much because you had the opportunity to study the child – the child, the adolescent, and this development for the aging adult. I really started to see the effects of family structure and the impact on everyone and the impact on a child. And it just had to recognize the importance of marriage and family to build a strong foundation.
Throughout my life I have always been the type people come to for advice. I think I'm somewhat of a sensible person for a mistake. Even in my own situations, when I'm the one to blame, I can step back and say, "OK, I was wrong." So I was always the type all of my college roommates came to Get relationship advice. And even my parents complain to me to this day – when mom is tired of father, she wants to call me and talk to me about it, and when dad is tired of mom, he calls me to talk to me about it. That was one of my things. The divorce rate in this country is really scary and I wanted to be part of this solution.
How do you feel now that you've had some time to process this fight?
I am a fairly rational person and this victory, this last fight, was huge for me because I had the weight of the world on my shoulders. Wherever I went, I couldn't go anywhere without people telling me how much they didn't like this guy and they needed me to hurt this guy. And for my previous manager, that was something very personal. Glenn was a guy who basically started my career and helped me get to the point where I made it to the UFC. His death was very heartbreaking.
The fact that my opponent mentioned this and made fun of it only showed how classless he is and how low an individual can be just to talk. It was very personal, and if I didn't do it for anything else, I had to go there and do it for him. I know he's looking down at us and smiling.
Image credits (top to bottom): Ryan Loco; Chris Millington; Zuffa LLC / Chris Unger