From tacos in Dallas to scales from Target, Kamaru Usman recalls self-doubt on crazy journey to UFC 251
Sure, Usman had already completed a full training camp for that event, which was originally set to see him take on Gilbert Burns on July 20, 2020. But when Burns was ruled out of the matchup after testing positive for COVID-19, Usman packed up and headed for home, sparking a run of circumstances that he admitted left him doubting his decision to compete on “UFC Fight Island.”
“It was challenging because that was the first time that mentally I was being kinda umped around and thrown around, because usually when I come in on fight week, I’m mentally secure and know my routine,” he told MMA Junkie, before recalling a remarkable run of events that left him racing against time to get ready for a huge title defense against a dangerous new opponent.
After grabbing food in Vegas and a flight connection that saw him stop off at Dallas, Usman was just about to dive into a plate of tacos and taste his first beer in eight months when he received the call telling him Masvidal had stepped in.
“I’m twisting the beer open and I get a call – a FaceTime from my manager,” he recalled. “He’s like, ‘Yeah. I think we got a fight for you. … Masvidal agreed to fight you.’ I’m like, ‘No!’ (and) twisted the cap back on the beer. There was a girl sitting next to me. I gave her the beer and pushed the plate of tacos over. I’m like, ‘Yeah. Go ahead and have that.’
“My parents picked me up. Immediately, we went straight to Target, got a scale. (I) stepped on the scale – about 26 pounds over. I was 196.5.”
A quick call to an old coach in the area saw Usman hitting mitts and working off some of the weight before he had to jump back on another flight back to Vegas, where he went straight back into quarantine ahead of his flight to Abu Dhabi, where another quarantine followed.
It meant Usman’s fight week was a rollercoaster ride as he attempted to get back into his usual fight-week zone and ensuring he was on championship weight – all while struggling to deal with both the time change and the noise of race cars blasting past his window – as he prepared for fight night on “Fight Island.” Usman even admitted he started to doubt himself as he questioned his decision to accept the short-notice change.
“Dealing with all of that, not being able to sleep and acclimate … basically I didn’t sleep the four days I was there,” he said. “With all those circumstances going on and continuously hearing, ‘Oh! He’s taking this fight on six days notice!’ this, this and that, at some point, it kinda got to me, mentally.
“I’m like, ‘Whoa! Am I ready for this? Did I make the right decision here? What if he shocks the world? What if he baptizes me? I’m blessed already! Why do I need to be baptized?’ All of these crazy thoughts were going through my mind. But, of course, me being mentally strong I’m like, ‘Get out of here! You know this guy! You can beat this guy half-asleep!’ So at some point, I basically had to collect myself, put all that to the side, go in and take care of business. And hats off to him for stepping up and taking that fight and allowing me to make a living.”
Usman went on to claim the unanimous decision and retain his title with scores of 50-45, 50-45, 49-46, and now he’s set to face his originally scheduled opponent from UFC 251, Burns, when he returns to action at UFC 258, which takes place Saturday, Feb. 13 at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas.
One thing’s for sure, “The Nigerian Nightmare” will be hoping for a much smoother fight week this time around.
The Blue Corner is MMA Junkie’s blog space. We don’t take it overly serious, and neither should you. If you come complaining to us that something you read here is not hard-hitting news, expect to have the previous sentence repeated in ALL CAPS.