LONDON – For the first time in four years, Kamaru Usman will enter a fight not as the UFC welterweight champion but as the challenger. Still, he spoke as though the belt still belongs to him during Wednesday’s UFC 286 media day.
Can you blame him?
Rest assured that Leon Edwards is the rightful 170-pound champ heading into Saturday’s trilogy bout at The O2 after he knocked out Usman in their rematch last August at UFC 278. But consider the circumstances: Usman (20-2 MMA, 15-1 UFC) was up on all three judges’ scorecards and cruising to his seventh consecutive title defense until – wham! – Edwards (20-3 MMA, 12-2 UFC) landed a miracle head kick for the Knockout of the Year late in the fifth round.
While some folks might still consider Usman the champ given the way he lost, he wasn’t willing to go there – at least not entirely.
“I can’t say that,” Usman told MMA Junkie and other reporters at UFC 286 media day. “He has the belt, so by definition he’s called the champion. He’s the champion. I don’t know. That’s for (people) to decide. I don’t know how people view him. But between him and I, we know. We know. I can’t really speak for everybody else, but he is the champion, because he has that belt. But Saturday I’m going to take that off of him. That’s truly my focus. I mean, he landed a beautiful kick. It was beautiful. …
“It was a beautiful technique, great win from him, but it’s time for me to go in there and get violent.”
One of the intriguing factors heading into the trilogy is what adjustments should be made by each man. Yes, Edwards got the victory, but he was dominated for the vast majority of the fight thanks to Usman’s grappling and relentless pressure.
As for Usman, what is there to change when he handled business up until one slip-up in the final minute of the fight?
“Well, for one, keep your damn hands up, so you don’t get kicked in the head. That’s important,” Usman said. “But it’s been from the beginning of my career to where I am now, if you watch the way that I fight and you’ve seen all my performances, how much more do I need to change? I’ve been blessed with coaches that know how to get to me, that know how to give me directions to where what I’ve been doing is working. I go so hard in training camps and preparing for these fights to where I have that much of a gap on everybody just because of how much I prepare.
“This camp was basically correcting little mistakes I made in the fight. That was the sole purpose of it. Saturday, once I go out there and correct those mistakes, how does a loss happen?”
Edwards has said before that the altitude of Salt Lake City, where the rematch occurred, had a negative effect on him, and that gave Usman a conditioning advantage since he’s used to training at Elevation Fight Team outside of Denver.
But about that: Usman has a reminder for everyone.
“The one thing you guys have to really account for – I know you guys hear a lot of those excuses from him – is that wasn’t the first time Leon and I had fought. And that first fight looked a lot like that second fight,” Usman said of 2015 unanimous decision win over Edwards. “So, if he wants to believe that it was the altitude, then it is what it is. He can believe that. Nothing changes for me. Altitude or no altitude, I know what I’ve come to do.”
Edwards also has said that Usman losing the rematch despite controlling the fight is something that will mess with him mentally.
All Usman could do was scoff at that notion and insist that he remains unfazed.
“It’s warranted when you’re speaking about ordinary things and ordinary people,” Usman said. “… When a trauma like that happens, most people are gonna be disturbed about it. Yeah, that’s when you’re speaking about ordinary people. Leon Edwards and I both know that I am not ordinary. I am extraordinary.”
For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC 286.
Kamaru Usman too focused to slip up (again) vs. Leon Edwards at UFC 286: ‘How does a loss happen?’