Since making his UFC debut in 2015, Kamaru Usman has grown into one of the most dangerous fighters in the welterweight division.
Victorious in all eight of his fights in the promotion, Usman has displayed a bevy of skills inside the Octagon and the ability to dominate a fight from start to finish. Of his eight UFC wins, six have come by unanimous decision, most recently over Demian Maia in Chile.
Now, he is set to face veteran Rafael dos Anjos in the main event of The Ultimate Fighter Finale: Heavy Hitters in Las Vegas. We caught up with Usman to talk about his upcoming fight, how he has grown since making his debut and whether he believes he has done enough to earn a shot at the title.
UFC: What type of opportunity does a fight with a guy like Rafael dos Anjos, with all his experience, present to you?
Kamaru Usman: Fighting RDA, a guy who has reached the pinnacle of the sport, he’s done whatever you can in this sport. He just fought for the interim title in my division, so this is an opportunity for me to prove to everybody else just how much of a gap I have on the rest of the welterweights in the world.
UFC: Should everything go right for you on Friday, do you think you’ve earned a title shot?
KU: Should everything go right for me on Friday, to me that’s just another win. All those wins were important to get to this point, so it’s another win. Obviously, what I’m looking for is that title. I need my shot, but I’m not holding my breath because the organization has told guys that they’re next before, and these guys didn’t get the title shot. Unless I’m standing in front, opposing the champion, I’ll believe it when I see it.
UFC: You’re a guy who can win in a variety of ways. Against RDA, who is one of the most diverse fighters out there, where do you feel like you have the advantage?
KU: Where I really see that I have a distinct advantage over a lot of the guys, because this sport is called mixed martial arts for a reason. Some guys might be sharper strikers than myself. Some guys might be better grapplers than myself, better Jiu Jitsu guys. It doesn’t matter. On that night, when you have to mix it all up to get the victory, nobody is better. My fight IQ is extremely high, and I know how to put it together better than anybody, so there’s nowhere I can see my opponent saying he has a leg up on me. It’s not going to happen.
UFC: In the last three years, where have you seen your game grow?
KU: In the last three years, the avenue where I’d say my game has grown the most is mentally letting a fight breathe to where as opposed to when I first came in, every fight was kind of like fight-or-flight. I wasn’t fighting that fight the whole time to where it kind of holds you back, essentially, but now I’m kind of letting the fight breathe and seeing what’s open and setting things up. I would say that’s the biggest thing is to probably to continue to plot and set things up under the fire of being in the fight.
UFC: How do you balance having a high confidence in yourself and still giving your opponent the proper respect?
KU: I take every opponent very, very serious. That’s the biggest thing for me that comes with what I do is I don’t take anyone too lightly. I have done that one time, and that was the lone defeat on my record. So, I vow to never make that mistake again. All through my career, I prepare. Really, a mantra that I live by is “Proper preparation prevents poor performance.” I make sure that I’m extremely prepared. I leave no stone unturned in my preparation for fights, so I don’t care if you’re 0-15 or 0-25. I’m not going to be that one on your record to get you that win, so I don’t care if you’re a former champion, if you’re the champion, it doesn’t matter to me. I’m still going to prepare the best that I can, and I’m still going to go out there and try to beat you because the reason my confidence is sky-high is because I know the preparation that I’ve put in to the sport.
Zac Pacleb is a writer and producer for UFC.com. You can follow him on Twitter @ZacPacleb.