Belt or no belt, Kamaru Usman lives his life like a champion. It’s why he took a short notice fight against the sport’s current boogeyman, Khamzat Chimaev, up a weight class in the co-main event of UFC 294 this Saturday in Abu Dhabi.
It’s also why, when presented with the opportunity to regain his welterweight title from the man who took it from him, Leon Edwards, in March, he didn’t hesitate to say yes, even against his better judgement.
“It didn't play out the way I wanted to,” said Usman of his third bout with Edwards, which he lost via majority decision. “It was basically going into a fight where I probably should have taken a little bit more time to just heal and grow from that (second) fight. But that's what fighters do, that's what champions do. We want to get in there, we want to fight, and we want to test ourselves. And I did that. I learned a lot from that fight, and there's been quite a bit of a significant time since that fight and now we're back up on the horse.”
Some would say Usman is about to take on a bucking bronco in the unbeaten Chimaev, who has won all six of his UFC bouts, finishing five of them. He hasn’t fought since September of 2022, when he missed weight for a fight against Nate Diaz and instead took on Kevin Holland, submitting him in a little over two minutes. Since then, the line hasn’t been long to face “Borz,” but as soon as Paulo Costa was forced out of Saturday’s bout due to injury, Usman was right there waiting for him.
“I told them (the UFC), I've always liked the fight,” said Usman. “I don't like the fact that you guys waited so damn long to make the fight, but I've always liked the fight.”
Now he’s got it. And while short notice is never ideal, Usman doesn’t consider the lack of a full training camp to be an issue.
“This is what we do,” he said. “Fighters fight. You train your whole career, your whole life, to learn how to fight. And if this is not what you do, if this is not your profession, this is not your job, then you fight and then you take a long layoff or vacation, then when you have a fight, you jump back in again. People do that, but this is my profession. This is what I do right now. I'm a fighter, and so fighters fight. You know what they say. If you're ready, you ain't got to get ready.”
Staying in shape and preparing for a fighter like Chimaev are two different things. It’s risky for Usman in a lot of ways. It’s a fight without a training camp focused on his opponent, “The Nigerian Nightmare” is moving up a weight class, he’s coming off back-to-back losses to Edwards, and he’s 36.
Usman’s not blinking.
Year Of The Fighter | Kamaru Usman
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Year Of The Fighter | Kamaru Usman
“For me, fighting has always been a risk,” he said. “Each and every fight is a risk, and that's what the courageous ones do. You step in there each and every time, even though you might feel like, ‘Oh, I'm risking it all. I might lose this or I might gain this.’ It doesn't matter. Real fighters fight. You step in there with all the courage, with all the heart and you leave it all out there in that cage.”
Even Khamzat Chimaev.
“I fight anybody,” Usman said. “I've fought high-level wrestlers, I've fought high-pressure wrestlers, pressure fighters, pressure jiu-jitsu fighters. It doesn't matter. When you feel you're the best in the world, you have to be able to show it at any given moment. And this is no different.”
Best in the world. It was an unofficial title Usman held for a long time, over three years in fact as he ruled the welterweight division, even getting his name into the conversation as the best ever at 170 pounds. A couple losses won’t change that in the mind of the man who puts the four-ounce gloves on and takes the walk to a proving ground only a select few can excel in. On Saturday, Kamaru Usman looks to make a statement that he hasn’t gone anywhere.
“Most people won't do it,” he said. “Most people in my position, they feel, ‘Okay, I've done everything. I've got the legacy, I've got the money, I've got it all. I don't need to risk anything.’ But this is what we do. Real fighters fight each and every fight, we step in there and we risk it all, and that's what we're doing.”