After spending a month in The Ultimate Fighter house alongside numerous heavyweight competitors, Mohammed Usman was one of the two to come out on top. Meeting him in the Octagon in the final at UFC Fight Night: Santos vs Hill is former training partner and TUF teammate Zac Pauga.
Given the circumstances, this is a huge opportunity for Usman to showcase his skills in front of a live crowd, albeit condensed in the UFC APEX, on a UFC Fight Night main card. But that setting isn’t changing the way Usman is coming into this fight. As he steps through the doors and out to the Octagon, it’ll be like any other fight he had on the show.
“Just being here at this very moment and opportunity, I'm just treating it as this is the TUF house,” Usman said. “This is the TUF finale. This is another fight in the TUF house. I'm not looking past that. You know, everybody's like, ‘Oh, man, it's your first fight week in the UFC.’ I'm not officially in the UFC yet. This is my last fight in the TUF house. After this fight, then I'll be able to say I'm a UFC fighter. I'll be able to wear the UFC gear. I'll be able to do that. But until then, I'm not wearing nothing UFC.”
Despite being in a TUF mindset, his training camp was nothing short of how current UFC athletes train. Diligently focusing on all assets of his game, the fighter that fans were so accustomed to seeing on the show will not be the same man that steps into the cage this weekend.
“Watching me in the TUF house, just going out there and competing against these guys that were really good guys and realizing that that's what those guys are watching, too,” Usman said. “And if those guys are watching that, too, they think that's who they're going to see come Saturday. But that's not who they're going to see come out of that. Who they're going to see come Saturday is a redefined fighter that's ready to just go. I'm ready to compete in every aspect of the fight.”
Pauga was vocal during fight week in what he expects from Usman in their bout. Preparing for wild, looping punches and an overly aggressive fight style, Pauga feels his technical abilities will allow him to take his time, pick Usman apart and get a finish. Hearing those words were music to Usman’s ears.
“If you watched any of my fights, you know that I'm going to always bring the fight,” Usman said. “But me being in a fight doesn't mean I'm going to be overly aggressive. That just means I'm the one that's going to dictate every aspect of this fight. Him saying that, they know that I'm going to lead the dance and I'm going to lead straight to victory.”
Having nearly five months between leaving the TUF house and his shot at being the Ultimate Fighter Season 30 winner, Usman has focused a lot of his time on understanding the sport of mixed martial arts and how to adapt to the ebbs and flows of a fight.
“I've seen so much growth in my poise, and I pride myself on that,” Usman said. “I feel myself just becoming a complete fighter in my Fight IQ. Certain positions when you're in a fight, you know when it's time to turn it up, you know when it's time to turn it down. Don't get too over yourself, stay balanced, stay in the middle of my feet, keep my weight even with myself so I can be able to do everything I want to do in the Octagon.”
Representing Team Peña, Usman and Pauga enter the Octagon knowing each other better than any of their previous opponents. Living in the same house, as well as sharing the same mats during training, helps each fighter get to know the ins and outs of their skills and personality.
“The show teaches you a lot about what somebody's character is, and after the show, you've kind of seen some of his character,” Usman said. “He’s done a lot of trash talk. That's not my character. My character is I'm here to compete, I'm here to win, I'm here to be the best. I'm not here to talk about the next man. I'm just here to compete, I'm here to fight and I'm here to win.”
UFC Fight Night: Santos vs Hill took place on August 6, 2022 live from the UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!