Kamaru Usman is happy to give Leon Edwards credit for the head kick heard around the world, which delivered England only its second-ever UFC championship. But when he hears the kind of boasts coming from his rival ahead of their UFC 286 trilogy match, like Edwards vowing to “open the door” for Usman’s retirement, he can’t help but wonder if “Rocky” is overlooking the realities of how those other 39 in-cage minutes went that the two shared.
“Oh, he’s going to open a door for me, because I’m the king. He’s going to open the door for me to walk through and I’m going to tell him, ‘Alright, you can come in now,’” Usman said at UFC 286 media day. “No, the funny thing about that is, I almost feel like he’s forgetting what happened [for] 24 minutes in the last fight. Don’t you guys feel that?
“Yeah, of course, it was a beautiful technique and you landed it, which I am a fan of. I’m like, ‘Damn, that was beautiful.’ Give him props for it. But you’re forgetting what happened. What did you display in those two fights that leads you to believe you are a better mixed martial arts than me? I am on my way out. I don’t want to get punched in the face forever. That is very, very true. I’m not trying to do this for another 10 years, absolutely not. In that sense, yeah, I am on my way out. But I’ll leave when I’m good, well, and ready. Until then, like The Wolf of Wall Street, you know what he said — I’m not going nowhere.”
Usman, 35, seeks to recapture the UFC welterweight title on Saturday when he faces Edwards in a rubber match in the main event of UFC 286, which takes place at London’s O2 Arena. The two rivals have fought twice before, with Usman winning a unanimous decision in December 2015 when they were both up-and-comers, followed by Edwards pulling off one of the most shocking comebacks in MMA history in August 2022 with a fifth-round head kick knockout at UFC 278 that ended Usman’s four-year reign atop the division.
Despite his most recent loss, Usman remains a heavy betting favorite to reclaim his belt at UFC 286. And when asked for the big adjustments he’s made to counter the challenge Edwards presents, Usman alluded to an old maxim of not fixing what isn’t broken.
“Had I just kept my damn hands up, are we having this conversation? We’re not,” Usman said. “So I think it’s a matter of just correcting those small mistakes.
“I mean, I fought Colby Covington and I fought Leon Edwards. You guys all watched the fights. I fought Colby twice and I fought Leon twice. You guys all watched the fights. Who do you think is better? So, Leon’s tough, I give him that. And he was able to land that beautiful kick, I’ll give him that. But there’s nothing that — as much as he’s building himself up with the new confidence or whatnot, at the end of the day it’s just going to be you and me locked in there. And you and I have been locked in there for two different fights now, and what have you shown me or shown yourself to believe that you are the better fighter?”
Usman admitted that he fell into a bit of complacency toward the latter stages of his undefeated 15-0 start to his UFC career, which is the second-best mark in company history.
But now that he’s back in the challenger’s seat, he vowed to have a renewed sense of motivation that he’s only felt a few times in his career — all of which led to explosive results.
“I felt violent going into three fights,” Usman said. “I felt violent going into the Sergio Moraes fight because I kept asking for top-15 [opponent] and I felt disrespected that the UFC matchmakers kept giving me guys that weren’t in the top 15. I felt very, very violent and resentful, and I wanted to show that — and we saw what happened.
“I fought Colby Covington the first time, we all know how that build-up was, what he said, what he’d done all around the world. I felt very violent and I wanted to get violent. Me and Colby, we’re the best wrestlers arguably in the company, and we didn’t wrestle at all, because I felt like I wanted to get violent — and we saw how that fight went.
“And I fought Jorge Masvidal the second time, with all that happened, you guys are failing to understand, we both flew across the world and I was the only one who had trained for a completely different guy. [Gilbert Burns] caught COVID, and I don’t even want to disclose all the injuries that I was going through before that fight. … Didn’t sleep at all, and I fought in the morning, and I dominated him. And then after that fight, that’s when you’ve got all the excuses. ‘Oh, it’d be different if you give me a full camp, and this and that.’ And it upset me to where, I felt violent in that second fight — and we all saw what happened. And not to mention it was an enemy territory in Jacksonville. I was booed, didn’t change anything.
“And in this fight, I’m starting to get that feeling. Some fights, you want to be clean and get out of there and not feel anything. This fight, I want to feel it all.”
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