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B/R Exclusive: Kamaru Usman on Disrespect, Leon Edwards and Jake Paul

Scott Harris@@ScottHarrisMMAFeatured Columnist IVAugust 19, 2022

Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

MMA's pound-for-pound kingpin is still not feeling the love.

Even as Kamaru Usman (20-1) prepares for his sixth consecutive title defense Saturday at UFC 278 in Salt Lake City, Utah, the welterweight champion continues to feel that some people in the fighting world aren't giving him his flowers.

You have to think that anyone who's objectively followed his career would surrender those flowers willingly. His wrestling, fight IQ, measured aggression, striking power, toughness and stamina all are time-tested capabilities, delivering a perfect 15-0 record under the UFC banner and a three-plus-year title reign. They haven't all been easy victories or flawless performances, but his dominance is inarguable.

Saturday will see Usman participate in a rematch of a 2015 deep-undercard contest with Leon Edwards (19-3 [1 NC]), which Usman won by unanimous decision.

Though a heavy underdog in this fight—he’s +295 per DraftKings as of Thursday—Edwards has a 10-fight unbeaten streak dating back to, you guessed it, his loss to Usman. Most recently, he staved off a dramatic late charge from Nate Diaz to secure the biggest win of his career.

Earlier this week, I spoke with Usman in a 1-on-1 interview. We talked about a variety of topics, including Edwards, boxing Jake Paul, his bond with two other reigning UFC champions, and, yes, that Rodney Dangerfield complex.

The original bout between you two happened almost seven years ago. Is there a sense of continuity for you, or was it so long ago that you're viewing Saturday as a completely separate entity?

Usman: It's a new fight, but there are certain things that don't change. Certain things don't leave you. So in a sense, there's a little bit of a continuation, but at the same time, I understand that I had to improve my skills, and my skills have improved, and his skills have also improved.

Edwards is a tough, smart fighter, and for me it's hard to see a path to victory for him here. But it doesn't matter what I think. How do you see it going this Saturday? Any predictions?

Usman: Oh, there's a path to victory for everybody. A fight's a fight. That's why we love this sport so much, because anything can happen.

I respect that he's a tough opponent. He's going to be coming with everything he's got. And I know he truly believes that this is his time and his destiny, to be champion.

But I'm going to put his dreams on hold.

And so my prediction is that I'll do what I do best, which is go inside that Octagon and get the win.

Christian Petersen

You have a bit of a catch phrase. You're always saying "put some respect on my name." You routinely headline pay-per-views, you're No. 1 on the UFC pound-for-pound rankings, and you're riding a streak of five consecutive title defenses.

Even with all that, do you still feel disrespected by people? And if so, why do you feel that way? Why do you think the respect isn't there?

Usman: It's always going to happen. That s--t's just how people are. They don’t want to appreciate somebody, and I think it's because it helps them feel better about not being in the position of that person.

But it's not about me being liked or not liked. It's about being respected. Each and every one of the guys I'm facing are the biggest, baddest dudes in the world. And time and time again, I'm victorious against these guys.

So that's all I'm asking: put some respect on my name! You don't have to like it, but put some respect on it.

So to be clear, the people who don't respect you are acting out of jealousy?

Usman: (long pause) I don't know what it is. I can't tell you what it is, honestly.

I don't speak for anybody else. What I do know is that I'm stepping in there, each and every time, and beating the biggest, baddest contenders in the world.

And that deserves to have some respect.

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You may have gotten this question once or twice before: If Khamzat Chimaev beats Nate Diaz at UFC 279, is he the next man in line?

Usman: First of all, I'm not even thinking about Chimaev. I'm not worried about him. I'm worried about Leon Edwards. That's who I’m worried about.

So, yeah, UFC 279 is a whole different event, and it's not my event. When I get through my event, I know the media, the fans aren't gonna be shy about telling me about the next guy they think might be able to defeat me.

But I'm only thinking about Leon Edwards now. We'll deal with the rest and everything else after.

Mike Stobe/Getty Images

You've talked about getting into boxing, in kind of a semi-serious way. You’ve called out Saul "Canelo" Alvarez, and you've been linked to Jake Paul. How serious are you really about crossing over to boxing?

Usman: It's not 'semi-serious.' I talked about boxing because I'm one of the pound-for-pound bests, and I want to fight the other pound-for-pound best, and that's Canelo Alvarez. There's nothing 'semi' about that.

Now, Jake Paul, I don’t know why he's a part of the conversation, or from where. But that fight makes no sense to me—unless Jake Paul is willing to offer me a, you know, an amount that's equivalent to fighting Canelo.

But it's not just about the money, or fighting Jake Paul. With Alvarez, it's pound-for-pound versus pound-for-pound, and I am very serious about that.

Who would you say has been your toughest opponent in the UFC to date?

Usman: That's a really good question. My answer is different from everybody else's answer, because everyone sees what they see, and they think they know what the answer is based on what they saw. But I was actually in there. So I might have a little different answer.

Leon is definitely one of the toughest guys I've faced in there. But also Emil Meek. He was one of the toughest guys I've faced inside the Octagon as well [Editor’s note: Usman defeated Meek by unanimous decision in 2018].

Mike Roach/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

You've formed a bond with Francis Ngannou and Israel Adesanya, the UFC heavyweight and middleweight champions, respectively. All three of you have deep African roots. [Editor’s note: Usman is Nigerian-American, Ngannou is Cameroonian-French and Adesanya is Nigerian-New Zealander]. How did this friendship form and what does it mean to you?

Usman: It's something that I can't explain, something a lot of people would never understand.

It's not something that you force; it just kinda happened. We've all been placed in the situation that we're in, and we all understand that. We see the responsibility of it. And understanding that is just something that is deep inside us. And I think that's what makes that bond so strong.

Ngannou threw out the idea of putting all three of you on the same card and doing it in Africa.

Usman: We would love to do that, but we're also smart enough to understand the logistics of the sport, and understanding that there's a lot that goes into it behind closed doors that most people aren't seeing. People just say, 'oh, just go out there and do an event.' There's a lot of things that need to take place for something like that to happen.

Last one: It's been a pretty busy summer for the UFC. Any fights or fighters jump out? Last weekend we got a surprise Fight of the Year candidate from Nate Landwehr and David Onama. Did you catch that one?

Usman: Oh, of course I caught that! There's another African brother with Onama. He was a great fighter and a great competitor. It seemed in the end he ran out of gas a little bit, but he still put on a fantastic performance.

But Nate 'The Train' is just a dog. Much respect to both of those guys. And definitely a Fight of the Year candidate.

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