Since 2019, Usman has sat atop the 170-pound mountain and ruled it with an iron fist. After adding the name of former titleholder Tyron Woodley to his record in 2019, “The Nigerian Nightmare” went to work enhancing his legacy, going on to defend the gold twice each against Colby Covington and Jorge Masvidal, and once versus former teammate Gilbert Burns.
Now, Usman is set for another rematch, this time against 2015 rival Leon Edwards. With both men on sizeable unbeaten runs since their meeting seven years ago, they’ll run it back with the title on the line in the main event of UFC 278 tonight in Utah.
Ahead of the contest, Usman has acknowledged the pressure that comes alongside his defenses, with the welterweight king under the impression that most are wanting to see the strap ripped from his possession.
Usman: No Defense Will Ever Be Enough
During a recent interview with ESPN MMA’s Brett Okamoto, Usman discussed the weight he feels on his shoulders as a champion on the sport’s biggest stage.
“The Nigerian Nightmare” said that he’s learned to accept how the game works, noting that whoever he beats, there’s always a new name who his detractors are predicting can beat him.
“That’s one of the most frustrating things about this. It’s never enough,” Usman said. “Right after Woodley, it was like, ‘No, that was supposed to be Colby’s fight. Colby was the guy. Colby is the guy.’ Then you get through Covington and then it’s like, ‘No, Gilbert Burns, that’s the guy. He’s next in line, he’s gonna get him, they trained together, he knows him.’ … Then you go out there and do what you do, they’re like, ‘His standup’s not as good as Masvidal’s. Masvidal, he’s the best boxer in the UFC, he’s gonna get him.’ Then you knock his head off.
“(Then) it’s like, ‘No, we need to see a rematch with Covington. We’ve gotta see that because it was razor thin.’ Then you win and it’s, ‘Okay, well, no, Edwards. Edwards has gotten a lot better,’” Usman continued. “And now they’re already talking about another guy, ‘Oh yeah, this Russian, this kid is coming, he’s got everything. He’s gonna be champion.’”
With that in mind, Usman accepts that a successful retention isn’t the result most will be hoping for ahead of his fights. And while performances and moments like his knockout win against Masvidal draw applause, Usman thinks most would prefer him to be the one on the receiving end of such a finish.
“Every time you win, people, they’re happy for you that you won, but they wanna see you lose,” Usman suggested. “They wanna see, ‘Is there another guy that’s just as good as him? Everyone’s saying he’s the best, he’s the champion, but I don’t believe that. Let’s see if there’s another guy that can beat him.’
“They might cheer for you, but something inside wants to — they wanna see you humanized. They wanna know that you’re no better than the average person. So, they wanna see you lose,” Usman added. “I’m in that position now to where people are chanting against me just because they want to see me lose. I welcome it.”
Whether that sentiment is true or not is hard to measure, but it’s difficult to argue with the idea that most are always excited by the possibility of a previously unstoppable champion being toppled — reactions to upset victories such as Julianna Peña over Amanda Nunes and Holly Holm over Ronda Rousey perhaps show that the ‘David vs. Goliath’ narrative firmly crosses over into MMA.
But Usman will be looking to shut down another underdog tonight when he collides with Edwards in Salt Lake City’s Vivint Arena. Should he emerge victorious, talk will no doubt quickly turn to the credentials of top contender Khamzat Chimaev, who is widely expected to be next in line.
Do you agree with Kamaru Usman’s assessment of the consensus fan view?