Kamaru Usman Wants U.F.C. Glory but to Still Live Normally


Kamaru Usman, one of many fiercest males on the planet, is content material with the extent of fame he has achieved on this bloody sport of blended martial arts.

In his occupation of violently battering different fighters, Usman stated he doesn’t need to attain an higher echelon of movie star. If he does, it could inhibit him from driving down water slides and amusement points of interest together with his daughter.

For about one minute, Usman (19-1), the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s welterweight champion, thought out loud about whether or not he would take pleasure in elevated stardom. In blended martial arts circles, he’s revered as among the best. Since changing into the 170-pound champion in 2019, he has defended the belt 4 instances — three of these fights ending by knockout. But his résumé has not generated the mainstream stardom Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey obtained. He is OK with that.

Last yr, Usman stated he took his 7-year-old daughter, Samirah, to a water park, and he appreciated that comparatively few individuals interrupted him for selfies and autographs. Still, throughout different situations, Usman stated followers in several cities within the final eight months approached him at eating places, a lot in order that his daughter requested, “‘Daddy, why do people want to take pictures with you?’”

This center tier of recognition, Usman stated, is the place he would love to keep.

“I wrestle with that every day,” Usman stated in an interview. “I understand this level of fame and I understand that there are levels above this. I don’t think I want to reach certain levels.”

On Saturday, he might not have a selection. A stellar efficiency towards rival Colby Covington (16-2) at U.F.C. 268 at Madison Square Garden will undeniably thrust him additional into the highlight, and maybe arrange Usman’s desired crossover occasion with boxer Saúl Álvarez, who additionally fights Saturday on a pay-per-view card in Las Vegas.

Usman and Covington headline a stacked card with one other championship bout, the ladies’s strawweight champion Rose Namajunas dealing with Zhang Weili, and a light-weight No. 1 contender combat with Justin Gaethje and Michael Chandler. It’s the U.F.C.’s first occasion in New York for the reason that Covid-19 pandemic started and is crammed with fights that can impression a number of divisions.

Usman and Covington fought in December 2019, in Usman’s first title protection after stripping the belt from Tyron Woodley. It was a aggressive back-and-forth battle rife with subjective controversies. The referee, Marc Goddard, briefly stopped the combat twice — as soon as within the second spherical and as soon as within the third — for a shot close to Usman’s groin and a watch poke that Covington claims Usman exaggerated. At the top of the third spherical, Usman landed a tough punch to Covington’s jaw. Covington fought by way of the damage for 2 extra rounds.

Usman within the fifth spherical threw a straight proper that despatched Covington to the canvas. He obtained up rapidly, but Usman adopted with one other highly effective punch that once more pressured Covington to the bottom. As Usman laid sprawled on Covington and delivered punches to his head, Goddard ended the combat, a stoppage Covington disagreed with as a result of he stated he was nonetheless defending himself.

“He knows who daddy is, he knows who really won that fight,” Covington stated at a information convention, an occasion the place he noticeably drew a big and loud fan base. “If he didn’t fake timeouts in the first fight, I would have destroyed him.”

The buildup to their final combat was hostile, and the emotions intensified since. After Covington completed Woodley through technical knockout in September 2020, the Usman and Covington participated in a heated tv interview.

“I broke your face,” Usman stated.

“Wait until I see you next time,” Covington screamed. “You’re dead.”

Covington latched himself onto the previous President Donald J. Trump, and constantly wears “Make America Great Again” hats. Trump known as him after his combat with Woodley to congratulate him, and the fighter insulted the Black Lives Matter motion at a information convention. Covington additionally took an image with Trump within the Oval Office. Covington has stated his theatrics and political leanings has made him a extra attention-grabbing fighter than Usman. Usman disagrees.

“I know the persona and the facade that he puts out to the rest of the world and that’s not my lane,” Usman stated.

“Even Trump doesn’t really rock with him like that,” he added. “He knows who the true winner is. I guarantee you Trump likes me more as a fighter than he likes that guy.”

Usman not too long ago turned the U.F.C.’s top-ranked pound-for-pound fighter, a distinction he earned after the Las Vegas police arrested Jon Jones in September after a home violence incident. Jones, the previous light-heavyweight champion, had not fought in additional than a yr partly due to a disagreement together with his contract as he transitioned to heavyweight.

It bolstered an issue the U.F.C. frequently experiences with retaining reliable, marketable stars for mainstream audiences. McGregor, the flashy Irishman and the highest-grossing fighter in U.F.C. historical past, has misplaced three of his final 4 fights since 2018, and has confronted authorized troubles within the United States and Ireland, together with a lawsuit in Ireland alleging he sexually assaulted a girl.

Rousey, thought-about a pioneer for girls’s blended martial arts, retired from the game after solely two losses, defeats that clearly drained her confidence. Usman stated he respects the flexibility to be a U.F.C. champion and a face of the corporate, but would relatively proceed in his present promotional standing.

“Every time you hear about Conor, it’s ‘Conor did this to this person, Conor did that, Conor is getting sued,’” Usman stated. “It’s a double-edged sword. It gets to a certain point where it’s too much, and I don’t think I want to be in that place.”

Usman stated he would subsequent like to combat the boxer Saúl Álvarez, often known as Canelo, if he defeats Covington as a result of it could be a fan-favorite combat. None of the opposite welterweight contenders enticed him, he stated, and a crossover occasion with Álvarez, the highest pound-for-pound fighter in boxing, would align with the continued blurred strains of fight sports activities. Álvarez if combating Caleb Plant in Las Vegas on Saturday evening.

If that crossover bout doesn’t occur, Usman would similar to to go to extra water parks.

“No one else really motivates me to get up at 6 a.m. and train — I’d rather just spend time with my daughter,” Usman stated. “Have you ever seen the two best pound-for-pound fighters in their sports compete at their primes? That’s motivation right there.”