Kamaru Usman is ‘Obsessed’ With Being the Best; ‘I Duck Punches in my Sleep’

Karmu Usman on handling the pressure of being one of sports most dominant world champions

Kamaru Usman
Courtesy of ESPN MMA on YouTube

Reigning UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman is just days away from his sixth defense of the title since capturing it at UFC 235 in 2019. 

On August 2oth, ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ will face No. 2 ranked contender, Leon Edwards. Winner of nine straight, Edwards has been chomping at the bit to get a shot at Usman’s crown, but it’s not just about capturing gold when the two square off at UFC 278. For Edwards, it’s also about avenging the last loss of his career which came against Usman in 2015.

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Ahead of the highly-anticipated scrap, Kamaru Usman sat down with ESPN’s Brett Okamoto to discuss his upcoming bout and the pressure he carries by being arguably the most dominant champion in combat sports. Usman specifically discusses his UFC 258 bout with Gilbert Burns as being especially emotional given how close the two had been prior to their world title clash. 

“I think when I had to fight Gilbert Burns, that one was a big one for me. I think probably one of the most emotional fights, emotional training camps that I’ve had to go through because I was so close to him and this guy knew me and the whole build-up and what they were trying to sell, what they were selling to people. ‘I know this guy, I’ve trained with him, I can beat him, I know his weaknesses.’ In a sense, he does know my weaknesses and I know his as well. And so, that fight was extremely emotional.”

Kamaru Usman continued, speaking about his dedication to being the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world, suggesting that even in his sleep, ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ is ready for any fighter that dares to challenge him. 

“I obsessed over it. I obsessed over the techniques. How they throw this, how he throws that. What he’s good at. How he throws his kicks, his body kicks. I just obsess over and over and over to the point where I almost see them in my head. When I go to sleep, I almost see them. I even twitch. I duck punches in my sleep and move. I just obsess over it so much so by the time I get in there, I know this guy.”

Kamaru Usman on Living With a Target on His Back

Becoming a world champion is one thing. Staying a world champion is a whole different ballgame. As the saying goes, heavy lies the head that wears the crown, but Kamaru Usman has risen to the challenge thus far. With an incredible 19-fight win streak, Usman acknowledges that the pressure continues to build each time he steps into the Octagon, but that comes with the territory of being the best in the world.

“It gets worse each and every time you win. You should climb up that ladder and the pressure gets bigger and bigger and bigger because now you have more and more to lose each and every time. Now I’m in that position to where I feel that.”

One of the most frustrating aspects for Kamaru Usman is the never-ending cycle of fans and analysts picking the next challenger that they believe will dethrone ‘The Nigerian Nightmare.’

“One of the most frustrating things about this is it’s never enough. It’s never enough. It was right after Woodley. It’s like ‘oh no, that was supposed to be Colby’s fight. Colby was the guy. Colby is the guy’ Then you get through Covington and it’s like, ‘oh no, you know what, Gilbert Burns. That’s the guy. He’s next in line, he’s going to get him. They train together, he knows him. Gilbert Burns is much better.’ 

“It’s just frustrating because you’re putting in the work each and every day. You’re in camp and you know what you’re working on, but these guys are just sitting there, talking about you like you’re going to lose. And then you go out there and do what you do and they’re like, ‘his stand-ups not as good as Masvidals.’

“Where does it stop? This all adds to that pressure of being champion. At some point you just want the noise to stop.” 

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