EXCLUSIVE: Ahead of UFC's Fight Island, champ Kamaru Usman talks about defending his title and why Black Lives Matter
When the UFC announced that it will be hosting matches at a Fight Island in the UAE, it did come as a big surprise, considering the challenging times that we are living in. But fans realised that their favourite sport will be held like the usual while adhering to all the COVID-19 guidelines.
The first edition of Fight Island on Abu Dhabi's Yas Island is set to go live within a few hours. The first match is UFC 251 featuring Kamaru Usman (c) vs. Jorge Masvidal – Welterweight title bout (Usman vs. Masvidal Live).
Kamaru Usman who has been training to defend his Welterweight title speaks exclusively to Indulge. Here are the excerpts:
This is going to be a historic tournament considering it is a first Fight Island match. What are your thoughts?
It's great being on Fight Island. Dana White and the UFC did an amazing job of putting something like this together. It's incredible just to see the precautions that they have taken. I was disappointed when Gilbert fell out (Gilbert Burns was scheduled to be in the headliner of the first UFC event on Fight Island against Kamaru Usman). I have taken time away from my daughter. I've never done this before. It's a different state of mind. And so when the fight fell out, I was very disappointed. And as I mentioned, I was on my way back to her. And then I get the call on many way through that travel date that, ‘Hey, we might have a fight for you.’ So I'm just grateful. I'm grateful to be a part of this. I'm grateful for everything that these guys have done. And I can't wait to go out there Saturday night and they'll put on another performance.
So far I have been tested four times in this whole process. I believe we have one or two more to go. So, yes, definitely all the precautions have been taken and. After we, I go out there on Saturday and get my hand raise (implies he wins), I'll be returning back home to my daughter.
How is the training under Trevor Wittman going on? What have you been working on?
I've kind of built myself just working day in and day out and training for each and every different style, to face different opponents. So it didn't really matter. I trained and was prepared to get into a scrap and it didn't matter who the face was at the end of the day. A fight is a fight and I am going to get in there. I'm going to do what I do.
How different is it to perform to no spectators? Do you miss the adrenaline rush of seeing your supporters cheer for you?
It's a different fight… it’s a different fight that you fight as a fighter with yourself, internally and mentally when you're fighting somebody. And, and sometimes you can kind of get lost in it when you're in a stadium full of 20,000 people. And that could actually uplift you, or sometimes it can be a detriment. But when you have to fight and there are no other voices, and you've got a guy beating you and is being dominant over you, it's another level of breaking somebody mentally. When you beat them from start to finish the whole time and outclass them completely, but embrace them internally, it takes something away from them that they can never gain back. That's a fight they don't want to fight again. I would miss the crowd, particularly at that moment when you finally deliver that blow, that finishing blow and the roar of your fans. It's great fire for the senses, but you know it doesn’t sway my performance in any way because I train without the crowd. During my sparring sessions I make sure that there’s no one really there and there’s no music.
The unfortunate killing of George Floyd has made discussions about racism more mainstream than before... what are your thoughts and reactions to it?
As a black man living in America and I have kind of seen all of the things that are taking place. I mean, we've been seeing it for years. I'm glad that it's brought to the forefront now because I think the world is really tired and they just really want to change. I think each and every statement that we continue to make and getting everyone’s attention helps us move forward slowly.
What's your message to Masvidal? Are you certain of defending your championship? What's going on in your mind right now?
I'm just looking to dominate the fight from start to finish. If I'm dominating the fight and he's tough enough to hang in there, then he might go 25 minutes. But if I'm dominating the fight and he's not tough enough to stay in there, then he might go five or 10 minutes. So it's not something that I look forward to, to drag on a fight. I am prepared and I'm in good shape. And I know that he’s prepared too. I mean that’s a thing too.
What is the plan ahead for this year?
This was the next step of my vision and my plan. My goal was this. I wanted to initially headline and become a champion. Then I wanted to headline my own event and bigger than that is what I am doing now. I am headlining the most important weekend in UFC, which is an international fight. I spoke with Dana after the last performance and this was what he wanted, this was his plan. I was on board with it. I've been on board since day one and Dana tried his best to make the fight happen.
Watch Kamaru Usman LIVE in action on UFC 251 on 12th July 2020 from 7.30 am (IST) LIVE and EXCLUSIVE only on SONY TEN 2 & SONY TEN 3 (Hindi) channels