The 170 pound division in the UFC is one of the most stacked divisions in the promotion. The welterweight division is a shark tank, churning out top contenders. From GSP to Robbie Lawler, there have been dominant champions, but one could also argue that the division was never as stacked as it is today.
One of the top prospects in the division is the ‘Nigerian Nightmare’, Kamaru Usman. Training out of the famed Blackzilians gym, Usman was constantly sparring and rubbing shoulders with who’s who of the sport. While Kamaru previously lobbied for a showdown with arguably the best grappler in the sport today – Damien Maia, he faced Sean Strickland at UFC 210.
Usman easily defeated the American, and talked about the fight during an exclusive interview.
“I just worked on my skills, worked on my grappling, and executed my game plan”, Kamaru told us. “As you said, Sean is a tough fighter. He hasn’t been finished in his career, and is an excellent striker. But I’m better, and I’m now ranked in the top 10 after the win. I want to face Neil Magny next, because I think it’s going to be a good match up.”
Kamaru dominated the fight from bell to bell, and scored a comfortable unanimous decision victory. Kamaru relied on his bread and butter – his wrestling skills, and didn’t give Sean any opening to get back into the fight. Asked when anything Sean did surprised him, Kamaru once again emphasised on the fact that he considers himself to be one of the best fighters in the division.
“No, not really. He’s a tough guy, he strikes very well. But if you see in my previous fights – I’ve got 4 decision victories, and during almost all of them, I had 10 – 8 rounds. In some fights, I think I had some 10 – 7, 10 – 6 rounds. So I’m just better, and I’m moving up.”
After the fight, the Nigerian didn’t waste any time, immediately calling out Neil Magny. Magny is riding high on an impressive showing against former welterweight champion, Johny Hendricks. Magny also holds victories over the likes of Hector Lombard and Kelvin Gastelum, and when asked about how he is preparing in case Magny accepts the fight, Usman said he couldn’t let the cat out of the bag.
“Of course; I wanted to show how good I am in the striking department. I can’t reveal what I’ve been working on in the gym since my fight with Sean. If the fight with Magny happens, I don’t want everyone to see what I’m working on.”
During a recent interview, Usman also delved into the possibility of Dana White protecting him, similar to Paige VanZant or Sage Northcutt. Usman had previously said Dana wouldn’t throw him into the deep end this early, but rubbished the comparisons with PVZ and ‘Super Sage’.
“The two people you mentioned – Paige VanZant and Sage Northcutt, they aren’t like me. They’re made by the company. I’m one of the better fighters in the division. I’ve dominated against my previous opponents. But it is what it is; I’m calling out people that are in the top 10, and those are going to be tough fights.”
Neil Magny, during his fight with Hector Lombard showed good take down defence, and his ability to keep his distance, avoiding Lombard’s power shots. Usman talked about the stylistic match up between himself and Magny, and said it would be a tough test for him.
“I think Magny’s an excellent match up for me. He is a very good striker. He is very good in grappling as well. I think him and I can put on an excellent fight. There are no easy match ups in the top 10, and Magny isn’t booked. I called Damien Maia out before, but now he’s fighting Masvidal.”
“So I want to face Magny next. That’s going to be a tough fight, but realistically the next fight for me I feel. I don’t plan on calling the champion next, how can I? I cannot call out Tyron Woodley. So the next logical fight for me is Magny.”
Usman had earlier called out ‘Stun Gun’, who is currently scheduled to face Colby Covington during UFC Singapore. When asked about his intent in making a statement with the call out, Usman said he wants to fight against the best in the division.
“I make a statement every time I enter the cage. Dong Hyun Kim, I felt, was a tough match up for me. He can strike, he can grapple. He’s a top 10 guy. I wanted to fight him, but he was then booked. So I called out Magny.”
While Usman wanted to fight Maia, the Brazilian is scheduled to fight Masvidal in a title eliminator. When asked about the possibility of fighting Masvidal soon, Usman was pragmatic, and said that was at least 3 or 4 fights away.
“Jorge is a tough guy, man. As you said, he’s a very good boxer. For me, he’s going to be a very tough opponent. But we can’t fight yet. If he wins against Maia, then he will fight Woodley. We’re about 2, 3 or 4 fights away from facing each other.”
Kamaru doesn’t want to sit on the sidelines; in fact, he said he wanted to get back into the cage at UFC 211 in Dallas. Now however, he is eyeing the International Fight Week for his return.
“I wanted to fight on the same card as Jorge – Maia in Dallas, but that’s not going to happen. I hope I can fight during the International Fight Week. That makes sense to me.”
UFC 210 was bittersweet for the Blackzilians team. One of Kamaru’s teammates, Anthony Johnson retired at UFC 210, after losing to Daniel Cormier. However, Usman told us that the mood in the camp hasn’t changed.
“We’re training the same way. Anthony wasn’t always in the gym every day. After his fights, he took some time off, so it’s not that different. Obviously we wanted Anthony to win, but it is what it is.”
Finally, Kamaru had a message for the Indian fans, and said he would be fighting for them inside the Octagon.
“I’m trying to show everyone – those from Nigeria, from India, from Europe – from anywhere in the world can realise their dreams in the UFC. So, I want to thank the Indian fans, and want them to watch out for what’s coming.”