Kamaru Usman is preventing for legacy at UFC 286

Trevor Wittman had one query for former pound-for-pound No. 1 Kamaru Usman within the aftermath of Usman’s knockout loss to Leon Edwards final August at UFC 278: Why did he lay off the fuel within the last spherical?

Seven months in the past, Usman (20-2) was on the verge of tying Anderson Silva’s UFC document of 16 consecutive wins when Edwards (20-3) landed a ravishing head kick within the last minute. That kick will without end be remembered as one of many biggest comebacks in UFC historical past, and it set the stage for an instantaneous title rematch at UFC 286 this weekend in Edwards’ yard of London.

Wittman, Usman’s head coach for the previous two years, did not essentially see the kick coming — however he did discover the area Usman abruptly appeared to be giving his opponent. Edwards was clearly dropping and seemed to be resigned to a choice defeat. The UFC commentary staff noticed it. Edwards’ personal nook noticed it. Wittman noticed it too however nonetheless acknowledged Edwards as a menace. After all, it is a struggle and there may be all the time a menace. And at that second, Usman was giving that menace extra space than the sport plan had mapped out.

“I was like, ‘What’s he doing? Is he tired? Is the elevation affecting him?'” Wittman informed ESPN. “I had to ask him [at some point after the fight], but I wanted to give him some time before I did.”

As it turned out, Wittman did not should ask. After the loss in Salt Lake City, the 2 drove again to Wittman’s Denver residence collectively. Midway by means of the eight-hour drive, Usman got here out with it unprovoked.

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“He said, ‘I wanted the knockout,'” Wittman mentioned. “Once you have that one-punch knockout like Kamaru had on Jorge Masvidal, you become addicted to it. He stopped fighting and started looking to set up a knockout and that’s not him.”

Going into Saturday’s trilogy bout, it’s unattainable to overstate what’s at stake for Usman. Remember, Usman was 56 seconds from tying maybe the best document in UFC historical past. He was universally thought of the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter on the earth. It would have been his sixth protection of the UFC’s welterweight title, and he probably would have moved up in weight to problem for a second belt this yr. Perhaps he would have moved up two weight lessons.

Now, almost eight years after beating Edwards the primary time they squared off, he faces a state of affairs through which he may lose to the identical man in back-to-back fights — a blow that will threaten his grip as even the best welterweight of his period. That is a gigantic distinction in legacy, made doable by a single mistake.

“I love how quickly everything can change in this sport when I watch it,” Usman joked to ESPN. “But I don’t love it when I’m a part of it.”

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Despite what’s at stake, Usman says he’s beneath much less stress going into this struggle than earlier than, now that the burden of the title and historic win streak are gone. But there are small hints at a probably completely different method. For one, the usually very media pleasant Usman informed his supervisor, Ali Abdelaziz, to say no nearly all interview requests throughout his camp.

“When you’re on the come-up, your only job is going to the gym and that’s when you’re catching up, you’re covering ground,” Usman mentioned. “When you’re a champion you have to do this, this and this and it’s just a lot of noise. Obviously, the loss silenced a lot of that, and I decided to keep that silence through my preparation.”

Being a champion comes with these further duties. Usman took it a step additional and invested in his model on the large display, taking part in a job in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” He had sponsors and was elevating himself past the Octagon.

“There was a little moment there to where I thought, ‘Man, I just want this noise to calm down,'” Usman informed the “DC & RC” present Wednesday. “This has given me that opportunity to feel that again. Given me the opportunity to quiet the noise where it was just me and my daughter driving to the gym and coming back. Or me just driving and coming back. I got that opportunity again. I feel like I’m restored and ready to go out there and put on a performance.”

According to Wittman, Usman has additionally studied much more movie. And whereas he used to largely research opponents, he has positioned a larger emphasis on watching himself. What are his tendencies? What is the opposite facet making an attempt to use? What openings does he enable to let one thing like that head kick occur?

“I can’t say what Leon did was a fluke,” Usman mentioned. “I’m sure he’s trained that technique before. I gave him an opportunity and that’s what ‘luck’ is, right? When preparation meets opportunity.”

At UFC 286, Usman is ready to not provide Edwards any alternatives. He has been calling this struggle a “business trip” to London. A essential transaction that will not erase the previous, however will vastly affect how that previous is remembered.

Perfection is rarely coming again for Usman, who had been unbeaten within the UFC previous to August. He won’t ever once more be in that class of Jon Jones, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Floyd Mayweather — primarily excellent fight athletes. Does that choose at him, or does he like this story higher?

“That’s a great question,” Usman mentioned. “I went over that in my head a lot when UFC 278 happened. Of course, being perfect is great but not a lot of people can relate to that. So, I’ve come to just feel blessed with the opportunity I’m in. When I first started MMA, I watched the Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard rivalry and I thought, ‘Man, I would love to be a part of that.’ What I didn’t account for is that to have a rivalry or a trilogy you have to lose. Lo and behold, I’m in a position for that now.”