UFC 294: Kamaru Usman talks up fight with Sean Strickland

Kamaru Usman takes on Khamzat Chimaev this Saturday at UFC 294

Kamaru Usman got the call to fight Khamzat Chimaev at UFC 294 on short notice after Borz’ original opponent, Paulo Costa, was declared unfit on the heels of an oddly timed elbow surgery. Here’s the gaping wound on Costa’s elbow if you simply must see it.

Despite the 36-year-old Usman heading into his bout against one of the most dangerous fighters in the promotion up a weight class, and on short notice, the former UFC welterweight champion is saying all the right things. He says he’s more than prepared and that he is definitely not injured (you dummies!).

However, he did let something a little more interesting slip during his UFC 294 pre-fight press conference. During that event he was drawn on a potential fight with new UFC middleweight champion Sean Strickland.

Kamaru Usman thinks he’s a nightmare match-up for Sean Strickland

Kamaru Usman played footsie with the UFC’s middleweight division throughout his tenure as UFC welterweight champion. However, he declared he would never dare challenge for gold there while his friend and fellow Nigerian Israel Adesanya held the title.

Fast forward a few months from those statements and now neither he nor The Last StyleBender have UFC belts around their waists. Usman lost his to Leon Edwards via a sensational Hail Mary headkick last year. He then failed to regain the title against Edwards in March.

More recently Adesanya dropped his title to Sean Strickland after being totally stifled by the American.

With a fresh challenge waiting atop the 185 lb pile Usman is now sizing up his options in the division. And why wouldn’t he? After all, not only is Strickland not his friend, he’s also not someone he’s particularly worried about.

Much of that is because Usman defeated Strickland at UFC 210 in 2017, via unanimous decision. The pair have grown a tremendous amount since that bout. However, Usman still believes he’s a nightmare match-up for the intentionally controversial champ.

“This is MMA. Styles make fights,” Usman parroted (ht MMA Junkie). “Sean, I think he’s definitely grown a lot, of course, but I think most important he’s grown into his identity of a fighter. He accepts the fact that he fights a particular style, a particular way, and he’s just leaned into it and grown exponentially, and now he’s the champion.”

Kamaru Usman vs. Sean Strickland at UFC 210. | Kevin Hoffman / USA TODAY Network, IMAGO

“But styles make fights, you know. I said it when I came into the game. I’m a nightmare for certain people to deal with, and I just think that matchup is a nightmare for Sean Strickland. But he’s grown exponentially. He’s improved.”

When asked to meditate on the current landscape of MMA, with Strickland being king of a division and him taking a short notice fight against a star of the company, Usman decided to reminiscence on the good ol’ days.

“When I reflect, at that point I was coming down hill fast,” he said. “I didn’t care who was in my way. Leon was there, I didn’t care. I took care of business. Sean was there, I took care of business. So I don’t really dwell on it. It’s when I’m done, and I sit back now, and I reflect a little bit more and more.

“Like you just mentioned, a lot of people didn’t know I fought Sean Strickland, so you can tell I’ve been putting in work for a minute now. It’s just kind of one of those things where I’m in a position to where you get to reflect and say, ‘Hmm, I did put some work in. I beat quite a few people.’”

Usman has indeed beat quite a few people. His list of victories at welterweight has put him well within the conversation of 170 lb GOATs (though, firmly behind one Georges St-Pierre). If Usman has hopes of making his mark in the middleweight division, too, he’s also going to need to beat quite a few people again. Though, his first opportunity to do so will be far from easy.

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About the author

Tim Bissell

Tim Bissell

Tim Bissell is a writer, editor and deputy site manager for Bloody Elbow. He has covered combat sports since 2015. Tim covers news and events and has also written longform and investigative pieces. Among Tim’s specialties are the intersections between crime and combat sports. Tim has also covered head trauma, concussions and CTE in great detail.

Tim is also BE’s lead (only) sumo reporter. He blogs about that sport here and on his own substack, Sumo Stomp!

Email me at [email protected]. Nice messages will get a response.

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