Kamaru Usman Wants U.F.C. Glory but to Still Live Normally

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Content to bent retired with his girl mostly unbothered, Usman, the U.F.C. welterweight champion, does not aspire for the fame of Conor McGregor. But helium does person his oculus connected thing big.

Kamaru Usman, right, during a combat  against Jorge Masvidal successful  April.
Credit...Gary Mccullough/Associated Press

Emmanuel Morgan

Nov. 5, 2021, 11:41 a.m. ET

Kamaru Usman, 1 of the fiercest men connected the planet, is contented with the level of fame helium has achieved successful this bloody athletics of mixed martial arts.

In his assemblage of violently battering different fighters, Usman said helium does not privation to scope an precocious echelon of celebrity. If helium does, it whitethorn inhibit him from riding down h2o slides and amusement attractions with his daughter.

For astir 1 minute, Usman (19-1), the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s welterweight champion, thought retired large astir whether helium would bask elevated stardom. In mixed martial arts circles, helium is revered arsenic 1 of the best. Since becoming the 170-pound champion successful 2019, helium has defended the loop 4 times — 3 of those fights ending by knockout. But his résumé has not generated the mainstream stardom Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey received. He is OK with that.

Last year, Usman said helium took his 7-year-old daughter, Samirah, to a h2o park, and helium appreciated that comparatively fewer radical interrupted him for selfies and autographs. Still, during different instances, Usman said fans successful antithetic cities successful the past 8 months approached him astatine restaurants, truthful overmuch truthful that his girl asked, “‘Daddy, wherefore bash radical privation to instrumentality pictures with you?’”

This mediate tier of recognition, Usman said, is wherever helium would similar to stay.

“I wrestle with that each day,” Usman said successful an interview. “I recognize this level of fame and I recognize that determination are levels supra this. I don’t deliberation I privation to scope definite levels.”

On Saturday, helium whitethorn not person a choice. A stellar show against rival Colby Covington (16-2) astatine U.F.C. 268 astatine Madison Square Garden volition undeniably thrust him further into the spotlight, and possibly acceptable up Usman's desired crossover lawsuit with boxer Saúl Álvarez, who besides fights Saturday connected a pay-per-view paper successful Las Vegas.

Usman and Covington header a stacked paper with different title bout, the women's strawweight champion Rose Namajunas facing Zhang Weili, and a lightweight No. 1 contender combat with Justin Gaethje and Michael Chandler. It’s the U.F.C.’s archetypal lawsuit successful New York since the Covid-19 pandemic began and is filled with fights that volition interaction aggregate divisions.

Usman and Covington fought successful December 2019, successful Usman’s archetypal rubric defence aft stripping the loop from Tyron Woodley. It was a competitory back-and-forth conflict rife with subjective controversies. The referee, Marc Goddard, temporarily stopped the combat doubly — erstwhile successful the 2nd circular and erstwhile successful the 3rd — for a changeable adjacent Usman’s groin and an oculus poke that Covington claims Usman exaggerated. At the extremity of the 3rd round, Usman landed a hard punch to Covington’s jaw. Covington fought done the wounded for 2 much rounds.

Usman successful the 5th circular threw a consecutive close that sent Covington to the canvas. He got up quickly, but Usman followed with different almighty punch that again forced Covington to the ground. As Usman laid sprawled connected Covington and delivered punches to his head, Goddard ended the fight, a stoppage Covington disagreed with due to the fact that helium said helium was inactive defending himself.

“He knows who daddy is, helium knows who truly won that fight,” Covington said astatine a quality conference, an lawsuit wherever helium noticeably drew a ample and large instrumentality base. “If helium didn’t fake timeouts successful the archetypal fight, I would person destroyed him.”

The buildup to their past combat was hostile, and the feelings intensified since. After Covington finished Woodley via method knockout successful September 2020, the Usman and Covington participated successful a heated tv interview.

“I broke your face,” Usman said.

“Wait until I spot you adjacent time,” Covington screamed. “You’re dead.”

Covington latched himself onto the erstwhile President Donald J. Trump, and consistently wears “Make America Great Again” hats. Trump called him aft his combat with Woodley to congratulate him, and the combatant insulted the Black Lives Matter question astatine a quality conference. Covington besides took a representation with Trump successful the Oval Office. Covington has said his theatrics and governmental leanings has made him a much absorbing combatant than Usman. Usman disagrees.

“I cognize the persona and the facade that helium puts retired to the remainder of the satellite and that’s not my lane,” Usman said.

“Even Trump doesn’t truly stone with him similar that,” helium added. “He knows who the existent victor is. I warrant you Trump likes maine much arsenic a combatant than helium likes that guy.”

Usman precocious became the U.F.C.’s top-ranked pound-for-pound fighter, a favoritism helium earned aft the Las Vegas constabulary arrested Jon Jones successful September aft a home unit incident. Jones, the erstwhile light-heavyweight champion, had not fought successful much than a twelvemonth partially due to the fact that of a disagreement with his declaration arsenic helium transitioned to heavyweight.

It reinforced a occupation the U.F.C. continually experiences with retaining dependable, marketable stars for mainstream audiences. McGregor, the flashy Irishman and the highest-grossing combatant successful U.F.C. history, has mislaid 3 of his past 4 fights since 2018, and has faced ineligible troubles successful the United States and Ireland, including a suit successful Ireland alleging helium sexually assaulted a woman.

Rousey, considered a pioneer for women’s mixed martial arts, retired from the athletics aft lone 2 losses, defeats that intelligibly drained her confidence. Usman said helium respects the quality to beryllium a U.F.C. champion and a look of the company, but would alternatively proceed successful his existent promotional status.

“Every clip you perceive astir Conor, it’s ‘Conor did this to this person, Conor did that, Conor is getting sued,’” Usman said. “It’s a double-edged sword. It gets to a definite constituent wherever it’s excessively much, and I don’t deliberation I privation to beryllium successful that place.”

Usman said helium would adjacent similar to combat the boxer Saúl Álvarez, known arsenic Canelo, if helium defeats Covington due to the fact that it would beryllium a fan-favorite fight. None of the different welterweight contenders enticed him, helium said, and a crossover lawsuit with Álvarez, the apical pound-for-pound combatant successful boxing, would align with the continued blurred lines of combat sports. Álvarez if warring Caleb Plant successful Las Vegas connected Saturday night.

If that crossover bout does not happen, Usman would conscionable similar to spell to much h2o parks.

“No 1 other truly motivates maine to get up astatine 6 a.m. and bid — I’d alternatively conscionable walk clip with my daughter,” Usman said. “Have you ever seen the 2 champion pound-for-pound fighters successful their sports vie astatine their primes? That’s information close there.”

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