Kamaru Usman is on the cusp of tying the UFC’s greatest record. Anderson Silva won 16 fights in a row in the UFC, beginning with a 49-second knockout of Chris Leben on June 28, 2006, and concluding with a mauling of Stephan Bonnar in the first round on Oct. 13, 2012.
Usman, the UFC’s welterweight champion, has won 15 in a row in the UFC and 19 in a row overall. If he defeats Leon Edwards on Saturday in the main event of UFC 278 at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City, he’ll tie the MMA equivalent of Cal Ripken’s ironman streak in baseball.
“Anderson Silva was doing this sport before I knew about this sport,” Usman said Wednesday at UFC 278 media day. “I remember when I started watching the UFC, that was the man. That was the guy to watch. Now, being in position to be able to tie that record, that means a lot to me.”
Usman, though, insists he’s the same guy he was when he was a wrestler in college, making a $5 pizza last for two days’ worth of meals, and eating instant ramen on the regular.
He’s ranked first in virtually every poll of the world’s pound-for-pound greatest fighters, and UFC president Dana White said he deserves to be in the conversation as one of the greatest fighters who’ve ever lived.
Usman, though, was shaped by those days when he was poor, when he couldn’t eat what he wanted or where he wanted, when he had to stretch his money as much as possible.
Nothing came easy to him. His success in MMA has come through perseverance and the sweat of his brow.
Now that he’s winning, his friends and family urge him to remain humble. He chuckles at the thought, though. After what he’s been through, he said he’ll never be any other way.
“What sets me apart is, in my own head, I know where I’m at, and it’s never enough for me,” Usman said. “ … I’m sure a lot of people in my position feel the same way. When people say, ‘Stay humble, stay humble, stay humble’ I’m like, ‘What? Don’t f***ing tell me that. I know what humble is. In my own head, I know what humble is. The reason I continue to excel is because I know what humble is. To everyone, they might see you and say, ‘Oh, you’ve become this big of a star; stay humble, stay humble.’ In my head, I’m still this way.”
He’s been the epitome of class as a champion and he’s starting to reap the rewards out of the Octagon. He’s got a role in the upcoming movie, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” He didn’t get the part because of his looks or some director thought he had amazing acting skills. It’s because of the success he’s had in the UFC as a champion and the recognition he’s gained as a result.
He’ll rematch Edwards on Saturday, the do-over of a fight from 2015 in Orlando, Florida, that Usman won by unanimous decision.
He concedes it will be a different fight because both of them have vastly improved. Usman has won 13 in a row since then, while Edwards has won nine in a row along with a no-contest.
“This is going to be what it’s supposed to be,” Usman said, “and that’s a fight between two of the best mixed martial artists on the planet.”
He’s gotten to that point by doing what he’s done since Day 1, pushing himself beyond what any of his peers do. That attitude is why he doesn’t consider the record, if he gets it or matches it, his greatest accomplishment.
In his view, it will be because he’s worked as hard to prepare for David Glover in his pro debut on Nov. 30, 2012, as he has for Edwards in their rematch for the title on Saturday.
He’s that guy who just demands more of himself. Good is not nearly good enough. Neither is great.
He’s paid the price, not just over a decade in the sport, but during a lifetime of athletics.
He’s a gifted athlete, but those gifts never would have been realized without that attitude and work ethic which have set him apart.