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Kamaru Usman talks Colby Covington, Justin Gaethje and Canelo Alvarez

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  • Kamaru Usman
    Nigerian-American mixed martial artist

Kamaru Usman goes 1-on-1 with Yahoo Sports' Kevin Iole and says he's willing to step into the boxing ring with Canelo Alvarez after the two of them, both No. 1-ranked fighters in their respective sports, headline pay-per-view cards on Saturday. The UFC welterweight champion also discusses his rematch with Colby Covington, training with Justin Gaethje and whether he's thought about retirement.

Video Transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING]

KEVIN IOLE: Hey, everybody. Kevin Iole here from "Yahoo Sports." Big day Saturday, UFC 268 at Madison Square Garden in New York. Unbelievable card, I can't wait for Justin Gaethje and Michael Chandler. I cannot wait for Rose Namajunas and Zhang Weili and their rematch. And of course, the main event, the rematch with one of the best fights I ever saw. I talked to Dana White about it the other day, one of the best fights he ever saw. My guest right now, Kamaru Usman, the welterweight champion who will be defending his belt again against Colby Covington. Champ, how are you, my friend?

KAMARU USMAN: I'm wonderful. Thanks for having me again, Kevin.

KEVIN IOLE: You are always welcome here. Always good stuff from you. I want to start with this. This is an interesting thing. One of the rare times, I have covered combat sports for 40 years, I hate to say how long it's been. I cannot remember pound for pound champions in two different sports fighting on the same night. But in New York, you've got yourself fighting and defending your title, the pound for pound championship as well as the welterweight title. And in Las Vegas, you have Canelo Alvarez defending his belt. So is there a little competition there to prove who is the stronger guy?

KAMARU USMAN: Absolutely. There's always competition to go out there both of us being the pound for pound in our respective sport. There's always that competition to see who puts on the better entertainment, because we're in the entertainment business. Who puts on a better event? He's going to go out there and do his thing on pay per view for the people. And I'm going to go out there and do my thing on pay per view for the people as well. So yes, there is that friendly competition to see who does better and who puts on a better event. But I think if we really want to break the internet, break the world, and break the bank as well, why not merge that? Why not? When have we ever seen the pound for pound in both respective combat sports both at the prime of their careers go at it? We've never seen that, so why not? Why not?

KEVIN IOLE: So boxing, MMA, both. What are we talking here?

KAMARU USMAN: Why not? Why not? I'm willing to step in there. Is he willing to step in here? Probably not, but I'm willing to step in there.

KEVIN IOLE: Holy smokes. That'd be something. We could see that go down. You know what? Something else, before we get into the fight, there's a lot to talk about there. My colleague Armando Portillo brought this up to me. And I didn't even think about it until he mentioned it. But your coach, Trevor Wittman, is a busy guy the last three fights. And so my question to you is this, I mean, I would always think as a champion, you want to have your coach in there wrapping your hands, getting you ready, preparing you for battle. And he's going to be out at cage side the two prior fights to you, so does that mess with your preparation at all, not having your guy right there with you?

KAMARU USMAN: No, not necessarily. Because in those final moments, in those final preparation, if you don't have it already, it's very tough to find it because your coach can't fight for you. That's a very big and important fact. You have to be able to be mentally prepared to go out there and do your job. And we saw this last time, my last fight. We did the same thing back to back, myself and Rose Namajunas.

So my coach wasn't there in those final moments, but he does a good job of trying to get back and really make sure he puts the finishing touches on the warm-ups in the back. But all the work has been done. The work's been done the 12 weeks of camp leading up. So the work has been there. We know the game plan. And he's prepared me for battle, so it's now my job to be able to go in there and do what I do best. And that's dominate, and that's in impressive fashion.

KEVIN IOLE: You've had probably as good a look as anybody. I mean, I think the fight that so many people are talking about, it is that Gaethje versus Chandler, because Gaethje has been in the UFC for a long time and been fighting like a nutjob. I mean, it's crazy how he goes. And now, Chandler is coming in. Some people call him Gaethje Light. I don't know if that is fair. But I mean, it's two guys that go. What are you seeing out of Justin in camp? And what do you expect from that fight?

KAMARU USMAN: I mean, having trained with both individuals, both guys, I expect a tremendous fight. I mean, both guys are very tough. Both guys are very explosive. Now, training with Justin. I think Justin's a bit deceptive. Like you just mentioned, people assume that he's just in their fight like a lunatic, which it looks like that. And it's extremely entertaining to the world, but there's a method to that madness as I've come to realize.

And so I think it's going to be a tremendous fight, because Michael Chandler, as well, I've trained with him for years-- a very explosive guy, a very tough individual, hard working individual. I mean, you're literally looking at two guys who really laid all on the line in there, so I expect a tremendous fight. That's an incredible fight. And I had to have that fight on this card. I said, we have to bring this fight on this card, because myself, as a fan, I want to see this.

KEVIN IOLE: If that fight sucks, I think they're going to tell us next the world is flat, right?

[LAUGHTER]

KAMARU USMAN: It's impossible. Because knowing Justin, it's impossible for him to put out that product. Justin, he really cares about the type of product that he puts out for the fans. And so I think it's important for him to be OK with that product. So knowing Justin, I don't think we're going to have to worry about that.

KEVIN IOLE: Do you spar much with Justin? I mean, is that a regular occurrence? If so, does that help you? Because Colby did a good job putting pressure on you, and he pressures guys. Being in there with Justin, does that make Colby look a little slower and easier?

KAMARU USMAN: I mean, yeah, Justin's a mad man. Being able to spar with him each and every day, I mean, people could see our sparring. I mean, it's a pay per view event itself. That's great. That's helped me out a lot. It's helped me deal with it a tremendous amount. But at the end of the day, this camp, we had to stay away from each other a little bit, because we wanted to make it to the fight. If we were just the only training partners for each other, yeah, we will have a lot more bumps and bruises. We might have not even made it to this fight.

KEVIN IOLE: I asked Dana White this question yesterday, and I'll pose it to you. I watched your fight with Colby from UFC 245 three or four times the other day. I'm trying to look what's the difference in the fight. How did Camaro turn the fight around? And it seemed to me the only thing I really noticed different that was you were hitting harder than him. And as you started landing those harder shots, it wore on him as the fight wore down. Do you think that was the biggest factor in your win the last time? Or is there something else you point to that led you to the win?

KAMARU USMAN: Yeah. I mean, one, that makes a difference. When you have a little more heat in your hands than the other guy, that makes a little bit of a difference. He pressured me at moments in the fight, and I pressured him at moments in the fight. I think it came down to at the end of the day, both of our wills were tested. And I stayed in it. I stayed in it. I have the most having fun for the first time. I remember going back to my corner after round two, which is usually the time when you start to hit that wall in a fight.

And I remember thinking to myself, wow, I'm having fun. I'm having fun just slugging it out with this guy. I'm getting hit. I don't care. And I'm hitting him, and I know they're hurting a lot worse. And so I remember that moment. I was like, oh, man, it's going to be a fun night. And I had a smile on me. You can see me in the whole fight, I had a smile on my face. Whatever he did, I had a smile on my face. That's because I was having fun. And my will was going to be tested. It was tested, but I knew that it was unbreakable.

And when he came down to the homestretch, what made the biggest difference is I was willing to make the adjustments. I made the adjustments. I wanted to slug it out with him in the first two rounds. And at round three, I made an adjustment. If we look at the numbers in round three, my defense shut his offense completely down. I broke his jaw at the end of that third round. And then, in the fourth and fifth round, I started making more and more reads and more and more adjustments. And in that fifth round, I made the crucial adjustment that completely started the finishing sequence. I think that's what sets us apart. I'm willing to understand as the fight goes on, I grow and I understand what's taking place and make those proper adjustments.

KEVIN IOLE: Yeah. That's the thing. You think of Muhammad Ali. He always did. Floyd Mayweather did. They're able to adjust on their own as the fight went on. If you watch that Muhammad Ali documentary, they were talking about how when he fight George Foreman, Angelo Dundee was going crazy. Get off the ropes. Get off the ropes. And Ali knew what he was doing. Is that something that you always have had, Kamaru? Or is it something that coaches have helped teach you and that you've learned from coaches and then been able to bring to yourself?

KAMARU USMAN: It's a bit of both. I mean, you won. Personally, you as an athlete, you have to have that will to want to continue in order to give yourself a fighting chance to be able to make those adjustments. And of course, the coaches have to aid in that, because they see what you don't see on the outside. And they have to be able to aid and let you know that, hey, this is what's taking place. Watch out for this. So now, I'm able to try to process that information and put it into action. So it's a little bit of both. But ultimately, no one can fight for me. I have to go in there. I have to fight for myself.

KEVIN IOLE: I want to run this past to you. When the fight was stopped last time, Colby complained right away about it. My reaction watching it live was I thought it was a good stoppage. As you mentioned, he'd injured his jaw. He claims it wasn't broken, but that he injured his jaw. But I watched it yesterday. I wonder if maybe not it was a little early. Because while you may have finished him and had gone or not pulled you off, a lot of the punches weren't landing clean as you were on top when he was down. Do you see any merit in his argument that it was a bad stoppage and Goedert cost him a chance to win?

KAMARU USMAN: No. Because if you really look at it, which we didn't really even see the score cards. But based on what people were saying, it might have been 2-2 going into the fifth. I dropped you twice in that fifth round. You would have lost the fight regardless. But if you really look at it, we are well conditioned athlete. As far as the elite athletes, we have that burning desire to where we're willing to die in there. We are.

And the referee's job is to ensure that does not happen. It's to save us from ourselves, so we don't die in there. So if you look at the finishing sequence, if you look at the course of the fight, the referee was in there. He saw the shots that were landing. He saw the shots landing cleanly. And if you look at the rest of that fifth round, as far as that finishing sequence, he had taken a lot of unanswered punches. I think at that point, I might have hit him with maybe 15 clean hard shots--

KEVIN IOLE: Yeah, I agree.

KAMARU USMAN: --leading to the shot that dropped him the first time, which he got up. In the second shot, that dropped him the second time. And now, you're on bottom. You're just hanging on to the leg with one arm, and you just holding on to your ear with the other arm. That's not necessarily intelligently defending yourself. With the shots that he had taken leading up to that point and the ref just watch you take a cannon to the face twice, it's his job to make sure that you don't die in there. I understand him saying, oh, I wanted to fight it out. Yes, that's what you're supposed to do. You're an elite athlete. You want to die in there. But at the end of the day, the referee did his job at protecting you from yourself.

KEVIN IOLE: Good point. I can't argue that point. I mentioned your name to Dana yesterday and in another incident. When I watch Khamzat Chimaev the other day, I said, how in the hell? Who's going to beat this guy? Now, I'm talking to the pound for pound best fighter in the world. I assume that you watch UFC 267. And if you did, you had to have some kind of opinion on Chimaev. What are your thoughts?

KAMARU USMAN: Absolutely, I think he's a young guy that's doing what he's supposed to do with the opposition that he's presented. He's doing the right thing. And I'm proud of it. More power to him. To be able to do that with guys that are presented to you at a certain level, he's doing an A-plus job with these guys. If you look at it, some boxers will come out, boxers are 20-0, 19 knockouts. You look down at the record. Who's that guy? Who is that guy?

Because these guys have to grow in the sport. They're fed the right way. They're really positioned the right way where they grow in the sport. So by the time they get to the top, they are scary individuals. And so yeah, he's doing the best that he can with the opposition that he's been presented. So more power to him, respect. If I'm still here all the time he's here, and that time comes, we'll talk about that. We'll deal with that.

KEVIN IOLE: Chael Sonnen made a comment. He said, I think he's no more than one fight away from the title, maybe zero fights away from the title. He's implying he should fight for the title next. Jon Anik had a similar comment on his podcast what Kenny Florian. When you hear that, do you think that's just people on the outside, getting a little excited about an exciting fighter? Or do you take those comments seriously as people who are knowledgeable about MMA expressing their opinions?

KAMARU USMAN: I mean, if you really look at it, those two names that you just mentioned, I mean, I don't think Jon Anik ever fought MMA. I love Jon. Who else?

KEVIN IOLE: Chael Sonnen.

KAMARU USMAN: Chael. I love those guys. Those are great guys. But of course, we all like to be excited about the new shiny toy that's there. We all love that. I like the fact that people are excited about this as well. People were excited about it. Exactly, great for me. But look at Masvidal. After the flying knee that killed Ben Askren, everyone was excited. Oh, this guy is going to be the next champion. His striking is out of this world. He's the best boxer in the UFC and this and that.

It is what it is. That's what people are going to do. That's the business that we're in, and I like that business. I like the fact. Because if that's business that people care about, then that's good business for me. So I like the people. I want people to get excited about it.

To say that, oh, well, he's zero fights away from the title, then at what merit? Why do we have rankings? What is the point of them? And what merit do we look at these guys that have put in a body years and years of body work to be ranked number four in the world, to be ranked number three in the world, to be ranked number two in the world? What is the point of that if we're going to give the brand new shiny toy right there? You get that shot next.

Like I said, I don't mind. Excitement is good for me. But at the end of the day, I was in a position to where I worked years. I worked tirelessly to be able to earn my shot at that. So I like that these guys are excited, but you have to really look at and see what is the scale here. Why do we measure up and say this guy, oh, you're number three in the world? You get that next shot. Why do we do that?

KEVIN IOLE: You are always great to talk to. I could go on and on with you. I'm going to just end it with this. You basically lapped the field. You beat Colby Covington. Who haven't you beaten? So you've gotten everybody. How much longer do you want to do this? Given your dominance, this would be 15 wins in a row, I guess, if you do it over more than six years. How much longer will you have the motivation to keep going out there and doing this over? Or would you think about moving up a weight class perhaps?

KAMARU USMAN: That's just a good question. And really going to my well of guys, some of my most respected friends that I know in the sport that have been champions, that have been at the top of the sport, and really taking it in. I'm starting to understand it. And being a father as well, I'm starting to understand that it's not something I can do forever. It's not something that I necessarily want to do forever. Being away from my daughter 12 weeks takes its toll. I understand that it's something that I do consider. What's the trade off here? How motivated am I really to continue to be gone for 12 weeks away from my growing daughter and compete with these guys?

So yeah, it is something that I am thinking about. Who knows? I'm not going to say I'm putting a time limit on it. But I am starting to recognize that the body's not 21 anymore. This started to change. So I'm recognizing as long as you recognize it, I think that's probably one of the biggest factors in it.

KEVIN IOLE: I wish I was your age. I just said that.

[LAUGHS]

Anyways, camp, you are the best always. I enjoyed talking to you. Kamaru Usman, best of luck on Saturday. Thank you so much for your time.

KAMARU USMAN: Thank you, Kevin. I appreciate it as always.

KEVIN IOLE: Be well, brother.