Kamaru Usman not only fought on short-notice on Saturday, he found himself in a situation he hadn’t experienced in years: A three-round fight.
Dating back to 2018, Usman had competed in 10 straight bouts scheduled for five rounds before stepping in for Paulo Costa to fight Khamzat Chimaev in the co-main event of UFC 294. Chimaev defeated Usman by majority decision, with one judge scoring the fight a draw and the other two awarding Chimaev 29-27 scores.
In an interview with ESPN after the fight, an emotional Usman lamented his slow start to the contest and the lack of confidence that haunted him after a pair of title fight losses to rival Leon Edwards.
“You drop two razor-thin ones to Leon and it’s been a while,” Usman said. “You go years without losing for a long, long time, all the hard work, and you drop two close ones like that. You start to kind of question things and you start to doubt yourself a little bit. You almost forget what it feels like. If anything that I can say I take away from tonight, it’s that I need to trust myself more, trust my coaches, and we’ll be back.
“I came off the couch in 10 days and fighting a young hungry bull like that. He’s big, he’s strong, he’s had a year and a half to really grow into this weight class, and I didn’t. I didn’t trust my shape. I’m a championship fighter and you can’t start slow like that. Give me a couple of extra rounds, I think the world knows what that result might be.”
Usman is currently on the longest and only losing streak of his career after dropping two straight to Edwards and then another to Chimaev on Saturday. At UFC 278, Usman was on his way to a decision win over Edwards when he was caught by a head kick with less than a minute remaining in the fight. When they ran it back at UFC 286, Edwards won a majority decision to go up 2-1 in their three-fight series.
Chimaev dominated the first round against Usman, using his trademark wrestling attack to take Usman down, take his back, and threaten with punches and chokes. Usman barely had 10 days to prepare for the undefeated Chimaev and he knows that short time frame may have cost him.
“It’s miscalculations for me,” Usman said. “That’s part of camp. For me, I’m a wrestler, that’s why I love to wrestle. I love to really put time in in camp and really prepare for those positions, and I didn’t necessarily get the time to really put the grappling in to be able to stop those takedowns. I don’t give up positions like that. That’s the part that I’m mostly disappointed about is giving up those positions, because I didn’t have adequate time to prepare.
“But that’s no excuse. He’s as advertised. He’s big, he’s strong, and — I’m a championship fighter. I need those extra two rounds. I can’t start slow like that. It’s been a while since I’ve been in a three-round fight, but that kid’s as advertised. He’s tough and I give him all the props.”
The biggest question coming off of the loss is what exactly Usman plans to do next. Should he return to welterweight, it’s unlikely that he’ll receive another shot at the title as long as Edwards holds it (though Edwards could potentially lose it to upcoming challenger Colby Covington — a fighter Usman has defeated twice). However, an unsuccessful middleweight debut might not have him eager to stick around in the heavier division either.
With Sean Strickland — a fighter that Usman holds a win over, albeit six years ago and in a different weight class — currently holding the UFC’s 185-pound belt, Usman hasn’t ruled out possibly taking out a middleweight contender for another shot at becoming a “champ champ.”
“That’s a lot of questions,” Usman said. “It’s hard to say, take time away from the sport. I just came off the couch in nine days and fought a young, hungry bull like that. I think it’s more of me believing in myself again, trusting my coaches, trusting my team, and trusting myself. I just need to believe in myself and get out there.
“It’s a tough one, but I’m going to take a little bit of time and I’m back in the gym. I don’t mind it. [Chimaev is] going to fight for the title, I’ll take [Dricus] Du Plessis, co-main, UFC 300, why not?”