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Kamaru Usman went from fighting a former training partner to a high-profile rival in just a few short days.
After Gilbert Burns was forced to withdraw from the UFC 251 main event due to a positive COVID-19 test, Jorge Masvidal agreed to step in a face the reigning welterweight champion on less than one week’s notice. It’s the fight that many were anticipating before Masvidal’s highly-publicized contract dispute with the UFC temporarily derailed those plans, but for Usman, the opponent won’t matter come Saturday night.
“It’s just a minor change,” Usman told TMZ Sports. “But at the end of the day, when you’re in training camp the way that I train, you see no face. At the end, you see no face. I have to be ready when I cross into that Octagon, I have to turn on the ‘Nigerian Nightmare’ and leave Kamaru Usman on the outside. I see no face every time I’m in there anyway, so now it’s just a little extra push to go in there and really do some damage. It didn’t make no difference.”
Usman enters UFC 251 on a 15-bout professional winning streak that includes 11 consecutive triumphs within the Octagon. The 33-year-old claimed the 170-pound belt with a lopsided five-round verdict over Tyron Woodley at UFC 235 and successfully defended it for the first time with a fifth-round stoppage of Colby Covington this past December. While Masvidal might be a bigger name, Usman is confident he is the better fighter.
“At the end of the day when it comes to competing, because this is a competition, there’s nobody better than me right now,” Usman said. “I’m the best competitor in that division. That’s why I’m the king of the division. When it comes time to go in there and compete, I will do my job.”
Masvidal raised his profile significantly with victories over Darren Till, Ben Askren and Nate Diaz in 2019, but Usman doesn’t expect to be seriously threatened by “Gamebred.”
“The fight will go a specific way, and that’s the way that I want it to go,” Usman said. “I’m dominant from start to finish in each and every one of my fights. Even in that last Covington fight – yes, I took some licks – but I was still dominant in every way. I controlled the fight until I put him out. That’s how I fight. That’s how I’m trained to fight. That’s how my mind is trained, my body is trained. These guys don’t understand that (until) they step inside there with me, they realize they’re stuck in there with me.”
In his last appearance, Masvidal captured the “BMF” title with his victory against Diaz at UFC 244. The belt was supposed to be a one-off deal – a fun incentive for the fighters and fans. But Usman plans on taking it home with him after vanquishing his opponent in Abu Dhabi on Saturday night.
“That’s my s--t. Absolutely,” he said. “…They’re really considering this a real title, kind of like an interim thing or whatever. They’re really considering this a title, so you know what? After I go out there and beat his ass and ragdoll him, that s--t is coming home with me so I can throw it in my closet.”
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