Kamaru Usman felt the weight of the world on his shoulders heading into his welterweight title defense in the main event of UFC 245 on Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena.
“Let’s be honest: Nobody wants to lose to that guy,” Usman said of his fight against Colby Covington, a top contender who became one of the most polarizing characters in the sport two years ago when he committed to a race-baiting, jingoistic, President Donald Trump-supporting gimmick inspired by professional wrestling.
“I said and I meant, this was for the world,” Usman said in the early hours of Saturday morning after retaining the belt with a knockout in the final minute of the fifth and final round. “This for the people in Brazil. This is for my family. This was for everybody. When you push hate and you push separation, love and unity do win sometimes. Tonight it won.”
Usman, who admitted he avoided using his wrestling because he wanted to knock Covington out instead, was thrilled with the victory. He was even more pleased it was all over after an exhausting buildup during which Usman had to constantly answer questions about Covington’s comments.
“It’s good to move past all of that,” he said. “This is what kept me sane for the seven months I knew the fight was going to happen, was this moment after the fight (where I could enjoy beating him). That’s what I looked forward to. It’s the addicting moment.
“You have to be able to withstand all that pressure and rise to the occasion. That’s what I was able to do tonight.”
Covington, who suffered a non-displaced midline jaw fracture, was in the hospital and unavailable for comment. He did stay in character long enough to post about his loss on Twitter.
“Normally people do their (expletive) in the bedroom, not the octagon,” he said, tagging the Twitter handle of referee Marc Goddard, who made the decision to stop the fight. “I go in there to kill or be killed. You robbed me of that. You robbed the people of a fair fight. You should be ashamed of yourself. Fake nut shot. Fake eye poke. Fake stoppage. Fake ref.”
Usman would have won on the scorecards had the fight been allowed to continue for the final 50 seconds.
Even the slightest bit of controversy in what was a highly entertaining fight had some clamoring for a rematch.
Usman wasn’t thrilled with the suggestion because of how emotionally draining the entire saga has been on him and his family. He suggested the same may be true of Covington.
“It takes a lot to carry all that negativity,” Usman said. “It takes a lot to carry that whole act and that whole fake bravado. It takes a whole lot out of you to then come in here and try to fight. I imagine now what he’s going to be going through. It takes a lot out of you physically and mentally. He’s a tough guy. I always give him credit. I think he’s a very, very tough fighter. But on to the next.”
As for what that will be, Usman wasn’t ready to call out his next challenger. He said he owes his family some time after all the emotions they have been through. Then, he plans to find out what UFC officials have in mind for his next challenger.
Usman said there’s a pool of contenders who are all qualified, though none have done much to separate from the pack.
Whoever he fights doesn’t figure to generate as much heat.
Usman, whose family immigrated to the United States from Nigeria when he was 8, did want to make clear he wasn’t offended by Covington’s fans chanting “U.S.A.” during the fight.
“They were chanting for me, too,” he said. “I’ve said it time and time again, I’m more American than him. I’m what it means to be an American. I’m an immigrant that worked my (expletive) off tirelessly to get to the top and I’m still prevailing. That’s what it means to be an American. “
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