Kamaru Usman is a student of the game.
The top five ranked welterweight works tirelessly inside the gym to cover every facet of every fight he’s about to face while also working with his coaches to dissect his opponents’ strengths and weaknesses.
For his last fight on short notice against Demian Maia, Usman had to prepare for arguably one of the greatest submission specialists to ever step inside the Octagon and while the Brazlian might seem one dimensional, he’s dominating a long list of top welterweights over the years with his ground skills.
Usman ultimately won the fight by unanimous decision, largely pitching a shutout over five rounds.
On Friday night, Usman takes on former lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos, who has a solid resume thus far while competing at 170 pounds including a victory over former champion Robbie Lawler. Like Maia, dos Anjos also possesses a world class ground game and he’s also shown blistering power on the feet as well.
Still, Usman says that a specialist like Maia is much more difficult match simply become one mistake could cost you the fight and he doesn’t feel dos Anjos presents that same level of risk.
“He’s not as dangerous as someone like Demian Maia, who you know if you go down to guard, he’s taking an arm home or you’re going to wake up wondering what happened,” Usman said ahead of his second straight main event fight. “[Rafael dos Anjos] is a guy who is a little more open. He does give a little bit more. He’s a lot more aggressive. I like that. I’ll be able to use more skills.
“With Demain Maia, you have to be cautious. Because one slip you might wake up and wonder what happened.”
“He’s not as dangerous as someone like Demian Maia, who you know if you go down to guard, he’s taking an arm home or you’re going to wake up wondering what happened,” ~ Kamaru Usman on Rafael dos Anjos
Looking back at dos Anjos’ last fight, he fell in a decision to Colby Covington in an interim title bout back in June at UFC 225.
On that night, dos Anjos definitely had his moments but he struggled to deal with Covington’s wrestling, conditioning and physicality over five round and it cost him the fight.
Usman is probably the last person on the UFC roster who would pay Covington a compliment but he’s honest enough to say that the game plan he used was exactly what was needed to dismantle dos Anjos in that fight.
“It’s what I expected. It’s absolutely what I expected,” Usman said about dos Anjos vs. Covington. “It wasn’t like they did anything spectacular, it was just what I expected. Right now, at this level, at this stage, what I see from everyone, they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing. RDA’s not a guy that’s going to wake up overnight and say ‘I’ve got this new magical potion that I’m taking and I’m going to slaughter everybody in the division’. No it’s not that.
“He’s the same guy. He’s starting to age a little bit. He’s still dangerous, don’t get me wrong. He’s very smart, former champion. I take him very seriously. I just didn’t see anything spectacular in his last fight or his fight before that.”
Usman hopes that a strong performance against dos Anjos will finally put him into a position to battle for the UFC welterweight title in 2019 but he’s not betting on that happening until he’s inside the Octagon with the champion standing across from him.
“I’m not holding my breath anymore,” Usman said. “The UFC has blatantly said someone was getting a title shot and that didn’t happen. So until I step inside that Octagon across from the champion, I don’t believe anything. I have to be inside that cage across from the guy with the cage locked and the referee saying ‘you ready?’ to believe it.
“I’ve just kind of learned to deal with that and roll with the punches. I’ve learned not to expect anything.”