They haven’t fought in a cage yet, but Usman and Askren have gotten into it over social media over the last month, and now they’ve apparently had words backstage before a UFC press conference.
The duo were in Las Vegas on Thursday for the UFC 235 press conference promoting the March 2 show at T-Mobile Arena. Usman will challenge UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley in the evening’s co-feature bout, while Askren, the former Bellator and ONE welterweight champ, makes his long-awaited Octagon debut against former UFC titleholder Robbie Lawler.
And according to Askren, Usman approached him backstage before Thursday’s event and threatened him.
“Marty tried attacking me 20 minutes ago,” Askren said.
Usman, for his part, confirmed the two had words, but bristled at the notion any threats were issued.
“Threatened him? See, that’s different,” Usman said. “It’s not threatened. There’s no threats. Why do I need to threaten somebody for?”
The beef between the duo dates back to December, when Askren publicly lobbied for an interim title fight against Usman at the since-canceled UFC 233 event, where Usman was expected to fight Colby Covington in a match which didn’t pan out.
“I knew this dude, we trained together at the Olympic training center. He was ‘Marty’ then,” Askren said. “I didn’t even come at him when I got to the UFC because I liked him. I thought he was a good dude. Listen, the opportunity came up at UFC 233, Tyron was hurt ... Colby and Marty were supposed to fight each other. Colby got scared, he’s a little b*tch — pardon my language — so I said listen, this is an opportunity. I’m here to fight the best guys. He’s a pretty damn good fighter. So I said let’s get in there for the title.”
This turned into an over-the-top back and forth between the two on social media before things cooled down. But in Usman’s mind, if you’re going to come at someone over Twitter, you better be able to back it up when you meet face-to-face.
“My thing is, if you’re going to talk online,” Usman said, “if you’re going to come at me with a certain energy, when you see me on-site, keep that certain energy. That’s it. That’s it. That’s all I am.”
Usman added that Askren should be focusing his energy on Lawler, and that should Usman defeat Woodley — Askren’s friend and training partner — for the title, then they can talk.
“Young man, congratulations,” Usman said. “You made it here. You get to be up here with your favorite fighters. Maybe after this we can all sign something for you so you can take it home to your family, OK? Congratulations, you made it here. You know what, you should be worried about that man over there. Do you know who you are fighting? Be worried. Pay attention to that man. I’m fighting for the UFC welterweight title. And on March 2nd, I will be the new welterweight champion, and at that point you can come talk to me.”
Askren, for his part, was not impressed with Usman’s backstage performance.
“I think he’s confused on what we do,” Askren said. “We don’t play basketball or wrestling, we get in the cage and fight each other. So threatening me backstage is what I volunteered for. I volunteered for that.”