But few could have imagined the way things actually went down.
In one of the most one-sided title changes in recent memory, Usman dominated Woodley from pillar to post on Saturday night at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, using his relentless pressure and suffocating wrestling to sweep the judges’ scorecards and introduce himself as the new king of the UFC’s welterweight division. It was a masterclass performance in every sense of the word, but for coach Henri Hooft, who watched Usman rack up a flawless Octagon record en route to his first title opportunity, UFC 235 was just business as usual.
“Of course it’s something special to win a belt at the end, but according to training and everything, how the fight went, it was like Kamaru is the last couple of fights — progressing, putting a lot of pressure, doing what he does best, put his will on his opponent, and you saw what happened. He kinda broke the opponent and won every round,” Usman’s coach Henri Hooft said Monday on The MMA Hour. “So yeah, it was great.
“His fight IQ is so high that, as a coach, you don’t really need to do a lot. ... And what he did the last couple of years with his career and now with the belt, that’s something that he really did by himself. He’s a different guy.”
Following his upset victory at UFC 235, Usman now sits at a perfect 10-0 in the UFC. His last three fights — lopsided wins over Demian Maia, Rafael dos Anjos, and Woodley — have all been eye-opening affairs. And in Hooft’s eyes, one trait in particular has helped “The Nigerian Nightmare” evolve into such a special combat sports athlete.
“Discipline,” Hooft said simply. “Just discipline in anything, everything he does. From training to family to thinking to everything — discipline. Knowing what he wants, knowing when to do the right stuff, just in everything. Not only in the gym, everywhere. He’s a good family man. He’s just, like, the correct guy, and I think he will be a great champion because he’s just good, you know? A perfect guy. A perfect guy to have.
“He starts to get better in round four and five, you know?” Hooft added. “It’s like a diesel. He slowly gets stronger and stronger and stronger, and that’s his big plus in the fights also. Some guys say, ‘oh, he’s not the best striker,’ and, ‘oh, he has not the best the wrestling, oh, he has not the best this,’ but he is disciplined and he has will and he believes, also, in the people that are with him. That’s also a big thing. He believes in us.”
Hooft has been coaching Usman for seven years now, basically the entirety of the new UFC welterweight champion’s fighting career.
Reflecting back on that time, Hooft said Monday that he and his fellow trainers down in Florida saw signs early on that Usman had the potential to be one of the world’s best.
“I think after a couple of training sessions [we realized], really,” Hooft said. “Because he came with Rashad (Evans) and he — I remember, we talked about it on fight night with Anthony (Johnson) after the fight, Anthony was just chasing him around the cage and everything, because Anthony of course was already a beast by then, but he always hung in there and he always came back, so we kinda thought, ‘Well, you know, that could be something special.’
“Then you need to see him fight. And then slowly on the show, on The Ultimate Fighter show, you saw him getting better, progressing. And again, back to the training room, with so many great fighters here in our place, you saw him compete, getting better with the kickboxers in striking, and getting also more comfortable in not wrestling during MMA sparring, but just keep standing up, get confident in your striking.
“Then me, again, I’ve [been doing] this 34 years now, fighting and coaching and training, you can just see a guy growing and seeing that he’s on a certain path with his whole life, with his career and fighting. ... He does it all very disciplined. But then at the end of the day, they always have to do it in the cage. And the thing is, he does that. Every time when he fought, he showed it. He probably hasn’t ever lost a round. He just, he kept getting better, better, better and better.”
Usman already appears to have his first welterweight title defense set. UFC president Dana White said Saturday night that interim champion Colby Covington will be the next in line. Usman and Covington have plenty of history. Covington crashed Usman’s open workout during UFC 235 fight week; the two then got into an altercation in a Las Vegas casino on Sunday afternoon alongside Usman’s manager Ali Abdelaziz.
A brash and outspoken welterweight, Covington has taken to calling Usman “Snoozeman,” mocking the 31-year-old champion for a fighting style that Covington sees as unexciting. Woodley’s teammate Ben Askren, a fellow welterweight contender who also won at UFC 235, has echoed similar criticisms about Usman’s style and lack of finishes, as have some fans on social media. But to Hooft, it’s all just white noise.
“There’s always something,“ Hooft said. “Whatever you do, there’s always something that people think you’re not doing correct. The same kind of thing has been said before about Khabib (Nurmagomedov), who’s dominant. That’s the same stuff. No, I think it’s not a big thing. First of all, you sign for a 15-minute fight, you train for a 15-minute fight, so that’s what you do. And if a knockout or a decision or a submission or a TKO comes, it comes. Everybody wants to win fights before the final bell, but maybe the opponent is good or maybe you can’t stop some guys. And again, there’s always something that people can pick up and say.
“So, you know what, at the end of the day, he did what he had to do against a very dominant champion, Tyron Woodley, with a good camp, good people around [Woodley], and he dominated. So if people don’t like it or people say he has to finish more fights, then step up and do it yourself, right?”