Kamaru Usman has already accomplished a lot during his fighting career, and he knows a day will likely come sooner rather than later when he hangs up his gloves for good.
Just days away from his rematch with Colby Covington at UFC 268, the reigning welterweight champion is already being asked to address future fights, including a potential showdown with highly-touted prospect Khamzat Chimaev.
While Usman understands the hype surrounding Chimaev after he earned his fourth straight win in the UFC this past weekend with a lopsided finish against Li Jingliang, “The Nigerian Nightmare” knows he won’t be around forever to clash with everybody climbing up the ranks at 170 pounds.
“First and foremost, he’s done a tremendous job with the opposition he’s been presented with,” Usman said about Chimaev during his session at UFC 268 media day. “No shame in that. He’s doing great. I like it. I love all the hype that’s been there. Let’s all be honest, life is not fair. We learn that as kids. Life isn’t fair, so I know some guys get a faster push, some guys don’t. It is what it is. More power to him. He’s doing a phenomenal job with the position that he’s being put in. Hats off to him.
“As far as me [fighting him], you know I’m in a point in life to where I understand how much this takes from you. I’ve been nine weeks now away from my daughter, and FaceTime does help, but it doesn’t do it justice, as far as being there each and every day. So obviously I don’t know how much longer I’m willing to do this. They have to make sense for me now. If he’s able to get there, then we’ll talk about it at that point.”
Despite the considerable attention being paid to Chimaev right now, he still hasn’t faced an elite top five ranked welterweight since joining the UFC roster, though it seems like he’s already being groomed as a possible title challenger in the very near future.
That might actually help Chimaev’s cause given that Usman is looking at several rematches in his future. The champ already has beaten Jorge Masvidal twice and is now facing Covington for a second time inside two years.
“The start?” Usman said with a laugh when asked if he was beginning to run laps around his competition. “I’m running. I’m sprinting past these dudes and I’m looking back and smiling at them now. This is a fun one. I’m having fun with this now. I’ve said before, I’ve been classically trained in all of this in this sport.
“Coming up and watching guys like ‘Suga’ Rashad Evans and going with him to these media tours and these big, big fights. I was able to get an inside look at what this could be, to where I was able to dream and manifest what I wanted to be. Being up here and having these opportunities now, I’m blessed and it feels great. I’m having fun.”
Usman knows the nature of the sport will always tend to skew toward the next big thing. Right now, that’s probably Chimaev, which is why his name is coming up so frequently.
That said, Usman has been here before. Even after his heated rivalry with Masvidal ended with a jaw-dropping knockout in their last meeting, he was barely out of the cage before fielding questions about his next opponent.
“That’s how it is,” Usman lamented. “After I get done with the fight, what did you guys do the last time? Just sent Masvidal to the shadow realm and you guys are, ‘So who’s next? Is Colby next?’ That’s what it is. It’s always going to be that way.
“If all champions, especially some of the best champions in the world continue to listen to that, then basically all you guys want to see is me continually be successful until I’m not successful. Then you guys can put that stamp on it, ‘Oh he’s washed up, he needs to leave.’”
Rather than think about Chimaev, Edwards or anybody else, Usman prefers to keep the focus on himself and the time he has left in the sport, no matter how long that might be. He’s witnessed more than a few fighters stick around past their expiration date. He’s also seen a couple of shining examples of champions walking away while still on top of the world.
Usman is much more interested in the latter type of exit.
“I want to be that champion who does it all,” he said. “I want to do it on my own time, like Khabib [Nurmagomedov]. I know a lot of people have been throwing a lot of shade, saying a lot of things about Khabib leaving when he wanted to leave. That’s how you do it. Even Georges St-Pierre, that’s how you do it.
“You leave when you want to. You don’t let the sport retire you. So yeah when I feel like that time’s there, it’s time for me to go.”
As far as accolades go, Usman has already racked up quite a few during his current 14-fight win streak in the UFC, which includes wins in five consecutive title fights. He’s not done yet, but he knows it’s going to take more to bring him back than just the next guy in line.
“Let’s be honest, I’ve kind of done what there is to do in MMA, in UFC,” Usman said. “This Saturday live on ESPN pay-per-view at Madison Square Garden, what’s bigger than that? I’ve headlined pay-per-views before. The first event back with fans and look how that looked, how that pay-per-view went. Fought Colby the first time, T-Mobile Arena, headlined that. Went all the way to Abu Dhabi, headlined that in Fight Island 1. What is there to do in the sport? I’ve done it all.
“Talk about legacy, look what I’ve done to this point. When I’m done and I walk away, guys are going to look back and say wow, he was special. Just like we’ve done with some of the greats. So if I’m looking at legacy, I want to do something that’s never been done before. These guys don’t really scare me anymore.”