Mohammed Usman was alone in his hotel room talking to the television. It was late in the night on April 24th.
About 900 miles south of the Ocean Casino Resort in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Usman’s older brother Kamaru made his way to the Octagon to defend his UFC welterweight title against Jorge Masvidal at the main UFC 261 event in Jacksonville, Florida.
Mohammed is usually in Kamaru’s corner but couldn’t be that night – he was quarantined a few weeks later for his PFL debut. But, mentally, Usman tried to make his way to the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena. He imagined what he would say to Kamaru backstage. he imagined what it was like to be in the corner.
And then Kamaru hit Masvidal in the second round with a bazooka-like right hand. The fight ended courtesy of one of the Vicious Graduations of the Year in MMA. Usman jumped off the hotel sofa and yelled, “That’s how you do it!”
“I just sat there and went crazy,” Usman said. “Just so proud of him. I’m not going to lie, even if I wasn’t expecting it. It’s like ‘Holy smoke – he just smoked it.’ It was wonderful.”
Mohammed said he called Kamaru about 10 minutes after the fight ended.
“I just told him I’m proud of him, I love him and I’ll see him soon,” said Mohammed. “He said, ‘Cool, brother.'”
This week it’s the turn of the younger siblings. Usman will fight Brandon Sayles in PFL 3 on Thursday night in Atlantic City, his first fight in the PFL’s 2021 heavyweight season. The chance is great for Usman, who makes the leap out of the regional scene. And ESPN’s best fighter in the world – his brother Kamaru – will be in his corner.
“It was very, very inspiring,” Usman said of Masvidal’s Kamaru knockout. “It made me very confident in our training and in everything I did.”
The Usman brothers are on a similar journey, but they go different ways. Like Kamaru, Mohammed moved his training camp to Colorado. Kamaru’s new coach, Trevor Wittman, suggested Mohammed train under two coaches who have been successful with heavyweights in the past: Cody Donovan and Vinny Lopez of the Elevation Fight Team. Wittman’s squad and Elevation have a partnership in which their athletes train separately but play together several times a week.
Mohammed moved to Colorado two months ago and is now training with top fighters like UFC heavyweight contender Curtis Blaydes and heavyweight legend Alistair Overeem. Of course, people will want to compare Mohammed to Kamaru. But Mohammed said he was a very different kind of heavyweight fighter than his welterweight brother – more similar to some of the fighters he worked with in Colorado.
“My style, of course it’s my style,” said Mohammed, referring to differences between the way he and his brother fight. “But if you want to look at the heavyweight division and who’s moving around and doing the things I do, you’re going to think of Curtis Blaydes.”
Blaydes sets a high standard for tall men who are strong wrestlers, have cardio for days, and have the ability to end a fight in one fell swoop. And according to Donovan, Mohammed can more than assert himself in the room with Blaydes, Overeem and others.
“He doesn’t give in,” said Donovan. “If anything, we have to tell Mo to get lighter. He’s a machine, man.”
Mohammed (7-1) has won four times in a row and has five placements in his seven career wins. The former end of the University of Houston football defensive is 32 years old but has less than 10 professional fights. Donovan believes Mohammed – not UFC veterans like legend Fabricio Werdum – is the favorite for the PFL’s heavyweight season.
“All the respect for [Willis] and Werdum, but we welcome these matchups, “said Donovan.” We will do the same [Willis] this Curtis [Blaydes] did. And we don’t worry about werdum. He’s a good striker and has a fantastic base game, but we’re not worried about his wrestling. I am very confident in Mon. “
The best advice Kamaru has given him is to just stay relaxed. This is an important creed of Kamaru’s game. His demeanor is one of the things that has enabled him to become one of the best fighters in the history of the sport. Mohammed plans to bring this idea to the PFL, but warns that he is a very different fighter than his brother. Kamaru is patient; Mohammed admits that he is ready from the start to get his opponent out of there.
“When I get into the cage, you will immediately know that he definitely doesn’t fight like Kamaru,” said Mohammed. “He’s a different guy. … Every punch I take is meant to upset your life.”
There is no pressure to have an older brother who is the best fighter in the world, said Mohammed. He’s used to pulling pressure out of his football days. He does not care. What was worse? I didn’t go to Kamaru’s corner for the Masvidal fight last month.
With Kamaru doing his business in the UFC in his absence, Mohammed is ready to make the sacrifice of missing out on this fight and moment. Now it’s time for the younger Usman to shine.
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