Former welterweight champion Kamaru Usman has spoken out about his decision to step in on short notice to fight Khamzat Chimaev in the co-main event of UFC 294 in Abu Dhabi on Saturday night as a late replacement for Paulo Costa.
Usman tells TMZ Sport that it was a fight he had always believed was destined to happen since had been the long-time welterweight champion and Chimaev was the up-and-coming star.
“The crazy thing is, I hate being put in this position because this was supposed to be the fight,” Usman told TMZ. “He’s a great, very, very good prospect, contender. He was in my weight class so that fight naturally was what was supposed to happen and I said, ‘Alright, let’s do it. I’ve been ready for it, let’s do it.’ But, of course, some things from his side about not being able to make the weight and also from the UFC side, they have their plans and so the fight didn’t come together.”
Now Usman will have to step up to middleweight with virtually no preparation in order to get the fight, but with the knowledge that Dana White has already said the winner will fight Sean Strickland for the title next.
“I mean, it’s a no-brainer,” Usman said. “Sean Strickland is the champion. I’ve already taken care of him. Not to say he’s not better, he is. But I’ve got a mountain in front of me that I have to scale and climb. We’ll get through that first and then we’ll worry about what’s next but it’s a no-brainer.”
As such it’s clear that Usman knows how good of a fighter Chimaev is, but he sees an opportunity to be the first man to beat his feared opponent.
“He’s definitely very talented. That’s why there’s a lot of excitement about him. We’ve seen these guys come in and a lot of different guys and you just see something special about him. We all know it. I know it, he knows it, everyone knows it.
“He’s very skilled. He’s strong, he’s big. He’s fast, he can wrestle, he can grapple, he can strike. He has everything but so do I. At the end of the day, we’re all human beings. Everybody feels invincible until someone comes in and pokes that balloon.”