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Kamaru Usman is UFC’s unstoppable anti-Conor McGregor

Don’t think for a second that Kamaru Usman has missed what his critics say about the way he handles pre-fight promotion. 

The way he sees it, he’s been the reigning UFC welterweight champion for almost two years without the need to be mixed martial arts’ most notorious talker.

“People see the way that I approach the sport and are like, ‘Why isn’t he talking more? Why doesn’t he talk crap? Why doesn’t he try to sell us what Conor McGregor sells us? … Why isn’t he promoting himself?’ ” Usman told The Post over the phone on Tuesday. “For some of these people, it’s hard for them to grasp that I don’t have to do that. I don’t need to be that guy.”

Ahead of his third title defense on Saturday at UFC Apex in Las Vegas, against longtime training partner and former Sanford MMA teammate Gilbert Burns in the UFC 258 pay-per-view headliner, it’s not fame that interests him about this sport. It never was.

“That’s the thing that I hear. ‘Oh, he would be more famous if he did this or if he did that or if he talked crap about his opponents and then went out and dominated them. He’d be more famous,’” Usman said. “I didn’t get into this sport for that, and I think that is what’s lost in translation each and every time I have to fight.”

UFC president Dana White told The Post on Wednesday that he “couldn’t agree with him more” when it comes to Usman’s (17-1, eight finishes) approach to the sport and his critics. The champion’s promotor raved about the 16-fight win streak dating back to his second pro fight in 2013 and pointing out that he’s tied with all-time great and soon-to-be Hall of Famer Georges St-Pierre for the most consecutive UFC welterweight victories (12).

Kamaru Usman walks away from Tyron Woodley after their March 2, 2019 fight
Kamaru Usman walks away from Tyron Woodley after their March 2, 2019 fight
MediaNews Group via Getty Images

“I could go on for an hour about [Usman],” White said. “I think that this guy lets his work do the talking for him.”

While that nose-to-the-grindstone approach might be looked upon by some as a hindrance or a frustration to a promoter, White explains that there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to fans’ tastes. 

“You have people that, I’ll go on the internet and they’re like, ‘Oh, Kamaru Usman, this, that. If you listen to him talk, he’ll put you to sleep.’ ” White said. “There’s people that tune in for Conor fights, a wide group of people. Then there’s people that’ll tune in when Amanda Nunes fights, different people that tune in when Usman fights. You get a different cycle of people every time you put on a fight.

“Some people like the Conor bravado and all the things that go on at the Conor press conference of a fight, and people that like an Usman or a Lyoto Machida when we had him, who would talk no smack about anybody either. There’s different types of people for different types of fight fans.”

Usman, who left his Florida-based team to train with Trevor Wittman in Colorado, took the deliberate path to the championship. He first won the 21st season of “The Ultimate Fighter” in 2015 before rattling off an additional eight consecutive victories in one of the UFC’s deepest divisions. That earned his shot at snatching the 170-pound crown from longtime champ Tyron Woodley. Like Saturday’s challenger Burns (19-3, 14 finishes), a 15-fight UFC veteran who earned his night under the brightest lights on the strength of four consecutive wins since moving up from lightweight, he showed no inclination to incite a war of words on his way to the pinnacle of his weight class.

That approach runs antithetical to his nemesis, Colby Covington. After taking the head-down approach during an impressive start to his career, the talented but lesser-known former collegiate wrestler made use of his platform after beating respectful Brazilian grappler Demian Maia in Sao Paulo to go full heel, embracing a crude approach by insulting the nation which hosted his bout. The vitriolic schtick helped catapult him past Usman into a victorious interim title fight against Rafael dos Anjos in 2018 and, from there, a visit to the Donald Trump White House as an outspoken, MAGA hat-wearing supporter of the now-former president.

While a Covington-Woodley championship bout failed to materialize, Usman took advantage by claiming the prized gold belt in dominant fashion in March 2019 over Woodley. That set up a December clash later in the year between the clear-cut best at 170 pounds that manifested as a brutal, back-and-forth classic. With the scorecards later revealing that the winner of the fifth and final round would leave as the champion, Usman took command in the final two minutes with straight punches that put the typically forward-charging Covington on his heels. A pair of knockdowns mixed with some shots on the ground prompted the referee to call off the action with 50 seconds left.

“I say this all the time: People ask me, ‘What’s the greatest fight you’ve ever seen in the UFC?’ And I’ve seen so many great fights, it’s hard to just pick one,” White said. “But the one that pops up in my head is [Usman] vs. Colby Covington. One of the greatest fights I’ve ever seen.” 

Never shy, Covington seethed about the nature of the stoppage, which came while he was grasping at Usman’s sprawled legs in search of a double-leg takedown that looked unlikely to succeed, much less earn him the round from the judges. He denigrated referee Marc Goddard — one of the most respected officials among his peers — for earlier pauses in the action due to fouls by Covington and being “robbed of a fight to the death,” as he told The Score last February.

Usman, who successfully defended his throne against Jorge Masvidal in July, agreed that Covington’s reaction could be viewed as sour grapes, but he offered an alternate perspective that was almost sympathetic to his venom-spewing former foe — to a point.

“I give him the benefit of the doubt, in a sense, because he’s not willing to accept defeat,” Usman said. “He wanted to work through [being knocked down] and get better and really prove to himself that he’s not a loser or him being a loser in that case.

“But where he does show his true colors is the fact that you’re making excuses for why that happened, as opposed to accepting it, be his best and get to that place again. He’s making excuses: ‘Oh, the ref is from this part of the world,’ and ‘the ref doesn’t like Donald Trump,’ so then, therefore, the ref doesn’t like me,” Usman said, referring to Covington’s unfounded accusations to ESPN levied against the England-based referee.

“You’re not friends with Donald Trump. Donald Trump don’t care about you,” Usman said. “You’re just an athlete. Donald Trump don’t know you. He doesn’t care about you like that.”

Usman said he would welcome a rematch with Covington, expressing how thoroughly he enjoyed the experience of fighting him regardless of the outcome — and backed up by the wide grin he flashed the challenger after the fourth round, whose jaw the champ fractured earlier in the fight — provided he earns another win or two.

In September, Covington followed up a lopsided TKO finish of Woodley in his return to the cage by taking a call on the live post-fight broadcast from Trump and, later, hurling a string of racially-charged insults directly at Usman, a Nigerian American whom was a part of the UFC’s in-studio analyst team for the event. For the champion, it all comes back to the way he chooses to carry himself in contrast to his rival.

“He doesn’t care about how he gets recognition. He just wants recognition,” Usman said. “And so, if that’s what he has to do to go about getting a fight with myself, as opposed to just putting in the work and earning it, then that’s what he’s going to do. 

“And I take nothing away from him. I think he’s definitely a very, very tough fighter, a good fighter,. But I’ve never had to call anyone [out] or say anything, whether it’s racial or race-related or anything negative, in order to be able to earn a fight. I’ve never had to do that. I just worked to earn everything that I got.”

nypost.com

New York Post

The New York Post is a daily tabloid newspaper in New York City. The Post also operates NYPost.com, the celebrity gossip site PageSix.com and the entertainment site Decider.com.

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