Kamaru Usman: Unveiling The Nigerian Nightmare

Kamaru Usman
Kamaru Usman

BEVERLY HILLS, May 03, (THEWILL) – On the night of Saturday, April 24, after what was an intense buildup to an epic rematch at the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the fighter who is currently the undisputed pound-for-pound men’s Mixed Martial Arts fighter, Kamaru Usman, a.k.a  The Nigerian Nightmare, proved his mettle by retaining his title as the champion of the UFC Welterweight division.

In defending his title, Usman improved on the record he set during his first fight with Jorge ‘Gamebred’ Masvidal, which ended in a second-round knockout victory against the American. That rematch was the main event of UFC 261 from VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida, USA. Usman made sure to end with a massive right hand that proved too much for Masvidal.

It was a clear demonstration of his nickname, which he proudly ties to the land of his birth and the place of his origin. In 1987, 11 days into the month of May, the Nigerian-American professional mixed martial artist, who is a former freestyle wrestler and graduated folkstyle wrestler, was born in Auchi, the second largest city in Edo State, Nigeria.

He was born into a family of five, comprising a military father, a teacher mother and two male siblings who grew up to be Kashetu Usman, a Doctor of Pharmacy and Mohammed Usman, a second Usman family fighter in the MMA.

Kamaru was only eight years-old in 1995 when his family migrated to the United States. The fighter, whose victory over Masvidal marked the fifth successful defense of his Welterweight title, had only eight years of the Nigerian experience before he was taken from his roots and brought up in the dense suburban feel of the Texas metropolis. However, never for once in the many years that followed did the Nigerian essence and spirit leave him. He may have physically left the country, but, in essence, he stayed true.

Usman’s participation in the activities that would eventually bring him recognition and fame across the globe began in his second year at Bowie High School in Arlington, Texas, where his wrestling career kicked off. His school coach had difficulty with the pronunciation of his first name, Kamarudeen  and Usman got his first nickname, “Marty” which was an easy extraction from the first name and a lot easier on the anglicised tongue.

The nickame easily became an alternate reference for Usman in the amateur stage of his wrestling, which was encouragingly prodigious. He left high School with a record of 53 wins and only three losses to set the stage for the rest of his competitive fights. Frustrated by disappointment with his team at William Penn University, Usman transferred to the University of Nebraska at Kearney, where his talents were put to excellent use to win them their first-ever team title in 2008.

The toughness and brawn that was to transform Usman into the ‘Nigerian Nightmare’ were already apparent before he turned professional. For every year he was at Kearney, he finished top 3 in America and was a two-time national finalist.

Usman became the NCAA Division II national champion at 174 pounds in 2010. He wrapped up the season with a 44–1 record that included 30 straight wins to put his name out as a force to reckon with.

It was about his time that the sad occurrence of his father’s trial was resolved with a conviction against the older Usman who had run afoul of the authorities. Muhammed Usman, although previously charged in Tarrant County for theft and drunk driving, was convicted in May 2010 of various offenses, including health care fraud and money laundering. He was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment and ordered to pay the sum of $1.3m in restitution.

Usman focussed on his sport, though, and was past 23 when he took up freestyle wrestling. There is a possibility that there could have been no ‘Nigerian Nightmare’ if this was the path he took and if he made a definitive career out of it. But, at the time, it was his path and it led him to become a resident of the United States Olympic Training Center. He had his eyes on representing America at the 2012 Olympics in London, United Kingdom. Usman was on course to achieve that goal before injuries forced him to turn to MMA.

Again, fortune smiled at the emergence of Usman as the Nigerian Nightmare. The title had previously been trademarked by a different Nigerian, who had made waves for himself and made a mark for the most populous black nation on earth in the American National Football League. That person was Christian Okoye. As a former American football running back for the Kansas City Chiefs from 1987 to 1992, Okoye was famous for his powerful running style and ability to break tackles.

When Usman requested to run with Okoye’s trademarked title, the latter, who was forced by multiple injuries to end his NFL career and was inducted into the Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Fame in 2000, did not hesitate to grant him permission.

With the force of that blessing, Usman waded into professional MMA with a debut fight in November 2012. By 2015, when he decided to try out The Ultimate Fighter bouts, Usman had compiled a record of 5–1.

Usman began TUF at a time he faced several challenges, with resilience, determination and unmatched zeal. He debuted with an unanimous victory over undefeated Titan FC Welterweight Champion, Michael Graves. Another unanimous victory in the semi-finals put him over a former WSOF Welterweight Champion, Steve Carl. He overcame Hayder Hassan on July 12, 2015, at The Ultimate Fighter 21 Finale via submission in the second round.

The Nigerian Nightmare came into TUF tougher than nails and taken all comers, winning a six-figure contract with the Ultimate Fighting Championship. He was also awarded the Performance of the Night award for his display at the final. He was going to carry this form into the UFC.

From 2015 to his last 2021 fifth defence of his Welterweight crown, there was not a force powerful enough to slow down the momentum of the Nigerian Nightmare. An unanimous decision over Leon Edwards on December 19, 2015 was followed by a one-sided victory for Usman over Alexander Yakovlev on July 23, 2016.

For his second fight in 2016, Usman took out Warlley Alves on November 19, 2016 by a unanimous decision. It was the same story against long-time KOTC Middleweight Champion, Sean Strickland, on April 8, the following year. A seven-match unbeaten Sérgio Moraes tried his luck against Usman on September 16, 2017. He was out via a one-punch knockout in the first round.

The story was the same for each challenger that he faced and on August 18, 2018, he was announced as a back-up for the UFC 228 main event match between long-time champion Tyron Woodley and undefeated challenger Darren Till. With the tally of a nine-fight winning streak in the UFC, Usman faced UFC Welterweight Champion, Tyron Woodley, next on March 2, 2019 in the co-main event at UFC 235. That was where he emerged, from their one-sided fight which he completely dominated for five rounds, as the Welterweight Champion.

He defended it four times against Colby Covington at UFC 245 in 2019; Masdival for the first time in 2020 as a stand-in for Gilbert Burns, who contracted COVID-19 before their due date, then against long-time teammate and two-time No-Gi Jiu-Jitsu World Champion, Gilbert Burns, on April 24, 2021 at UFC 261 in Florida. And for the fifth, he sent Masdival to the canvas in the presence of his proud father, who had been released from FCI Seagoville on March 16, 2021.

That has been the nightmarish experience of his challengers. It has taken that eight year-old Usman to the pinnacle of his chosen sport and engraved the title, ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ in gold as far MMA and UFC are concerned. Although, there are other notable Nigerians making a name for themselves while letting the world know they are Nigerians, such as Israel Adesanya and Sodiq Yusuff.  Usman eclipses them all in the sheer pedigree of his career and his reputation as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world currently.