By his own standards, Kamaru Usman considers himself a decent person.
With a four-year-old daughter to set an example for, that’s exactly who Usman wants to be.
But in an MMA landscape that rewards hubris over humility, Usman would be lying if he said he’s never been tempted to put his personality aside in an effort to advance his career.
“People don’t want the good guys to win anymore,” Usman said. “They don’t care about that, that’s boring to them now.”
After 13 consecutive wins, including nine straight to start his UFC career, the self-described “good guy” has his shot at the UFC welterweight title.
“Being put in this position with this platform, I have the responsibility to show kids how to do it. You don’t have to be outlandish and saying crazy things and get out of yourself to get headlines or attention,” said Usman.
“To me, that’s what it means to be a good guy, being true to myself.”
The “Nigerian Nightmare” faces champion Tyron Woodley in the co-main event at UFC 235 on Saturday in Las Vegas, earning the chance, he said, without sacrificing his principles.
“That just seems to be the trend nowadays — if you’re not the guy who’s going to come out and have that crazy personality to where you say outlandish things and always making headlines, then it’s kind of slower,” Usman said. “I’m a good, upstanding guy with moral values and core values. I actually care about things and I care about people.”
Usman (14-1, 9-0 UFC) joined the promotion in 2015 after winning the 21st season of “The Ultimate Fighter” and hasn’t looked back, fighting twice each year and winning without issue. Still, others passed by him for shots at the welterweight title, including Colby Covington, whose trash-talk driven rise from decent fighter to title contender provided Usman a source of frustration.
“Covington for example, he got into the UFC and was winning fights. Fight-wise, he’s been the exact same fighter, exact same, nothing has changed. But he starts running his mouth, talking crap, doing all these antics and being a troll, and guess what? That’s what fast-tracks him, that’s what gets him headlines and puts him there,” Usman said.
Covington getting the title shot made Usman question his ways, but ultimately, he decided not to follow that path.
“When you see things like that, it’s like, ‘Man, this is what I’ve been working for, why isn’t this opportunity coming?’ And then you see a guy like that and it starts to happen for him, so it does tempt you a little bit, but the biggest thing for me is being true to myself and growing up to be a family man that my daughter will respect one day.”
Usman faces Woodley, another fighter who, in Usman’s mind, has kept his way and avoided being somebody he’s not to advance his career.
“Tyron and I have never had any bad blood or things of that nature because we share that mutual respect, because we have that mutual discipline and respect for one another,” Usman said. “We come in, we work, we go out and try to get the benefits of the results.”
As good of a guy Usman believes himself to be, he doesn’t bring that into the cage, especially with a UFC belt and all that comes with it up for grabs.
“Once you sign a contract that states that you’re going to have to fight this other man for a substantial amount of money, things change psychologically,” Usman said. “He’s standing in the way of me securing a future for my daughter, making sure she goes to the best schools in the world. He’s standing in the way of my mom and dad having the best things and biggest house they want. Then it becomes personal.”