UFC Champion Kamaru Usman Is Only Getting More Dangerous

I suggest to Kamaru that Covington is able to say stuff that no Black athlete could ever get away with.

“Absolutely not,” he says. “But he has to do that. He doesn’t have the luxury to just be himself, like I am.”

Why do you think that is?

“I mean, he created a monster, you know? He started telling everyone, ‘Well, I’m playing a character because they were going to cut me.’ He wanted to break it. He wanted to drop it. But he just couldn’t. People already hated him. Now it’s like, you got to double down and lean into it if you are ever going to make money in this sport.”

At the end of your last fight, he seemed to briefly break character finally. What did he say to you?

“I couldn’t really hear, but he was a real person. He was a genuine person. And I was like, ‘Oh, shit.’ ” A few minutes later, Covington was back to talking shit in a press conference.

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Kamaru is not a fan of the UFC’s recent oscillation toward pro wrestling cartoonishness, where a big mouth means bigger money. “Conor McGregor is a perfect example,” he says. “Completely ignore the respect aspect and you get super famous. How do you tell these kids nowadays, ‘Hey, respect is the most important thing,’ when they can be superrich and famous like Conor?”

Most fighters look for new challenges by moving up a weight class. But Kamaru insists he’ll never fight Israel Adesanya, his Nigerian brother who currently lords over the middleweight division. Instead, Kamaru says he spent a chunk of last year contemplating something more radical: moving up two whole weight classes to light heavyweight—basically unheard of in MMA—to fight a much, much larger man in Jan Blachowicz for that title.

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