Marty from Nebraska has its origins in Kamaru Usman’s wrestling days, and believe it or not, he’s thankful to Ben Askren for reminding everyone why he was so notorious on the mats back in they day.
Las Vegas, NV — Kamaru Usman leapfrogged past Colby Covington in the welterweight title picture last year, thanks to a sound dismantling of former lightweight champ turned welterweight contender Rafael dos Anjos. Now, he’s ready to rumble against champ Tyron Woodley at UFC 235. With that theme in mind, Usman was rocking a ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ jacket at Wednesday’s media day ahead of the big fight.
“Obviously, you’ve seen the Rumble in the Jungle, the first one” he said of the famed Foreman vs. Ali fight back in 1974. “God willing, everything goes according to plan on Saturday, I’ll bring the second Rumble in the Jungle.”
While UFC 235 may not be in Africa (the original Rumble in the Jungle went down in Democratic Republic of the Congo), the continent is never far from Usman’s heart. The welterweight title challenger was born in Nigeria, though raised in the U.S.
He’s also at the head of a wave of Nigerian and African talent on the rise in the UFC.
“There’s one thing about us Nigerians, Africans in general, but especially us Nigerians,” Usman told Cageside Press on Wednesday. “We’re so prideful, to where one guy’s successful, instead of everyone trying to hold him down or dismissing him for that, we celebrate that.”
“If you win, we all win,” he explained. “It’s just an amazing feeling to see that me and my brothers are starting to make some headlines, some waves in the UFC. It’s also amazing to be in the forefront of that.” ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ feels that becoming the first African champ in the UFC will “open the floodgates” and help everyone in Africa realize that “they can do it too.”
“I firmly believe by the end of 2019, you’ll have three African champions,” he proclaimed. “That’s amazing. Israel Adesanya is fighting for a title next month, another Nigerian. And with what Francis [Ngannou] just did, I think he put himself in the title picture, and I think he’s going to get that title shot before the end of 2019.”
Sodiq Yusuff is another Nigerian talent, one who Usman has sent words of encouragement to before. Before his last fight “I just told him, man, just be relaxed, just be you. Your talent and your hard work has gotten you there. Be you, believe. We’re here supporting you, no matter what. You have my support.” Having won his UFC debut, Yusuff fights again next month at UFC Philadelphia.
“I didn’t get into this on accident, in order to be second fiddle to anyone. When that time came, I was going to whup whoever was in front of me in order to get that belt.”
For now, though, Usman must focus on UFC 235, and champ Tyron Woodley. A champ who might be underestimating the challenger. “I think he might be a little bit,” Usman told us. “Because they don’t know how to take me. I’m very serious, I’m very straight arrow, and I don’t sugar coat it. But I’m also not very disrespectful, I’m very respectful. I’m respectful of him. I’ve known T-Wood for quite some time now, I’ve even hung out with him for quite some time.”
“I’m respectful that he’s older, he did it first, he was a champion first,” Usman explained. “But make no mistake, I didn’t get into this on accident, in order to be second fiddle to anyone. When that time came, I was going to whup whoever was in front of me in order to get that belt. And he knows that. So he had to say whatever he was going to say, just to see if it would rattle me.”
“It did nothing to me,” he added.
Not rattled, and not upset about Woodley’s training partner Ben Askren bringing up an old nickname of his: Marty.
“I actually like it, because there’s a reason he called me Marty from Nebraska,” he revealed to Cageside Press. “When I wrestled, Mary’s a nickname everyone called be because they didn’t want to say my whole first name. It started in high school, my high school coach actually started it.”
Usman told us that he doesn’t care about the nickname. “It’s a funny nickname. If I hated the nickname, I would have stopped it at that point.”
Rather, “the reason I became known by that name is that I was making waves, I was making headlines. I was whupping kids on the mat, bad. So of course they know of me, [Askren] knows of me. I never met this guy ever in my life. I’ve never been face-to-face with him. But he’s heard of me. He’s heard of me several times. He watches my fights. He knows that.”
With that in mind, Usman can only say thank you. “Him making all these memes, all these trolls, thank you. You’re bringing more light to me. Because you’re letting everyone know that you recognize who I am, and that I’m a bad dude.”
Kamaru Usman challenges Tyron Woodley for the UFC welterweight championship at UFC 235 this weekend in Las Vegas, NV. The card airs live on PPV.