Kamaru Usman: Nigerian Nightmare, Samirah’s Dream
When Kamarudeen Usman left his village in Auchi, Edo State, for the United States with his parents at the age of five, being a mixed martial artist was not on his mind. Life was basic and modest. There weren’t many cars in the village but life was good.
But moving to the US changed everything for the kid from an unassuming village in Edo State. Usman’s family settled in Arlington, Texas, where he discovered his affinity for combat sports in high school.
“Not a lot of cars came down to the village,” Kamaru said.
“Life growing up there was amazing. It was not the greatest living condition in the world, but it was good enough to instil in me the proper tools that I needed to become the man that I am today.”
Nicknamed Marty by his high school buddies who found his real name too cumbersome to pronounce, Usman became a top-rated wrestler with an outstanding record of 53 wins and only three losses. He rode on his high school success on the circular mat to the university where he continued to dominate in the sport.
At William Penn University, Iowa, Usman was a national qualifier for the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) in 2007. It was until he transferred to the University of Nebraska at Kearney in 2008 that he gained national acclaim in the US. At UNK, Usman helped the Nebraska-Kearney Lopers win its first team title in wrestling in 2008 and became the NCAA Division II national champion at 174 lbs (80kg) in 2010.
His transition to mixed martial arts happened by accident, he tells The Guardian Life from his base in the US.
When his collegiate career in wrestling ended in 2010, he decided to start training for the 2012 Olympics held in London. But he never participated in the most important sport meets in the world. He discovered mixed martial arts.
“The next step at that point was to chase the Olympic dream. I went to the Olympic training centre and lived there for two years, training for the 2012 Olympics.
“While training for the 2012 Olympics, I ran into this sport – mixed martial arts – and that was the sport that was infectious enough to steal me away.”
In July 2015, Usman debuted in the welterweight division of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) against American fighter Hayder Hassan, whom he arm-twisted into submission.
Almost four years after his debut and fifteen bouts in the octagon, the “Nigerian Nightmare” achieved the dream he had in 2012 – he was crowned the UFC welterweight champion of the world after pummelling another American Tyron Woodley in a one-sided bout at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
His impressive victory notwithstanding, the highly-rated Woodley left him with injuries that sent him under the surgeon’s knife and subjected him to weeks of physical therapy. Although he is on the mend from that bruising encounter, he is billed to square against Colby Covington on June 8 in Chicago.
His Daughter’s Father
Apart from his cocksure attitude as a fighter, the seventh-ranked best pound-for-pound UFC fighter derives inspiration from his daughter Samirah, who was in the octagon with him when he was crowned champion in March. Samirah, he tells The Guardian Life, is his biggest inspiration these days and never hesitates to flaunt the special bond he shares with the four-year-old daughter.
He pays glowing tributes to the young girl any chance he gets. But he never wanted a daughter initially.
“When I found out it was a girl, I was a little down,” Usman says.
“But I accepted it and it was until she was about six months old that I could take her to the gym with me.”
The bond between father and daughter was cemented even before she was a year old.
Usman entered the Ultimate Fighter 21 tournament, which lasted for five weeks when she was about seven months old. During that period, he was away from his family and from his daughter with whom he’s been going to the gym. Usman returned home after winning the tournament. But his daughter’s “big smile” had disappeared.
“The fact that she couldn’t see me (for five weeks) had started rubbing off her the wrong way. It was a feeling I couldn’t help. I cried at that moment. My daughter was wondering, ‘Where is daddy?’ and daddy wasn’t there.
“That let me know I have a special bond with this girl and I will never let that girl go. It does not matter where she’s at, she’s always going to be my partner.”
Their father-daughter bond is strengthened by his own relationship with his parents, who are rooted in Nigerian culture. Although he acknowledges there are differences in the way he was raised (there were plenty of times he had to kneel down as a punishment for being “naughty”) and how he does his child, Usman credits his parents for creating the “blueprint” he uses to raise his daughter.
Grab a copy of today’s Newspaper to read all that Usman had to share with Guardian Life.
Tip: Guardian Life is an inset in the Sunday edition of the Guardian Newspaper.