Mohammed Usman believes the trauma he has suffered outside the cage has prepared him for the challenges that lie ahead in the UFC.
Usman’s two-year-old son Nash tragically died in a drowning accident in 2019.
The UFC heavyweight spoke of his heartbreak during season 30 of The Ultimate Fighter and dedicated his finale victory over Zac Pauga to Nash.
“You’ve got to be one with your emotions and instead of masking them just embrace it,” Usman tells BBC Sport.
“These emotions inside are like a whirlwind and they are fuelling me to compete. I just embrace the emotions, flow with them and let them carry me to the finish line.”
His knockout win over Pauga secured a UFC contract and Usman followed that up with a unanimous decision victory against Junior Tafa in April.
Usman, who decided to embark on a career in MMA after Nash’s birth in 2016, is now looking focus on the next chapter.
“It’s something that happened in my life, and I’m not saying that I’m trying to put it behind me, but you get to a certain point where there are some things you don’t need to keep peeling the wound back,” Usman says.
“I don’t just want to keep opening up my scab, I just want to let him [Nash] rest in peace.”
The Nigerian recognises he isn’t alone in going through a hugely life-altering experience but believes, with the support of family and friends, he has emerged as a stronger person.
Usman says: “You can’t judge anyone until you know their story and a lot of fighters have been through something traumatic.
“When I sit back and think about the struggles I’ve been through, they are way harder than getting into the cage, so people better be prepared because I’ve been through some stuff.
“I’ll take the cage any day over what I’ve been through. I’ve been through so many hardships in life that stepping into the cage gives me a release.”
‘Anything you want takes hard work’
Usman, 34, moved to America with his family at the age of six, landing in Arlington, Texas, and it was a world away from his previous surroundings in Nigeria.
After settling into life in the US, the Usman family was torn apart in 2010 when father Muhammed Nasiru Usman was sentenced to 15 years in prison, of which he served almost 10, after being charged with multiple counts of health care fraud.
Usman refused to let that incident define his path and went full steam ahead in trying to pursue a career in the NFL.
He spent a season playing college football with the Houston Cougars and then had two campaigns with the Arizona Wildcats, however, he was not selected in the 2012 NFL Draft.
“Knowing the struggles it took my family to get here and watching my parents struggle for everything has made me grateful for everything I have today. If there’s anything you want in this life it takes a lot of hard work,” Usman says.
“We know where we are from and know our roots. I think it gives you a certain type of energy and respect.
“When I didn’t make it to the NFL it taught me a lot about not quitting.”
The Usman name carries plenty of weight in the MMA world, thanks to older brother Kamaru, who was ranked as the number one pound-for-pound fighter in the UFC prior to losing his welterweight belt to Leon Edwards in August 2022 – the rematch in March went the same way as Briton Edwards retained the belt at UFC 286.
Mohammed’s victory on season 30 of The Ultimate Fighter saw him follow in Kamaru’s footsteps, with the former welterweight champion having been crowned winner of season 21.
Now it’s on to the next chapter for ‘The Motor’ as he looks to further emulate his brother by earning a UFC title and he wants to lay his hands on the heavyweight belt by the time he makes his eighth appearance in the octagon – one fewer fight than Kamaru took to claim welterweight gold.
His next opponent is UFC veteran Jake Collier, who has lost his last three fights, at UFC Fight Night 228 in Las Vegas on 23 September and Usman feels he can be a problem for the heavyweight division.
“I just want to get to work and start competing against the best guys in the world,” Usman says.
“I think I fit right in because I’m a big hitter and I can show my skills. I’m more athletic than most of these guys, I’m going to use my grappling and wrestling.
“I feel I fit perfectly into the division and I bring something different because I’m not just a big hitter.”
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