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UFC 286 - Kamaru Usman is relishing his return to challenger status

Yahoo Sports MMA insider Kevin Iole spoke one-on-one with the former UFC welterweight champion, who will look to reclaim the belt with a win over Leon Edwards at UFC 286 on Saturday in London.

Video transcript

KEVIN IOLE: What is up, folks? I am Kevin Iole, back once again.

UFC 286 on Saturday at the O2 Arena in London. And in the main event, as he's been so many times, in a little different role this time, is Kamaru Usman, the former welterweight champion, former pound-for-pound champion. Some people thought, at one point, was going on the path to be the best of all time. He is fighting Leon "Rocky" Edwards, the new welterweight champ.

Kamaru, welcome. Thank you. A little different experience for you this time around, huh?

KAMARU USMAN: I would say it's just a little bit unfamiliar recently.

KEVIN IOLE: Right.

KAMARU USMAN: I've been in this position before. There's one thing that I've always liked, and it's the hunt. it's one thing that I've always really cherished about this, is the hunt, the next big thing, the next big catch. And this just put me back in that perspective, in that space, so I'm excited, and I'm really looking forward to Saturday.

KEVIN IOLE: I want to ask you this. A lot of people have made the two points. The loss at UFC 278, which came by head kick in the waning minute of the fight, number one, would have a long-term impact on you-- that you were gonna remember that, and it was gonna be hard to overcome that. And two, that maybe you showed signs of age.

I have disagreed with that. I felt like you fought a really strong fight that fight, and you made a mistake in the last minute and got caught. And also, you're a veteran, and you fought for many years. But how do you see the narrative? Do you feel like people were jumping off the ship, so to speak, or what is the narrative for you as you look at how people reacted to your defeat?

KAMARU USMAN: A lot of people speak from a place of where most ordinary people are at. They speak from that place. This is what they're familiar with. This is what they've seen before, with a lot of ordinary people, a lot of ordinary fighters. And there's nothing wrong with that. That's more power to them, and Leon included.

But that's why I think-- I know I've been blessed from the start in my athletic career, but that's why I think I defer from them, because it's my job to go there and show them that I am extraordinary, that it's nothing. I shake it off. It's not the first time I've lost. I lost before, and we saw what happened. I went on a, what, 15-fight tear? I don't know how many numbers.

KEVIN IOLE: 19 fights in a row over almost nine years.

KAMARU USMAN: Yeah, so the thing is, what people are failing to realize is the fact that that wasn't the first time I fought Leon Edwards.

KEVIN IOLE: Right.

KAMARU USMAN: I fought him before, and that first fight looked a lot like that second fight. And so it is what it is. Like I said, when I get in, I fight these guys. I fight their heart, and I fight their head, and not necessarily their skills. Yes, he can kick good. Yes, he can punch good. So can I.

But heart to heart, when we're in there, he knows what's gonna happen, and I know what's gonna happen, and I don't think anything's changed. So yeah, I think a lot of people-- when they speak about ordinary people that come before, but I am not ordinary.

KEVIN IOLE: Marvin Hagler, the great middleweight boxing champion who-- his death was just two years ago the other day. He had that famous quote where he said, it's hard to get up and do road work when you were sleeping in silk pajamas, right? Do you think that there was anything to you, looking at your last fight, where-- did you go as hard in preparation? Did you sacrifice as much as you had in all those other fights?

KAMARU USMAN: That's the one thing about me, is I go above and beyond in my preparation because I felt defeat before, and I understand what it feels like and how much I do not want that. And so yes, the pain of defeat is greater for me than the thrill of victory. And so absolutely, I understand what he meant by that.

But for me, that moment was basically the meaning, why I was doing it. It was the why for me. It wasn't, can I get up out of these silk sheets and go and do work? It was why you've done everything that there is to do. It was a matter of just why.

And so that's easy to start to feel when there's a lot of noise around you, when you have to go to this event and that event, and you're flying here, and you're flying there, and these people want, and that people want. So it's a lot of noise that clouds everything. And so after that last fight, it was just silence because when you're great and you're winning, then you're this immovable force. Everybody wants a piece of that. Everybody wants to be close to that. Everybody wants to feel that, and so it clouds everything.

But after that fight, it just silenced down, which I'm blessed to understand and to feel again because now I'm loving that and appreciating that. Being a contender again, it's just me. I go to the gym, and I come back home. Go to the gym, then come back home. And I like that space to myself.

So I'm appreciative of that, and March 18, we're going to see the culmination of all of that.