Not just because he won, or because he beat a tough opponent in amazing fashion, but because the heavyweight was able to lock in on his craft and deliver his absolute best. That time spent on TUF was where Usman’s only job was to focus in on becoming a better mixed martial artist.
That time paid immediate dividends and now that he’s set to make his second walk to the Octagon versus Junior Tafa at UFC Fight Night: Pavlovich vs Blaydes, he’s determined to show that he has the skills to be a real contender.
“The headline is going to be ‘He’s A Lot To Handle’,” Usman told UFC.com. ‘I’m going to be a lot more than what people think I am. I’m a lot to handle in there. I’ve studied the sport, I’ve trained with the best coaches, I’ve trained with the best teammates. This sport is not just rock em’ sock em’, it’s a sport you’ve got to grapple, you’ve got to do jiu jitsu, you’ve got to have cardio.
“I feel like I’ve built myself up to the point where I have all those attributes and I can’t wait to show it.”
Usman was happy with how he performed on TUF, but he’s aware that the majority of his fights showcased his standup game. He believes this fight with Tafa is the perfect time to display those other wrinkles in his game and break out of the mold that people may put him in after watching TUF.
Tafa, the brother of UFC veteran Justin Tafa, makes his debut sporting a 4-0 record. Tafa brings a “kill or be killed” mentality to the Octagon. Usman isn’t concerned about Tafa being the aggressor when they collide at the UFC APEX; he’s just dialed in on using the tools at his disposal to get his first UFC victory.
“I’m pretty sure he’s going to come out here tough. He’s going to come here hard and he’s going to throw hard and will throw heavy shots,” Usman said of Tafa. “That’s part of the game, but I can’t worry about what he’s feeling or what he’s thinking.
“All I got to do is put my concentration on what I need to do to accomplish the goal,” he continued. “Like I say, I don’t even see left or right. All I see is this man when that bell rings until he’s done with. So all I got to do is put my focus on him and make sure my hand is raised.”
Although this is just Usman’s second UFC fight, “The Motor” has nearly three times the professional fights that Tafa has. He believes that experience may play a factor in their matchup, but even if it doesn’t, Usman’s goal is to show that he’s on a level that Tafa simply isn’t at yet.
“When you’re young in your career, you don’t get the toughest guys right out of the gate. When you’re young in your career you have to build your record up,” Usman said. “That’s anybody, any fighter who wants to fight. You don’t just go fight Anthony “Rumble” Johnson in your first fight. You build your career up to get to a level of fighting high-level guys.
“Now he’s here fighting me, and I’m the one that’s going to have to show him. I know I put a lot into this, and I know exactly what I put in this is what I’m going to get out of it.”
Usman has experienced that jump in talent before, as he cut his teeth in other promotions before getting on The Ultimate Fighter.
Now that he’s here, he’s determined to keep raising his level and prove to doubters that he’s going to be someone competing in the Octagon for a long time.
All that starts with Usman delivering his most impressive performance to date at UFC Fight Night: Pavlovich vs Blaydes.
“It’s up to me to be able to show that and put Tafa in [bad] positions. This is one of those fights where I know my opponent, he might come out with tricks or whatever, but I know what he’s coming to do,” Usman said. “I’m excited to be able to show different aspects of my game. It’s not going to be two guys in the middle standing and trading, it’s going to be two guys in the middle, fighting MMA.
“I’m so excited.”
UFC Fight Night: Pavlovich vs Blaydes took place live from the UFC APEX in Las Vegas on April 22, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!