Following in the footsteps of his ‘big’ brother, Mohammed Usman will make his pro MMA debut tomorrow night (Thursday 18) for Tachi Palace Fights from Lemoore, California. A 250 lbs man mountain, Mohammed Usman was considered one of the best high school heavyweight wrestlers in Texas state, before making the switch to ply his trade at defensive end for the Arizona Wildcats. For some time, Mohammed harboured aspirations of competing in the NFL, and under the guidance of Wildcats senior Brooks Reed, progressed nicely. But, when things did not work out as Mohammed had initially hoped, Usman made the decision to switch sports one more time.
Given the circumstances, the decision to take up MMA made perfect sense. His older brother, The Ultimate Fighter Season 21 winner, 10-1 (5-0 UFC) star Kamaru ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ Usman, has long been an inspiration to Mohammed. Even when he was committed to college football, Mohammed was always there in Kamaru’s corner, watching, supporting, and, by proxy, learning. Now Mohammed is just hours away from the first pro fight of his career.
In his way stands 36 year old, 9-fight veteran Derrick ‘Alpha Male’ Williams, a big 260 lb heavyweight with 3 first round TKO’s to his name. While Mohammed will likely walk into Tachi Palace Hotel and Casino as the favourite to take the bout, a debut is never a sure thing. Fortunately, Auchi, Nigerian born Usman is a physical specimen with an outstanding athletic background and a team behind him led by one of the top-ranked welterweights in the world.
Of Kamaru, Mohammed told The MMA Vanguard: “I’m very proud of my older brother. He motivates me to be the best I can be, and his achievements in the UFC have shown me what can be done if you believe in yourself and your talents.”
Belief, alone, however, is far from Mohammed’s only asset. As a footballer, Mohammed displayed excellent explosiveness, and real speed for a man his size. What’s more, Usman has spoken publicly about how being ‘football fit’ is far from being ‘MMA fit’. As he explained in a previous interview, when you’re in the cage, you’re all alone. There is no team, no ‘us’, no ‘we’. Just you, and your opponent. And for Mohammed, facing up to that reality is a major part of his upcoming trials.
But let’s not pretend Mohammed is walking into the Tachi Palace cage without knowing all of this. He has seen first hand what it takes to win, the levels of endurance necessary, and the skills that need to be honed. He’s also taken a keen enjoyment in this new chapter of his sporting career. He told us: “My favorite aspect of wrestling and MMA is the violence, and the [opportunity to] use your athletic abilities,” adding, “I have always been an aggressive person in all sports, hence why wrestling and football came easy to me.”
Mohammed will no doubt be hoping he can say the same of MMA – but in truth, he won’t know until the cage door closes for the last time, and Derrick Williams comes forward to meet him mid-cage. “I would be lying if I said I don’t get nervous,” Usman says honestly, “But when they lock that cage I’m bringing a war. Kill or be killed, period.”
It’s a dog-eat-dog mentality, and as a self-professed aggressor, it’s unlikely Williams will have to wait long to feel the power of the former defensive end. It’s a rhetoric Usman adheres to even when reminiscing about his time at the Arizona Wildcats: “The work rate that I got from [working with] Brooks Reed definitely transfers to MMA because I won’t quit, and I will keep coming till I break my opponent.”
What’s more, Usman knows how fortunate he is to debut for Tachi Palace Fights, a fight promotion with years of history and heritage behind them, and who have developed their fair share of outstanding prospects: “The opportunity means the world to me because I have put my heart into this sport, and I’m ready to start this new chapter of my career as a pro MMA fighter.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, Mohammed is clear about his strategy. Forward, forward, forward: “My strategy for this fight will be pressure, pressure, and more pressure. [I’ll be] non stop, I’m the ‘Motor’ for a reason and I will show it.” Williams will have to be at his best to counteract the coming storm. But pressure alone, particularly among heavyweights, is not always the perfect strategy.
Heavyweights are big men, and Usman has a huge amount of muscle packed onto his 6’1 frame. Muscle needs oxygen, and oxygen requires cardio. So what does Mohammed think of his present shape, and his ability to endure? Does he feel he is a good weight heading in to this bout? “My weight has never been a problem,” he says confidently. “As I grow in this sport I will figure out the best weight for me to be, if it’s heavier not a problem, or lighter not a problem [either]. I have always made sure to be in the best shape possible.”
Judging from the footage we’ve seen, we’ve no reason to doubt that kind of statement. Speed, size, power, and endurance have all been present – but much as a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt might see his razor sharp skills blunt with every strike they take, Mohammed will have to prove he can maintain his athleticism in the face of damage delivered upon him as well as the other way round. Fortunately, Usman is not taking his opponent lightly: “I expect him to be confident,” he says, “He has had a couple of fights, but have never faced anybody like me. It will be a great fight.”
Of that, The MMA Vanguard has no doubt!
You can catch Tachi Palace Fights 31: Diaz vs Gibson live on sherdog.com at 6 PM PST.