It's finally time for Mohammed Usman to unleash more than just his mystique in the PFL heavyweight division.
After signing with the Professional Fighters League in March last year, the highly respected but slightly contested former college football star waited almost a year for the chance to kick the cage.
But the news the MMA star has been waiting for has arrived when the PFL recently announced that its 2021 season will begin on April 23 (televised on ESPN2 and ESPN +), with the lightweight and featherweight divisions taking the lead Start.
Usman and the rest of the heavyweights, which include former UFC heavyweight champ Fabricio Werdum's PFL debut, begin May 6th. The fight map will also feature the women's lightweight division with defending champion Kayla Harrison.
It's the first live event for the aspiring MMA organization since New Year's Eve 2019 after the 2020 season was postponed due to the COVID pandemic. With Usman and Werdum as well as the superstars Anthony Pettis (lightweight) and Rory MacDonald (welterweight), the company continues to be the main competitor of the UFC. In addition to setting the opening schedule (playoff and championship dates have yet to be set), the PFL recently announced a lucrative $ 65 million round of funding, through investments from celebrities like "Survivor" producer Mark Burnett and actor and Comedian Kevin Hart was promoted.
For 31-year-old Usman, the return of the PFL means finally showing his MMA skills to a much larger audience and stepping out of the shadows of his older brother, UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman. Part of his aura also comes from an epic performance on the soccer field, as well as a sparring session that some might also call epic. With his 7-1 MMA record in regional MMA organizations, Usman has demonstrated a versatile ability to defeat opponents, including three knockout games and two submission wins over Kimura.
"I'm a complete mixed martial artist." Usman says. "When I started fighting I was just a soccer player who got transferred to MMA, but now I'm a complete fighter, including my fighting IQ. If I get in there and the guy can box well, I'll go down. If If his floor play is good, I'll turn it up. I want to be able to do anything to fight for victory. "
GRINDING AND CRUSHING
Despite his stellar start in MMA, Mohammed Usman's most notable farewell hit the football field more than a decade ago. Usman and his teammates played a defensive end for Navarro Junior College in Texas, facing rival Blinn College, the country's premier junior college at the time, and his highly respected quarterback Cam Newton.
On Halloween 2009, Navarro scored a stunning 23:20 win over Blinn. In the surprise, Usman had a game for the ages and fired Newton three times. Two weeks later, Newton and Blinn retaliated by beating Navarro in the conference's final rematch, but Usman's performance came during Newton's only college career loss, who won the Heisman Trophy the following year and became the 2015 NFL MVP.
Usman went to the University of Arizona, where he played two seasons. (Interestingly, his Wildcats quarterback was Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl LII MVP Nick Foles.)
"I'm really blessed to play Cam Newton," Usman recalls. “He definitely didn't make my football career, but at the time everyone knew who he was, so I played better. And by playing better, I could prove my skills. "
Usman's performance against Newton cemented his athletic reputation, but Usman gained the MMA confidence he needed when he was dragged into an impromptu sparring session with UFC heavyweight competitor Francis Ngannou around 2018 ahead of his brother's fight. What was supposed to be a quick and relatively easy grappling session with a few clinches and floor exercises turned into an all-out BJJ sparring match that lasted nearly half an hour, with none of the fighters looking to get out.
"It was nice and easy at first sight," Usman says. "And then all of a sudden it was just this muscleman match and we just kept going for 20 to 30 minutes to see who was stronger. We took over all of the training and everyone just started watching us walk."
MOTORING ON A PFL TITLE AND $ 1 MILLION
Usman is nicknamed "The Motor" because it never shuts down. His fighting style and conditioning are tailor-made for the grueling semi-final form of the PFL, in which fighters fight twice in one night, resulting in the PFL championships with a grand prize of $ 1 million, traditionally held on New Years Eve.
First, Usman has to make it out of the first round of a stacked heavyweight line-up. In addition to Werdum, the division also sees the return of defending heavyweight champion Ali Isaev as well as Cezar Ferreira, Renan Ferreira, Chris Camozzi, Denis Goltsov, Hatef Moeil and Justin Willis.
"I love the format," says Usman. “Two fights in one night will test your fitness and combat IQ. It's old fashioned and I like it. Then you fight for a million dollars. Thats all I need."
Stamina and endurance should never be an issue, Usman says, referring to the brutal two-day desert training he attended at the University of Arizona, where morning sessions were sometimes followed by two-and-a-half-hour afternoon exercises conducted in temperatures that sometimes reached 120 degrees to reach. "It was brutal," Usman recalls.
In addition to the hours he spent practicing Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Usman continues to be in the weight room despite the fact that he no longer has to get the most out of it like he did in Arizona, where he once did the 685-pound squat. Today it's all about higher repetitions, lower weight, and sled pulls and pulls to get his heart rate up and improve his combat endurance.
After long hours of exercise, Usman added red light therapy, which is considered an effective treatment for cell repair and can reduce inflammation and accelerate muscle regeneration.
But the biggest change, Usman says, was his diet. During his soccer days, Usman admits eating up to 5,000 calories a day, from a bag of burgers to steaks a night. Today he introduced it with the help of a nutritionist, now 50% vegetables, 25% protein and 25% fats. He says the change in lifestyle made him a better athlete today.
"I feel like I've got to a point in my life with MMA where I can't just eat anything," Usman says. "w I have to do everything completely according to the book, so I have no doubt that I'll be the better athlete in the cage."