Kamaru Usman always believed he was destined to achieve great things. More than that, he felt he had a responsibility to do so.
Born in Nigeria to a family wanting him to pursue a medical career while he harboured his own Olympic wrestling dreams, it just wasn’t always clear what Usman’s “something major” would be.
In Las Vegas on Saturday, when he fights American Tyron Woodley for the welterweight title, the 31-year-old has a chance to realise greatness and become UFC’s first African champion.
“I’ve dreamed about the moment they say ‘and the new champion…’ and that belt is wrapped around my waist,” Usman told BBC World Service’s Sportsworld.
“I have put in so much time working and training, not just to get to this point but to become the champion.”
Usman said it “would mean a great deal” to beat Woodley at the T-Mobile Arena and this title fight “is what everything has been leading up to”.
“When I first got into the sport, or first got into athletics, I always felt that sense of responsibility that I was destined for something bigger, that I was going to do something major,” he said.
“The only thing is, I didn’t know what it was, what sport or where my athletics career would take me. Since I have been in this sport I realised this was it – this is what I was destined for.”
Usman, whose family immigrated to the United States when he was eight, began wrestling at high school in Texas and was one of the country’s best prospects throughout college.
“While I was there I started to get different offers and different chances to help other professional fighters,” he said.
“It was kind of time to make a switch and not just be a wrestler any more, but to be a fighter and to go and make a living for not just myself but my family as well.”
Except “being a fighter” was not the career his family had in mind for Usman.
“As an African there are certain professions your family want you to do or are willing to sign off,” he said.
“Being in the medical professional, as a doctor, pharmacist, a nurse, or being an engineer – those are the only professions allowed!”
Usman boasts a professional record of 14 wins and one loss, which came in 2013, and the former Ultimate Fighter champion is on an eight-fight winning streak since entering the UFC.
It has earned him the nickname ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’.
“This nickname symbolises the greatest athletes all over the world in different sports that are Nigerian born,” he said.
“It was the rightful nickname. I was the first one in the sport at this calibre, at this level, so when it was time to choose a nickname it was the only fitting one.”
It is a nickname shared by Nigeria-born former NFL star Christian Okoye.
“We might have a surprise for people this weekend. If things go according to plan he might make an appearance,” added Usman.
He might not have become a doctor, but when he heads into the octagon on Saturday with his young daughter watching on in the crowd, Usman will know he has come a long way from his humble beginnings in Nigeria.
“I remember in the street just how life was, how even though conditions were tough we always loved life and celebrated life,” said Usman, who hopes to be part of a UFC card in Africa in the future.
“We never complained ‘we don’t have this or that’. Even though we had to plant certain things and harvest them to be able to eat, we never complained.
“When you start out doing something you never wonder how big is this going to be or how will I be remembered, or will people even care for me. Now I am starting to see that they really do.”
Source – BBC Sport