Interview with RFA fighter, NCAA wrestling champ, and TUF 14 coach Kamaru “Marty” Usman

Kamarudeen Usman is a man of many nicknames. Three of the more popular would be "Marty" as he is known in the wrestling world, "Kush" was given to him by his friend Jason "Mayhem" Miller on TUF 14 where he served as Team Miller’s wrestling coach, and "U.S. Man" is how his Twitter followers refer to him. However, he prefers the simplicity of "Kamaru". That being said, Kamaru Usman is a name MMA fans will be hearing about for a long time.

Born in Nigeria, Usman and his family moved to the United States when he was 5-years-old. After compiling a 53-3 record in high school wrestling and qualifying for the the NAIA national meet at William Penn University, Usman’s wrestling career took off after transferring to the University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK).

At UNK, Usman earned NCAA Division II All-American honors all three years he attended and helped UNK win its first-ever overall team title in 2008. He also improved each year. He placed third as a sophomore, second as a junior, and won the 2010 NCAA Division II national title at 174 lbs. in his senior season. He was also member of the University World Team for wrestling in 2010.

During his college wrestling career, Usman also won a match against UFC star Jake Ellenberger, who wrestled at UNK’s biggest rival UNO. Coincidentally, Usman was teammates at UNK with Jake’s twin brother Joe Ellenberger, who is now an accomplished MMA fighter as well. Another one of Usman’s teammates at UNK was current RFA lightweight star T.J. Hepburn.

Usman will now join Hepburn as a former UNK Loper wrestling national champion who will make his MMA debut for the RFA in Kearney, Nebraska. During Hepburn’s first year at UNK, Usman won the national title and Hepburn is confident Usman’s wrestling talent and work ethic will make him a dominant force in MMA. "Marty was a workhorse in the wrestling room and I know he will carry that into the MMA world, making him an elite fighter. I think he will show that on the 30th," explained Hepburn.

Usman is ready to take that next step in his stellar athletic career on Friday night. In preparation for his highly-anticpated MMA debut, Usman has been training alongside some of the biggest names in MMA on the famed BlackZilians team at the Jaco Hybrid Training Center in Boca Raton, Florida.

Usman will fight decorated amateur MMA fighter and Hard Drive MMA product David Glover, who will also be making his pro MMA debut. The fight will take place on the main card of RFA 5 – Downing vs. Rinaldi on Friday, November 30th. It will be televised live from the Viaero Event Center in Kearney, Nebraska on AXS TV starting at 10 p.m. ET / 7 p.m. PT.


Name: Kamaru Usman

Nickname: Marty

Born: May 11, 1987 (age 25)

Nationality: Nigerian-American

Height: 6 ft. 0 in. (1.83 m)

Weight: 170 lb. (77 kg; 12 st 2 lb)

Division: Welterweight

Hometown: Benin City, Nigeria (now in Boca Raton, Florida)

Team: BlackZilians / Jaco Hybrid Training Center

Head Coach: Mario Sperry


What is your training background? I started wrestling in high school, so I’ve been wrestling for about 12 years. I’ve been training striking and jiu-jitsu for one year.


Who are some of your main training partners? Rashad Evans, Michael Johnson, Abel Trujillo, Anthony Johnson, Eddie Alvarez, Sean Soriano, Jorge Santiago, Lucas Jackson, Tyrone Spong, Siyar Bahadurzada, Vitor Belfort, Alistair Overeem, JZ Calvancante, and Yuri Villefort.


What got you interested in doing MMA? I’ve been around it for a long time. Joe Ellenberger was my teammate at UNK and that got be interested in it. I competed against his brother Jake Ellenberger in college and I’ve trained with Johny Hendricks. They are all very good wrestlers that have done great in MMA.


You were also the wrestling coach for Team Miller on TUF 14. How was that experience? It was a great experience. I got to go out there and be around the whole MMA world, see how these guys prepare for fights. I got to help guys with their takedown defense and it helped me transition into the striking. It was a very good experience. John Dodson and I talk every now and then, but I talk to Marcus Brimage the most, even though he was on Bisping’s team. He really wanted to be on our team. *laughs* I see Marcus the most. I also talk to Steven Siler and Dennis Bermudez when they have a fight coming up. They train at different locations all across the country, but if I’m in their state I’d definitely train with those guys.


What ranks or titles have you held? I was the NCAA Division II national champion for wrestling (174 lbs) in 2010 at the University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK), I was the runner-up in 2009 at UNK, I was a member of the 2008 overall team championship at UNK, I was a three-time NCAA Division II All-American, and I was a 2010 University World Team member for wrestling.


You tried out for the U.S. Olympic Wrestling Team earlier this year. How was that experience? It was good. I lived and trained a the U.S. Olympic Ttraining Center the last two years. As the trials got closer, my injuries caught up to me, and I was unable to compete. 


You competed at 84 kg (185 lbs), when you were going for the U.S. Olympic team. What made you decide to move down to welterweight (170 lbs.) for MMA? In the Olympics, they have 84 kg (185 lbs) and then 74 kg (163 lbs). I walk around naturally at 192 lbs, so after meeting with my trainers at the U.S. Olympic Training Center, they decided it would be hard for me to cut down to 163 lbs. all the time. So I stayed at 84 kg and it felt good that I didn’t really have to cut weight. Now that I’m in MMA, getting down to 170 lbs. isn’t a big problem for me.


You also competed against the greatest American wrestler of our generation in Cael Sanderson. Did you enjoy that experience? In the training center, we would have the big world team camp, and bring in all of the top guys. They would pair us all off and do matches. Competing against Cael was a very good experience I would say. *laughs*


Who are your MMA and Wrestling heroes? In wrestling, I would have to say Kenny Monday was one of the wrestlers I definitely looked up to. In MMA, it would have to be Rashad Evans. We both come from collegiate wrestling and he has taken me under his wing.


What do you like to do when you aren’t training for a fight? In my down time, Michael Johnson and I like to sit in front of the TV and eat. He’s pretty much my roommate. 


What would you be doing if you weren’t a fighter? I would be a male nurse. *laughs*


What is your favorite way to win a fight? I like to keep the fight standing and knock people out. If not, I’ll take them down and cut them up with elbows. 



What does your family think of you being a professional fighter? At first, my parents were very concerned. My mom was even concerned when I wanted to be a wrestler. I kept letting her know it was something I wanted to do and my parents eventually got behind me. They’re behind me 100% now.



You had a decorated college wrestling career at UNK. How does it feel fighting for the RFA and fighting in front of your friends and fans in Kearney for your MMA debut? It feels amazing. This is where I had my wrestling career and became a champ. It feels great to be in the same spot to start my MMA career. I tweeted that out this monring! *laughs*


Your former UNK teammate T.J. Hepburn is also a UNK wrestling national champion and fights for the RFA. After seeing the support he received in his final amateur fight and his pro MMA debut last summer, did that make signing with the RFA a no-brainer? I’d been talking to the RFA for a little bit, but the direction I was going, it looked like I was going to begin my MMA career with Titan. RFA was always in the back of my mind and then they just kept getting bigger and bigger. That’s when it became a no-brainer. 


What do you think of your division as a whole? I think the welterweight division is stacked, just like the lightweight divison. I’ve trained with Johny Hendricks, Siyar Bahadurzada, and Jake Ellenberger. These are some of the best guys in the world and any day now they can be the next in line to fight GSP.


The RFA’s highest-rated welterweight Chidi Njokuani is a fellow Nigerian-American fighter. Do you see Nigeria as being an untapped market that will soon be producing more top-level MMA fighters? I definitely think so. Nigeria in general is a country with a lot of athletic specimens. A lot of great wrestlers come from Nigeria. It’s a great country for soccer. I think any promotion that goes into Africa would do well. I think it would be a great market for a possible season of TUF. There is over 170 million people in Nigeria. That’s a lot of homes and loyal fans.


What do you think about your opponent at RFA 5, David Glover, who is a former Extreme Challenge amateur champ that will also be making his pro debut? I don’t know much about him, I know he’s an amateur champ, but that doesn’t phase me. Just to run down the list of killers in my gym, it doesn’t phase me at all. I train with the best guys in the world and I’m prepared for whatever.

How do you feel about fighting on national television (AXS TV) for the RFA in your pro debut? I feel really good about it. It gives my parents a chance to watch it down in Texas and to show their support.


Do you have anyone you would like to thank before you fight this Friday at RFA 5? I want to thank my team the Blackzilians, Glen Robinson my manager, and Ryan Parsons for getting everything going for me. My guys down in Texas, Team Takedown. Rashad Evans, Michael Johnson, Mario Sperry, Henri Hooft, and all my coaches.


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