“I’d never had a gi before, but I started training with Jorge Santiago my jiu jitsu coach every fucking morning. He just gave me my black belt after my last fight.” Kamaru Usman
Current UFC welterweight champion, Kamaru Usman, is a fighter known for his tenacious wrestling; pushing a high pace and breaking opponents with dominant, draining grappling. Though wrestling has always been his forte, the former NCAA division 2 competitor was dealt his one and only loss inside the cage thanks to a distinctive show of Brazilian jiu jitsu. It was an experience that proved to be the catalyst to spark Usman’s journey into the gentle art.
Usman told Joe Rogan on a recent episode of the Joe Rogan Experience: “I have one loss and it was in my second fight. At that point I was a wrestler who could just go in, take everyone down and hold them down for three rounds. No one really wanted to fight me then so I took the fight on short notice and – being honest with you – I’d never done any jiu jitsu back then. I just figured I could wrestle my way through anything and just thought, ‘fuck these guys; these are low level guys.’
“I get in the fight, I throw a one/two, then his legs are right there so I hit him with a double. Within 15 seconds I’m in full mount, not really knowing what I’m doing but I’m trying to throw punches. I think (Jose) Caceres is like 6ft 2 or something like that – he’s got long limbs. He throws his legs around my body, and I’d never seen any shit like that before (laughs).
“I started to panic and thought I needed to get out, so I did the wrong thing and turned my body to get up and walk away. He followed me and just climbed up on my back; we’re not even sweaty yet. I hold him off for about a minute and a half trying to fight off this choke; I knew I couldn’t let him down to the floor because I didn’t really know a defence on the ground. He knew what he was doing and me standing up like that started to make my feet shaky. I started to get full of adrenaline when I realised, I was about to lose.
“We had a commission meeting before the fight and I was told if I got choked unconscious I wouldn’t be able to fight for six months. I’m a tough guy, so in my mind I wasn’t going to tap – he needed to put me to sleep. But, it took me eight months to get that fight, and I was broke as shit, so I started thinking there’s no way I couldn’t fight for another six months. I fucking tapped. I walked out of that fight and just paced in the back for like two hours.”
Testament to Usman’s warrior mentality and dedication to becoming a complete mixed martial artist, he quickly threw himself into jiu jitsu. In true Bruce Lee fashion, he went about filling the gaps in his game, and decided to start from scratch – donning the kimono.
“Ever since the loss, I got a fucking gi,” Usman continued. “I’d never had a gi before, but I started training with Jorge Santiago my jiu jitsu coach every fucking morning. He just gave me my black belt after my last fight.
“I never worried about that (black belt). Yes, I was beating up blue belts before I was even a white belt because I knew how to grapple through certain things, but I never had those jiu jitsu skills. Santiago kept challenging me and pushing me, so when I got my purple belt I felt like he was alerting other people of what to expect when we were rolling.”
The journey to black belt is a beautiful experience that is truly unique for every individual. Though there are many routes to faixa preta, the destination is unanimously special, and Kamaru Usman is no exception. “So, Jorge asked me to come to the gym after the fight and I just thought he wanted me to take pictures with people or something like that, but he freaking gave me my black belt,” says Usman on his promotion. “That thing just floored me. I never expected it;, I just wanted to be a martial artist, learn some stuff and compete. I never knew I would get my black belt.”