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Kamaru Usman on Colby Covington: ‘The people want me to destroy him’

The UFC welterweight champ on facing the most hated fighter in the sport

During an October trip to the Dominican Republic, UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman was supporting his younger brother’s mixed martial arts fight. While Usman was greeting fans, he was approached by a local from Santo Domingo, who wished him luck for his title fight against Colby Covington on Saturday.

The fan then made clear his disdain for Covington.

“I can’t wait for you to kill this guy,” Usman recalled the man saying. “Shut that man up. For good.”

Covington, who is the most hated fighter in the sport, has parlayed a manufactured persona into a title bout against Usman in Saturday night’s main event in Las Vegas (ESPN+ PPV, 10 p.m. ET). He has been in Usman’s ear ever since the Nigerian-born fighter won the title over Tyron Woodley in March. The challenger has vowed to “break that b—-,” while labeling the champion a fake and making unsubstantiated allegations that Usman uses performance-enhancing drugs.

On Saturday, the only thing separating Usman and Covington will be space and opportunity.

“He’s a Twitter thug, one of those guys that get online who have no filter,” Usman said. “Now he has to see me in person, with no one to hide behind. When I see him [Saturday], I need for him to bring that same energy. I’m definitely bringing mine.”

On the surface, Usman and Covington — who both take 15-1 records into Saturday — appear to be complete opposites. On social media, Usman posts about his devotion to his craft and his family, especially his 5-year-old daughter, Samirah.

Covington, on the other hand, uses social media to show his love for the current presidential family, poolside parties and women’s barely covered backsides.

It’s a role Covington has played to perfection. But role or not, Usman believes Covington wearing the MAGA hat — and trumpeting the message behind it — adds fuel to the simmering racial divide of this country.

“I don’t claim to know about politics and I stay away from it, but there’s definitely a racial element in what he’s doing,” Usman said. “Make America great again? Does that mean boost the economy so we’re thriving? Or let’s stop the flow of immigrants, get the blacks out and, basically, let’s make it white again?

“For a guy like Colby, he’s a guy that feels entitled, and a guy who feels like he should have what I have — the championship belt,” Usman said. “You don’t get it because you’re Caucasian, or from a certain descent. That’s not how this works. You have to earn it. If you really want it, you have to come through me.”

The UFC has avoided adding fuel to Covington’s fiery narratives. UFC president Dana White appeared annoyed with Covington — who threatened to slap White if he tried to wrap the title belt around his waist.

“He says a lot of stupid stuff,” White said during a recent appearance on The Jim Rome Show. “He needs to worry about Kamaru Usman, who hates him.”

How deep is that hate?

So deep that Usman attempted to get at Covington following his win over Woodley in March.

So deep that, hours later, Usman and his manager, Ali Abdelaziz, confronted Covington at the Palms Casino Resort buffet line.

So deep that security had to be called when the two appeared together on ESPN’s set following Covington’s win over Robbie Lawler in August.

The message that Usman wants to send to Covington: You don’t want this smoke.

“When we saw him at the hotel, he pulled out his phone and started taping,” Usman said of the buffet-line tension. “He knows that one wrong move, and I would have whipped his a– on the spot.”

While the betting line in Vegas leans toward an Usman victory, many experts are expecting a competitive fight between two fighters who are actually very similar in the Octagon.

Both live and train in South Florida, less than 20 miles apart from each other.

Both turned pro as mixed martial artists in 2012, coming after accomplished collegiate wrestling careers. Usman was an All-American and won a national title at Nebraska-Kearney. Covington was an All-American at Oregon.

Both are masterful wrestlers who haven’t lost a fight in years. Usman’s only loss, in 2013, was to Jose Caceres — a guy Covington beat five months later. Covington’s only loss, in 2015, was to Warlley Alves, a guy Usman beat the following year.

“I have respect for every fighter I step in the ring with, and we both understand the battle of attrition — how to fight and wear guys out,” Usman said. “And while, on one hand, I want to crush and destroy him, I think the best thing for me to do is stay in control of my thoughts.

“I want to avoid going out with a preconceived notion that I’m going to kill this guy, and hurt this guy,” Usman added. “Either I’m going to finish him off early. Or I’m going to deliver a beating for five rounds.”

Those close to Usman expect him to stay in control of his emotions, which he’s been able to do since he picked up wrestling in high school.

“Early in his career, he was just trying to figure things out,” said Marc Bauer, the athletic director at Nebraska-Kearney who coached the wrestling team when Usman was there. “Now that he has figured out the system and has confidence in fighting in the UFC, I think he’s going to have continued success.”

Kamaru Usman of Nigeria reacts to his win over Tyron Woodley in their UFC welterweight championship bout during the UFC 235 event at T-Mobile Arena on March 2 in Las Vegas.

Christian Petersen/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC

Usman said he initially agreed to fight Covington in 2013, for his second professional fight, but Covington backed out, leading Usman to take the fight against Caceres that stands as his only loss. He added that he’s agreed to fight Covington several times since then. Each time, according to Usman, Covington avoided him. White, meanwhile, tried to schedule the match for Nov. 2 in New York, but said Covington turned down the fight because he wanted more money.

The fight will finally happen on Saturday, and Usman is eager to expose Covington.

“He won’t be able to hide behind a keyboard, or anyone else,” Usman said. “It doesn’t make a difference to me what he says. All I care about is that, on Dec. 14, we’re going to have to put hands on each other. The people want me to destroy him. And I intend to punish him in a way that he’ll never forget.”

Jerry Bembry is a senior writer at Andscape. His bucket list items include being serenaded by Lizz Wright and watching the Knicks play a MEANINGFUL NBA game in June.