Mohammed Usman was alone in his hotel room talking to the television. It was deep into the night on April 24.
About 900 miles south of that Ocean Casino Resort in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Usman’s older brother Kamaru was making his way to the Octagon, set to defend his UFC welterweight title against Jorge Masvidal in the main event of UFC 261 in Jacksonville, Florida.
Mohammed is typically in Kamaru’s corner, but couldn’t be on this night — he was quarantining for his PFL debut a few weeks later. But mentally, Usman tried to put himself at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena. He visualized what he’d say to Kamaru backstage; he pictured what it was like to be in the corner.
And then, Kamaru blasted Masvidal with a bazooka-like right hand in the second round. The fight was over courtesy of one of the most vicious finishes of the year in MMA. Usman jumped off the hotel sofa and screamed, “That’s how you do it!”
“I was just sitting there going crazy,” Usman said. “Just so proud of him. I’m not gonna lie, even I didn’t expect that. It’s like, ‘Holy smokes — he just smoked him.’ It was amazing.”
Mohammed said he called Kamaru about 10 minutes after the fight was over.
“I just told him I’m proud of him, I love him and I’ll see him soon,” Mohammed said. “He said, ‘Cool, brother.'”
It will be the younger sibling’s turn to perform this week. Usman will fight Brandon Sayles at PFL 3 on Thursday night in Atlantic City, his first bout as part of the PFL’s 2021 heavyweight season. The opportunity is a big one for Usman, who is making the jump from the regional scene. And ESPN’s top pound-for-pound fighter in the world — his brother Kamaru — will be in his corner.
“It was very, very inspiring,” Usman said of Kamaru’s knockout of Masvidal. “It made me really confident in our training and everything that I’ve been doing.”
The Usman brothers are on a similar journey, but taking different paths. Like Kamaru, Mohammed has moved his training camp to Colorado. Kamaru’s new coach Trevor Wittman suggested Mohammed train under two coaches who have a history of success with heavyweights: Cody Donovan and Vinny Lopez of Elevation Fight Team. Wittman’s squad and Elevation have a partnership where their athletes train separately, but spar together several times per week.
Mohammed moved to Colorado two months ago and now trains with top fighters including UFC heavyweight contender Curtis Blaydes and heavyweight legend Alistair Overeem. Of course, people will want to compare Mohammed to Kamaru. But Mohammed said he’s a very different type of fighter at heavyweight than his brother is at welterweight — more akin to some of the fighters he’s working with in Colorado.
“My style, of course it’s my style,” Mohammed said, referring to differences between the way he and his brother fight. “But if you want to look at the heavyweight division and who moves like that and kind of does the things I do, you’ll think of Curtis Blaydes.”
Blaydes sets a high standard, in terms of big men who are strong wrestlers, have cardio for days and have the ability to end a fight with one punch. And according to Donovan, Mohammed more than holds his own in the room with Blaydes, Overeem and others.
“He doesn’t back down,” Donovan said. “If anything, we’ve got to tell Mo to go lighter. He’s a machine, man.”
Mohammed (7-1) has won four straight and has five finishes in his seven career wins. The former University of Houston football defensive end is 32 years old, but has fewer than 10 pro fights. Donovan believes Mohammed — not UFC veterans like legend Fabricio Werdum — is the favorite in the PFL’s heavyweight season.
“All the respect for [Willis] and Werdum, but we welcome those matchups,” Donovan said. “We’ll do the same thing to [Willis] that Curtis [Blaydes] did. And we’re not worried about Werdum. He’s a good striker and he’s got an amazing ground game, but we’re not worried about his wrestling. I’m very confident in Mo.”
The best advice Kamaru has given him, Mohammed said, is to just stay relaxed. That’s a major credo of Kamaru’s game. His poise is one of the things that has allowed him to become one of the best fighters in the history of the sport. Mohammed plans on bringing that idea with him to the PFL, but warns that he is a very different fighter than his brother. Kamaru is patient; Mohammed admits he’s ready from the jump to get his opponent out of there.
“When I get in the cage, they’ll instantly know he definitely don’t fight like Kamaru,” Mohammed said. “He’s a different type of guy. … Every punch I throw is to knock your life away.”
There’s no pressure in having an older brother who is the best fighter in the world, Mohammed said. He’s used to pressure from his football days. It doesn’t faze him. What was worse? Not being in Kamaru’s corner for the Masvidal fight last month.
With Kamaru handling his business in the UFC in his absence, Mohammed is ready to make the sacrifice of missing that fight and that moment worth it. Now it’s time for the younger Usman to shine.
ESPN, 9 p.m. ET
Fabricio Werdum vs. Renan Ferreira | Heavyweight
Kayla Harrison vs. Mariana Morais | Women’s lightweight
Mohammed Usman vs. Brandon Sayles | Heavyweight
Larissa Pacheco vs. Julija Pajic | Women’s lightweight
ESPN/ESPN+ simulcast, 7 p.m. ET
Ante Delija vs. Bruno Cappelozza | Heavyweight
Cindy Dandois vs. Kaitlin Young | Women’s lightweight
Genah Fabian vs. Laura Sanchez | Women’s lightweight
Denis Goltsov vs. Mohammed DeReese | Heavyweight