The Student News Site of University of Arizona

The Daily Wildcat

64° Tucson, AZ

The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Mohammed Usman’s continuing journey goes from the gridiron to the octagon

Courtesy Mohammed Usman

Kamaru Usman (left) and his brother, Mohammed (right), sit around the MMA Octagon. Mohammed is trying to follow his brother’s footsteps and fight in the UFC.

Imagine coming from Nigeria as a young child, a tropical and humid country in Africa, and moving to Arlington, Texas in winter, during a snowstorm. For former Arizona defensive lineman Mohammed Usman and his brother, Kamaru, it was their first experience with snow it was also their first time in America.

6-year-old Mohammed and Kamaru, 8, were forced to adjust to different situations, which was a mature task they had to take on, while most kids that age were wondering what flavor Snack Pack their mom packed them for lunch.

Coming to a different country presented unique obstacles. The Usman brothers still held on to the family values developed in Nigeria while growing into the Texas culture, so getting by in life presented no challenge.

Mohammed became the 2008 No. 1 high school heavy weight wrestler in Texas. Despite his success on the wrestling mats, his love and passion was football and he wanted to accomplish his dreams of playing in the NFL. Mohammed even has the NFL logo tattooed his right arm.

After his high school career was over he spent two seasons, one at Houston and one at Navarro College before moving to Tucson to become Brooks Reed’s backup. Reed was a three-year starter for the Wildcats under former head coach Mike Stoops and racked up 47 tackles and 6.5 sacks in his final year at Arizona and recently played in Super Bowl 51. Mohammed said Reed’s mentorship his junior season brought out the best in his game.

“That is the one guy that can physically run through a wall if he needed to, there was nothing he couldn’t do,” Mohammed said. “He’s faster than everybody, stronger than everybody and could jump higher than anybody. That raised my level of work ethic.”

However once Mohammed’s college football career concluded, he had a decision to make. Either continue to pursue his dream of playing professional football or find another niche.

“Short story short—you want to be in the NFL and make your family proud, but at the same time, everything doesn’t go as you wanted to in life,” Mohammed said.

With Mohammed being the younger brother, he observed what Kamaru did with his athletic abilities after wrestling in college by becoming a mixed martial artist and entering the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

At first it was Mohammed who walked out with Kamaru for every fight and stood in his corner even though he had little experience giving advice in the Octagon.

“When you’re going to war, you always want the person that you love and care about right next to you and that’s why I like to have my brother there with me,” Kamaru said.

Kamaru is the No. 14 welterweight fighter in the world with a 9-1 record and developed the nickname the “Nigerian Nightmare”.

“There’s no other sport like this,” Kamaru said. “It’s the purest thing you can do in life besides having a child. This is fighting. Everybody fights—even animals fight and so if you’re not doing it for the right reasons and you don’t have that strong motivation behind you to help you get through the hard times, it’s something that can really break you.”

With the success brought in from the family, Mohammed officially hung up the shoulder pads and decided to pursue his own fighting career.

“My brother really elevated me, because he put me front and center—put me directly into it,” Mohammed said. ”All the stuff that goes on backstage, the weight cutting and just everything that it takes for you to become successful.

Again another challenge ahead of Mohammed, and what most people don’t know, is that a football player could be in tip-top shape and it still wouldn’t match the training to become a UFC fighter. 

“Football shape is nothing compared to the shape you have to be in for MMA,” Mohammed said. “There’s nothing that compares to a five-minute fight for three rounds or five rounds. There’s no such thing as football shape in MMA so you can basically say I was out of shape. There’s not a team. It’s not 11 people, it’s just you.”

Fortunately for Mohammed, his body will catch up with his mind over time as he gains more experience, because MMA and football have a similar, vicious mentality according to him.

“You have to have an aggressive mindset and become a different type of person when you play football and the same thing translates to MMA,” Mohammed said. “You have to have some type of edge—some type of aggression to be able to be an MMA fighter.”

It’s not like he can just pick up the gloves and boom he’s the next Conor McGregor, but the family support that Kamaru has given and the ability to learn his older brother’s steps, gives him an advantage.

“That extra motivation comes from people that doubt you, people that don’t think you can do it, people that don’t think you can make the transition and plus for my family to be successful,” Mohammed said. “That drives me more than anything in the world. Success drives me. I want to be successful for my family. I’ll do everything and anything to make sure my family is okay and that they’re well taken care of.”

The only characteristic that doesn’t work in favor for Mohammed is that in the UFC, fighters are supposed to talk the talk and walk the walk, while he just allows his fighting to do the talking for him. Being the quiet guy can demote his popularity in his earlier years, but he wants that title.

“I know they’re going to underestimate me,” Mohammed said. “I don’t want to come loud and talking. I just want my abilities to show. Football you can trash talk, but this is different. This is me vs. you hitting each other in the face.”

Mohammed’s first fight doesn’t have a set date, but he said it should be one of the first two weeks of April in Phoenix. Mohammed’s first fight is a parallel situation to his brother’s, because Kamaru’s first fight was in Nebraska where he wrestled in college.

At the end of the day, he has his sights set for the bigger picture and that’s taking the road less traveled to become the best fighter in the world.

“I believe in my heart and in my mind that I can be the best at this sport in my weight class,” Mohammed said. ”I can bring something to the table that you haven’t seen before.” 

Follow Justin Spears on Twitter.

More to Discover
Activate Search