Usman, a former UFC welterweight champion, is moving up to middleweight to take on unbeaten contender Khamzat Chimaev at UFC 294, which takes place Saturday at Etihad Arena. UFC CEO Dana White has labeled the bout as a title eliminator.
For Usman (20-3 MMA, 15-2 UFC), the possibility of fighting Strickland would be a rematch, as he beat Strickland by unanimous decision back in 2017. Although it's been six years, Usman thinks he's still a bad matchup for the now champion.
“This is MMA. Styles make fights,” Usman told reporters at Wednesday's UFC 294 media day. “Sean, I think he's definitely grown a lot, of course, but I think most important he's grown into his identity of a fighter. He accepts the fact that he fights a particular style, a particular way, and he's just leaned into it and grown exponentially, and now he's the champion.
“But styles make fights, you know. I said it when I came into the game. I'm a nightmare for certain people to deal with, and I just think that matchup is a nightmare for Sean Strickland. But he's grown exponentially. He's improved.”
When asked if he ever thought he'd be in a position where he could face Strickland again, Usman said he never really gave it any thought. But now, looking back, he's realized how stiff the competition was that he faced on his way to the UFC welterweight title.
“I don't think of it like that.” Usman said. “When I reflect, at that point I was coming down hill fast. I didn't care who was in my way. Leon was there, I didn't care. I took care of business. Sean was there, I took care of business. So I don't really dwell on it. It's when I'm done, and I sit back now, and I reflect a little bit more and more. Like you just mentioned, a lot of people didn't know I fought Sean Strickland, so you can tell I've been putting in work for a minute now. It's just kind of one of those things where I'm in a position to where you get to reflect and say, ‘Hmm, I did put some work in. I beat quite a few people.'”
For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie's event hub for UFC 294.