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Kamaru Usman voted surprise backup fighter for Khamzat vs Paulo Costa at UFC 294

“I followed Usman as a wrestler who wrestled at 184 pounds, so I know that size is not an issue for him.” — Chael Sonnen

Kamaru Usman said he would “absolutely entertain the thought” of jumping to middleweight in search of a second UFC title, but only if longtime friend Israel Adesanya was no longer the 185-pound champion. As it turns out, “The Last Stylebender” was dethroned by Sean Strickland — a former welterweight — at UFC 293 just last month, so the only obstacle keeping “The Nigerian Nightmare” for moving up in weight has now been removed.

Unless the promotion decides to book him against 170-pound contender Belal Muhammad.

Like Adesanya, the 36 year-old Usman also lost his championship strap, so he no longer has the clout to fight for the 185-pound title in his first middleweight bout. That said, an alternate route is now available if “The Nigerian Nightmare” wants to travel to Abu Dhabi to serve as backup fighter for the Khamzat Chimaev vs Paulo Costa showdown at UFC 294, a contest that could produce the next division title challenger.

“I believe that Kamaru Usman should go to 185 pounds, that’s Chael’s belief,” former middleweight contender Chael Sonnen said on his YouTube channel (transcribed by MMA News). “He didn’t want to have to fight Adesanya. Usman was willing to fight Chimaev, but would not fight him at 185 pounds. It was not a size issue, he didn’t wanna do it at 185 because it would have become a number one contender’s match. If Usman was to come up now, the landscape is totally different and the opportunity is only a month away. It is paramount that they have a backup fighter in Abu Dhabi for Paulo Costa vs. Chimaev. The right guy has to be ready. The right guy is out there. The right guy to fill in for Paulo Costa or Khamzat Chimaev [is] Kamaru Usman.”

Chimaev is also a former welterweight with dreams of a middleweight title and has a history with Usman, though neither fighter could seem to get UFC CEO Dana White on board with the idea. Circumstances have changed, thanks to Leon Edwards, who defeated Usman in back-to-back title fights, the most recent of which occurred in the UFC 286 headliner back in March. The promotion doesn’t typically pay for backup fighters in non-title fights, but Costa vs. Chimaev is important enough to the future of the division that it might be worth the investment.

LIVE! Watch UFC 295 PPV On ESPN+ Here!

TWO TITLES UP FOR GRABS! Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) makes its highly anticipated return to Madison Square Garden in New York City on Sat., Nov. 11, 2023, with a re-worked pay-per-view (PPV) main card. In the ESPN+-streamed main event, former 205-pound roost-ruler, Jiri Prochazka, will lock horns with ex-Middleweight kingpin, Alex Pereira, for the promotion’s vacant Light Heavyweight title. In UFC 295’s co-main event, top-ranked Heavyweight contenders, Sergei Pavlovich (No. 2) and Tom Aspinall (No. 4), will collide for the interim strap after division champion, Jon Jones, was injured with a torn pectoral muscle and forced to withdraw (video).

Don’t miss a single second of EPIC face-punching action!

Remember that will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 294 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. ET, before the pay-per-view (PPV) main card start time at 10 p.m. ET (also on ESPN+).

To check out the latest and greatest UFC 294: “Makhachev vs. Volkanovski 2” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

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