Former UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman got the elite level he’s in right now, partly thanks to his striking coach Trevor Wittman. From having a wrestling-heavy approach, “The Nigerian Nightmare” evolved by leaps and bounds in terms of his striking, primarily using his boxing to score huge wins in some of his title defenses.
But that boxing mentality also cost him his UFC 278 title fight against Leon Edwards. Usman dipped his head to his right to try and slip Edwards’ jab, but that led to him eating a left high kick to the jaw and ultimately getting knocked out with a minute left in the fifth round.
Renowned trainer Teddy Atlas, who’s been following the sport for a while now, noticed this pattern. And for him, Wittman’s boxing mentality may have been one of the reasons for how the fight played out the way it did.
“Trevor Wittman, he was a former boxing trainer and now he’s a big MMA coach, big UFC striking coach, MMA striking coach, does a great job. But I thought his boxing degree actually again, betrayed him and hurt him,” Atlas said on his YouTube show.
“Because when that throw-away left hand (from Edwards) came at (Usman), he slipped his head to his right to get away from it, the way that you would in boxing. But, (Wittman) forgot this ain’t boxing. This MMA. This is UFC, specifically. And there’s kicks to worry about.”
Atlas says Usman could’ve used “the voice of an MMA coach” at the time and relayed some of the advice he would’ve given.
“I’m taking nothing away from Trevor Wittman. I respect him, he’s a good guy, he does a great job. But in the corner, he was telling (Usman)… You could hear it, he was telling him to do more striking, not more grappling or more on the floor,” he said.
“That’s what a boxing coach would say, there’s no doubt about it. But, I might have wanted to hear the voice of an MMA coach in there, too. Maybe.
“He was doing his job from a boxing standpoint, and he’s done a great job. And he’s improved him. And he’s won with him. I’m just saying that at that point, I might have wanted an MMA voice, too. Because the MMA voice might have said, ‘No, no no, keep him on the floor. Kill time.’”
Usman was leading on the scorecards 3-1 entering the fifth round. Atlas believes that Wittman should’ve advised his fighter to play to his strengths, instead.
“You can’t lose except by knockout. And the best chance of being knocked out is standing. Not being submitted on the mat.
“An MMA coach might’ve said the opposite of a boxing coach. He might’ve said, ‘I want you to kill the clock, I want you to keep him on his back, and if that’s the way we end it, fine. You earned the fight, you earned the right to do that, let’s just finish up here and get the win and get out of here.’ But, he’s competitive. I get it.”
Usman’s UFC 278 loss was his first defeat in nine years as he drops to a record of 20-2.