When news broke of a brawl involving UFC fighter Kamaru Usman along with notable MMA manager Ali Abdel Aziz at PFL’s 2018 season opener, it looked bad. From the initial reports, it seemed Aziz and Usman had attacked a fan during the event, for kneeling during the national anthem. A shocking development for a fighter like Usman, who had yet to run into much controversy outside the cage – even if the same can’t be said for Ali.
However, in a recent interview with Ariel Helwani on the MMA Hour, Usman gave his side of the story. And to hear him tell it, neither he nor Ali were the aggressors that night, and it didn’t have much to do with kneeling for the anthem either. He expressed his surprise that the story ended up skewed the way it did. ”Do they not realize that I’m black? Do they not realize that I’m African-American?” Usman said, in response to a headline apparently reading ”UFC fighter and manager attack a fan for kneeling for the national anthem.”
The clip below shows part of the exchange, but Usman filled out the rest of the details as to what lead up to it.
“Obviously, a bunch of drunk fans were coming into the auditorium from the back,” Usman said, setting the stage for the events that followed. ”Because, the way it was set up, the event was set up, it was like an auditorium style. So when you come in from the back, everyone’s back is… You come in with everyone’s back turned towards you and you’re looking down towards the cage.
“So we go out to get some water to drink, because we were thirsty. So, we were coming back in, and while we were coming in, all the sudden the national anthem’s playing. So we stop. And I’m like, ‘Hey hey hey, stop. We don’t want to walk through the crowd while the national anthem is playing. So, let’s let this thing finish out.’ It was me and my manager. So he’s standing in front of me at the top of the stairs, and I was behind him, a couple steps behind.
“And he looks back, to look at me. Just nonchalant, I wasn’t paying attention. But, there was a big guy kneeling next to us, and I hear, ‘What the f-ck are you looking at?’ And I’m like, ‘Wait, what?’ So, I’m kind of ignoring him. I’m, ‘Well I don’t know what’s going on here.’ And then he goes, ‘Yeah, I’m talking to you! What the f— are you looking at?’ And then my manager turns around and goes, ‘Hey, what’s going on? You gotta problem? Are you talking to us?’ And the guy goes, ‘Yeah, I’m f—ing talking to you. What’s going on! You got a problem with me or something?’
“At this point we’re like… And this is during the national anthem,“ Usman continued, “so I stop and I go over there and I’m like, ‘Yo, hey hey hey. Hey, chill. Chill, be respectful. The national anthem is playing.’ And then the guy turns around and looks at me and goes, ‘Shut the f— up you n-word. What are you gonna do?’ And I’m like, ‘Bro, the national anthem is playing. Chill.’ So Ali stops and we let the national anthem finish up. Meanwhile the guy is still mouthing off through that and the national anthem, he was still mouthing off. So, when he was done, I turn around to him and I’m like, ‘Bro, have some respect the national anthem is playing.’ And then the guy was like ‘What the f— are you going to do you n-word.’
“And then at this point, I’m like okay, this dude is clearly drunk, and he’s serious, and he’s right in my face. So, I’m like, ‘Back up, you’re in my space.’ And the guy goes, ‘You ain’t gonna do nothing. What, do you think you’re f—ing tough?’ So at this point, I’m thinking he’s gonna swing on me, because he’s more and more aggressive. So, I push him off me. I’m like, ‘Bro, back up.’ And, of course, my manager’s not happy with the situation. And then a guy grabs him while he’s trying to – obviously he’s going to have my back – while he’s trying to get near me. And the guy grabs him. And the guy is still coming towards me, so I push him off. I’m like, ‘Bro, you need to back up.’
“So, I turn around and we’re leaving. I grab Ali and I’m like, ‘Let’s leave.’ And I don’t know if you can see it from that angle – that video that’s online, you can’t really see it – but I turn around for us to leave, and all of a sudden, while my back is turned, I get hit in the back, boom! And then there’s like three of them, jumped on Ali and then three of them jumped on me. And now it’s like, I gotta defend myself. I’m in self defense mode. I’m trying to throw one guy off me. And then it’s just all crazy commotion. Guys are trying to jump on us. And the whole time, I couldn’t believe this situation was happening. At one point I had a smile on my face, because I was like, ‘That just happened to me!?’“
Eventually, Usman says security kicked the men out of the event and escorted Usman and Ali to their seats. They even got an apology for the whole event from event staff. When asked if Usman planned on pressing charges against the men who attacked him, the ‘Nigerian Nightmare’ said that he was happy enough just to let the whole thing be.
“I’ve got to talk to him about that,” Usman said on the potential that Ali may press charges, ”but it’s not a big deal to me. That’s not what we do. Obviously, I wasn’t there to fight and it just happened. I’m not the guy to call the cops. Some people will. A situation happened and I’m moving forward, I’m over it.”