6:51 PM ET
Marc RaimondiESPN Staff Writer
Kamaru Usman was in the corner for Francis Ngannou when Ngannou won the UFC heavyweight title last month. Now, Ngannou will return the favor for his fellow champion friend.
Ngannou will be a cornerman for Usman’s welterweight title defense against Jorge Masvidal in the main event of UFC 261 on April 24 in Jacksonville, Florida, Usman told ESPN on Thursday.
Usman and Ngannou, both born in Africa, have become close friends over the past several years. Usman said his brother, Mohammed, will not be able to be in his corner as usual, because Mohammed will be in the PFL bubble ahead of his debut in that promotion next month.
“Who better to replace someone like that than with the heavyweight champ himself, Francis Ngannou?” said Usman, who also will have head coach Trevor Wittman and Brazilian jiu-jitsu coach Jorge Santiago in his corner.
Usman said Ngannou’s story inspires him. Ngannou migrated from Cameroon to France less than a decade ago and in doing so ended up jailed in Spain and later homeless. Ngannou knocked out Stipe Miocic in the main event of UFC 260 on March 27.
“It motivates me so much,” Usman said. “I said that to him. It motivates me so much to even just be around him.”
After knocking out Miocic, Ngannou embraced Usman in his corner. There are now three African-born champions in the UFC: Usman, Ngannou and middleweight champion Israel Adesanya.
“I had that pressure on my shoulders and I was afraid of letting them down, since they were expecting me to become champion and join them as an African champion,” Ngannou said in his postfight news conference after UFC 260. “We stand for a hope as a whole continent when it comes to sport.”
ESPN has Usman ranked No. 2 in its MMA pound-for-pound rankings. Usman (18-1) beat Masvidal by unanimous decision at UFC 251 last July, but Masvidal was fighting on just six days’ notice after Usman’s original opponent, Gilbert Burns, tested positive for COVID-19. Usman, 33, went on to beat Burns by third-round TKO at UFC 258 on Feb. 13.
Coming into the Masvidal rematch, Usman has 13 straight wins, tying him with Khabib Nurmagomedov and Jon Jones for the second-best streak in UFC history. Only Anderson Silva had won more in a row with 16.