Is Kamaru Usman still a member of Sanford MMA, formerly known as Hardknocks 365?
Headcoach of Sanford MMA, Henry Hooft, who also happens to be the head striking coach of Kamaru Usman, and Gilbert Burns, who were supposed to fight for the welterweight title, this weekend, at UFC 251, spoke with ESPN’s Ariel Helwani about his relationship with Usman, after he left the gym for the first time to prepare for his teammate, friend, and now former training partner, Gilbert Burns.
As far as Hooft is concerned, Usman is still a member of Sanford MMA, and he claims that their relationship is still intact despite Usman training under Trevor Whitman ahead of his UFC 251 title defense.
Hooft, who was a part of Usman’s corner when he won the title against Tyron Woodley at UFC 235, says he trusts Whitman, and claims that they have a good relationship.
“I think Kamaru is always a part of our team. When I spoke to him, he said, ‘Florida will always be my home base,’ and when he’s back in Dallas with family, he always pops up in a gym. He’s been to a couple of gyms, and he’s also worked with Trevor (Whitman), and Trevor of course is a very good coach. Trevor makes all of my equipment, so I have a good contact in Trevor. We talked about (Usman going to Trevor’s gym to train for this fight). So no, I think Florida will always be his home base, and he’s one of our team members for as long as I know, and the guys in our gym respect him the same way. I don’t think anything changed. I read only in an interview that he said he wanted extra attention. For me, he’s my team member, one of my students. He’s my world champion. He changed my life the way I changed his life,” Hooft told ESPN.
Hooft made it clear that he didn’t train neither Burns nor Usman for this fight, and that this has been a hard position for him to be in. Stating that this experience has been a “difficult time,” and “bittersweet.”
“I really didn’t train Gilbert, everyone knows, I didn’t hold pads for him. Everybody else was working (with him) because I still consider both of these guys my students. So it was a difficult time, and I don’t know, I don’t think Kamaru would have left for the whole camp, maybe for a couple of weeks, and I don’t think that’s bad for some students. Maybe see what’s there, how they work with other people. As long as you keep your relationship real, and also, when your student goes to the right people, it’s not really a problem because if he went to somebody where I’m like, ‘I don’t know why you’re going there,’ then I’d probably have a discussion, and if he wanted to leave I would say, ‘good luck to you,’ but it wasn’t (like that). Me and Trevor were in contact, even when Usman was scheduled to fight Gilbert. It was hard for me, I was a little heart broken because it’s two of my guys. It was bitter sweet, and I talked to Trevor, and we had a real good talk, and he made me feel like ‘yeah, it’s two of your guys, you have to be proud of that,’ that they came from (the same gym),” Hooft told ESPN.
Unfortunately for Hooft, the Sanford MMA team will likely have to go through this entire process again, due to the fact that Burns was forced out of the fight, one-week out, after testing positive for COVID-19.
Instead, Usman will now put his belt on the line against Jorge Masvidal, on six-days notice.
Tune in to UFC 251, Sat., July 11, at 10pm / 7pm ETPT live only on Pay-Per-View.