"I’m lapping these guys… I’m Varsity."
- Kamaru Usman tells DC after dispatching Gilbert Burns
2021 has been one hell of a year for Mixed Martial Arts. The PFL is having a great showing with household names. Bellator is pushing homegrown talent into super stardom. The UFC is selling PPVs by the upper hundred-thousands. 2021 has been one hell of a year for the UFC. Conor McGregor has lost twice already. Charles Olievera has become champion. Brandon Moreno has become a likeable sweetheart. Headline fights have been booked as far as next summer. And 2021 has been one hell of a year for Kamaru Usman. First he jabbed Gilbert Burns into heartbreak and then he blasted Jorge Masvidal into the same space Ngannou sent Overeem. He has gotten really good. The Question is; can he get any better?
When Kamaru Usman was challenging Tyron Woodley for the UFC Welterweight Title, they had one of the most memorable exchanges at the presser. No one remembers the question, but it started with Usman saying "…I have the biggest shovel out here." And quite rightly, Tyron Woodley asked him, "Who have you dug against?" It was a good question. And from Usman’s answer, it was the right question. Usman answered saying "…it doesn’t matter." No one knew at the time that it wouldn’t matter, but that was one time that the UFC’s narrative of a fighter was put on full display. Could Usman do it against the best?
"We wondered whether you would be able to do this against the best in the world; it turns out, you are the best in the world."
- Joe Rogan to Kamaru Usman after his Title win
Kamaru had run through everyone… kind of. He would crowd you. He would back you up against the fence. He would throw basic one-twos that are the staple of Hemri Hooft’s students. And when you worried about the reach of his fists he would change levels, pick you up, throw you on your back and that was that. It’s what happened to Leon Edwards. It’s what happened to Emil Meek. It’s what happened to Rafael Dos Anjos. He was never behind in any of those matches. He won rounds for fun. No score card was close. No call was controversial. So truly, he hadn’t had to dig against anyone. And to the untrained eye, he didn’t have to against Tyron Woodley.
During the Tyron Woodley match, Usman didn’t have to dig by coming from behind. He had to dig by not getting carried away. It looks easy now that Gilbert Burns and Colby Covington have used his playbook. But when he did it, there was a tension in the crowd. Surely a right hand was going to land from the chosen one. It didn’t. Usman backed Woodley up and at one point started throwing wildly. Three shots. Five shots. More than ten shots hit Woodley clean and he was still standing. Usman was winded. So he picked Woodley up and dropped him on his back. One bad move there and Usman would have been caught. And Joe Rogan summed it up perfectly in the post fight interview, Kamaru is a special talent.
"…when they look at me they think ‘My God how did somebody do that? I ain’t never seen somebody get knocked out like that! I ain’t never seen speed like that. That’s what they say when they look at me. I ain’t never heard anyone talk about you like that."
- Tyron Woodley to Kamaru Usman
When Usman was going up against Gilbert Burns, people were intrigued. Like when he fought Damian Maia, Usman would be foolish to go for takedowns. And in terms of power, Burns was blowing people away. And he almost did that to Usman. But after a second round of listening to his coaches and being fantastically basic with his strikes, Burns was done by three. Against Masvidal, the intrigue was less and more at the same time. It was less because people felt Kamaru Usman was too powerful and too skilled as a wrestler and it would be a retelling of the Fight Island bout. But there was intrigue because Masvidal knows how to sell a fight. He said he won’t stay down. He said he would get up. He said he would get up and knock Usman out. But when the fight came, in a glorious turn of expectations, Usman knocked him out. It was a movie. And it ended the debate once and for all.
And that’s the only thing that’s carrying the wings of UFC 268; the debate. There is a large contingent of fans who can see a path to victory for Colby Covington. Despite what happened in the last fight where Usman, still unpolished with his striking, landed the heavier and ultimately more shots on Colby Covington… people feel with a tweak or two, Usman can be beaten by the chaos. ‘Maybe he should actually wrestle to disrupt Usman’s rhythm.’ ‘Maybe he should put more pop in his punches.’ ‘Maybe he should crowd him.’ ‘Maybe he should do this… maybe he should do that.’ And all the while, we are making the same mistakes that Usman’s last four opponents have made: they’re not asking what Usman himself is coming to do. Woodley obviously didn’t see that coming, being out-wrestled; Colby didn’t know Usman would come and stand and bang for five rounds; Burns didn’t think Usman could learn a new skill in the jab; and Masvidal definitely did not believe in his wildest dreams that Usman would stand, jab and knock the sweat off his hair locks. And so here we are again.
"I don’t worry about legacy. It’s not my place. Legacy is something that is bestowed upon you when you are done. People will look back and say, that’s what he accomplished... that’s his legacy."
- Kamaru Usman being Coy
I don’t believe those words above. If he didn’t care about his legacy he would not have called Masvidal out a second time. He won the first decisively. So why did he want a second? Money? That was the icing. The cake was what happened in Florida; beating a striker with strikes. It’s also why we are seeing another fight with Colby Covington. Colby ‘Chaos’ Covington. The self-dubbed American Champion. A man who has towed the line as carelessly as his fights are fought carefully. In a world where it’s a sin to call someone the wrong pronoun; Covington calls Usman by a name he has publicly rebuked. He’s made jokes about Usman’s ethnicity. He’s made jokes about Usman’s country. He’s called Usman a drug-cheat. He made jokes about Usman’s father’s incarceration. And whether you think it’s an act or not, he’s given Usman every reason in the book to skip this fight. Usman could fight Leon Edwards. Usman could push for a Vincente Luque fight. But legacy said No!
My prediction for the fight is that it will not be a knockout. Since a lot of people want to see it, I think Usman will wrestle Covington this time. I think he will because now he has gotten his knockout win over the man; the next thing to do is to nullify him in such a way that the world will lose interest in him. Usman does not have the nastiest ground and pound. He has improved in his stand-up striking. He has improved his movement. His ground and pound has not improved so much. And I imagine Colby will be in a spot similar to where Masvidal was when he fought Usman the first time; on his back, losing every round, and wanting out early. 50 – 45.
I know it sounds crazy right. Well, then you’re finally getting the picture. It’s the Kamaru Usman Legacy Tour. Next Stop? Madison Square Garden. Get ready Colby… get ready!