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Kamaru Usman reacts to Colby Covington shaking his hand after UFC 268, open to third fight in the future

Kamaru Usman knows he’ll never be friends with Colby Covington but for at least a brief moment after their rematch ended at UFC 268, the rivalry was set aside for a little bit of mutual respect.

It was arguably the most shocking moment all night when welterweights came face-to-face just after the horn sounded to signify the end of their fight but rather than security rushing into the cage to separate them, they actually embraced, shared a few words and shook hands before the decision was announced.

While it didn’t take long for Covington’s animosity to return after the fight, Usman admits that for all the bad blood between them, he expected to at least share that moment in the cage after a grueling battle between two of the best in the world.

“I’m not surprised,” Usman said about Covington paying him respect after the fight. “We’ve shared pretty much an hour with each other inside that cage. I don’t care who you are, there’s a mutual respect that just comes alive. It’s the spirit of competition. The spirit of martial arts.

“It’s just two competitors. We went to war. We spent almost an hour together inside that cage. I’ll leave [what was said] between me and him.”

The fight itself looked like it might actually end in similar fashion to the first meeting after Usman cracked Covington with a pair of hard punches in the second round that put the always outspoken welterweight down on the canvas.

Usman rushed to the ground in an attempt to finish the fight but Covington survived with a little extra help from the end of the round.

Despite that early knockdown, Covington not only returned for the third round but he actually mounted a pretty impressive comeback to make a very competitive fight after 25 minutes.

“It’s very, very hard not to get crazy when you hurt someone like that,” Usman said about his knockdown. “But I know he did his homework. He went to a good team. Those guys at MMA Masters are good coaches and they prepared him well. He stayed very poised and very controlled. That’s why he didn’t try to get crazy cause I would have found the shot and put him away. Like I said, as a competitor, I respect him. That’s the next best guy in the division.

“It didn’t surprise me [he was able to comeback]. He’s a great competitor. I know this. We both knew that. It didn’t surprise me. That’s why I had to stay poised, just listen to my coaches cause I really wanted to get him out of there. Once I start feeling like a giant in there, I’m like a tank and I want to just get him out of there. But I understand in this game it’s about using your mental cause we’re both physically adequate and we’re prepared. I stayed composed and got the job done.”

While Usman would have loved another knockout, he’s not going to complain about getting the win no matter how it happened, especially given his level of competition on Saturday night.

“No disappointment,” Usman said. “This guy’s tough as nails. This guy’s very, very tough. Let’s be honest, [Muhammad] Ali needed a [Joe] Frazier. All these guys, you can be the great one but there’s always going to be that one guy that’s going to be able to push you and he is that guy.

“As much of him outside the octagon that most people don’t like, myself included, you have to respect him as a competitor.”

Now that he holds two wins over Covington — a knockout and a unanimous decision — Usman can probably put this chapter of his career behind him for now but he’s not discounting a third fight down the road.

Covington wasted no time declaring his intention to eventually earn his way back to another shot at Usman and the welterweight champion wouldn’t be shocked if it happened.

“That guy’s tough,” Usman said. “He’ll tune up a lot of guys in the division. We’ll see. It’s up to him. If he’s willing to do the work and get back up here and if I’m still here, then we’ll make it happen.”