Usman’s accolades have started to mount. Not that they were ever in doubt, but with every passing fight, the Welterweight Champion continues to answer questions that are posed to him. After the Gilbert Burns Fight, he answered some more. Posed with the kind of world class Brazilian jiu jitsu that put his all American wrestling credentials at risk, Kamaru Usman kept the fight standing, and dropped Gilbert Burns with the same jab that dictated the fight. It was impressive. It was exciting. But it was until his hand was raised that we remembered we had seen it before.
Against Damian Maia, Usman knew he was not going to wrestle. The fight consisted of jabbing, clinch-work and motioning to the referee to stand the fight up anytime Maia went to his guard and invited the Nigerian in. It was a straightforward victory. Save for the rocking overhand right from Gilbert in the first round, so was the title defence of UFC 258. And Gilbert Burns, the rightful number one contender became another name in the list of people Usman had definitely put down. A list that should by all indications include Jorge Masvidal.
"…that was six days. Give me six weeks and I can beat that guy."
Jorge Masvidal to Dana White after the UFC 251 Main Event
For those who watched the match, save for some embarrassingly one-sided comments from Micheal Bisping, it was not close. Usman came in his signature ‘crab-steps’ and walked to the centre to meet a fiery challenger who was determined to get a reaction from the Champ. The first few attempts struck, but then Usman caught a kick, took Masvidal down and slowed the scramble by putting his weight on the challenger long enough to cause heavy breathing. No one could see at that point, but Kamaru’s gameplan was already set. He was going to outgrind the challenge. He would suffocate Jorge and dirty the fight until the final bell. Again, it is something we have seen before. Ask Leon Edwards. Ask Emil Meek. Ask Rafael Dos Anjos. That is what Kamaru Usman does. The score cards read 50-45 for two judges and another gave Masvidal the first round making it 49-46. To most people, that was the most that could be hoped for… but not to the fighters in the Octagon.
The argument for the fight came first from Kamaru Usman. He revealed that he had broken his nose in two places before the fight. And that having to accept a different challenger and make weight in four days was not the ideal preparation. He did what he had to do, but he didn’t feel as though he had vindicated his promise ‘to expose Masvidal as beneath him.’ He wanted the chance to do that properly. After the obvious monetary implications, Usman’s case started to make sense from a competitive standpoint. Usman was training to fight Gilbert Burns the first time. He wasn’t readying to attempt takedowns against a Jiu jitsu specialist. He was hoping to use his jab and keep the fight standing and maybe attempt a few clinch situations. When the opponent changed, so did the game plan. Jorge Santiago did a great job prepping him for some of Masvidal’s signature strikes, but the execution was not anyewhere as crisp as we should expect. It is not a stretch to say, from what we have seen so far, that with a training camp specifically for Masvidal, Usman’s performance will at the very least be more impressive than the last.
"Usman is not a fighter, he is a competitor. I made a mistake analyzing him because I did not see myself in him. He is not angry, he is not rushed; he is simply going in there to do a job."
Greg Hardy on why he got the Usman v Burns prediction wrong
Masvidal’s case is much simpler. Tyron Woodley came in to defend his title against Usman in ideal condition. He was outstruck, outwrestled, outgrappled and outwoodlied. Colby Covington had a full training camp to prepare for kamaru Usman. He was outstruck overall, had his jaw broken in the third and was finished in the fifth. Gilbert Burns had two training Camps to fight Usman, and he was dropped twice and finished by strikes. Masvidal had six days to prepare for his fight with Usman, and he came out better than all those three competitors. That is how Jorge sees it, and that is why he believes he deserves another shot. In Masvidal’s view, if a man stepped to him on six days notice, he would do all he could in his power to finish him and put him on a stretcher rather than just "clinch, hug and caress his feet." And with every passing day, more people are believing those words. Masvidal can win.
So what if Usman loses? What if Masvidal goes into the octagon on Saturday and actually shows that he only lost because six days is not enough time. What will that mean? This question is important for a few reasons. Kamaru Usman is laying his claim to the pound-for-pound king of the UFC. He believes that with khabib retired and Jon Jones having two lackluster performances in his last three fights, it is his crown to hold. Joe Rogan, Dana White and a slew of MMA heads including George St. Pierre have alluded to the fact that Kamaru Usman is already at the table for consideration as an all time great. So what will happen if Kamaru Usman loses to a man with 15 loses on his professional record? At the very least, it will be a big deal.
"He’s marty. I know him as marty. Go and ask people who Marty from Nebraska is."
Ben Askren on why he refuses to call Kamaru Usman by his real name.
Not taking major risk during his fights has made certain fans adverse to Usman. Some do not like his wrestling and power-heavy style. Some believe that he is not a finisher and thus lacks highlight reels to bring in new eyes. Those are all legitimate reasons to have a gripe. But let us not pretend that every bit of negativity towards the man is warranted. Some people do not like Usman because he "has different personalities" despite the fact that he has some of the most consistent transcripts throughout his career. Some claim that they do not like him because he is "cringe" when in reality he stays as far from trash-talk as possible. And then there is a pocket of fans that hate that a man who has been awarded opportunities such as his would walk out to an afrobeat song and the Nigerian flag on his back. On the Joe Rogan Experience, Kevin Holland explained this away as his suspicion that makes him not like "...people who do not rep where they went to school."
Should Kamaru Usman lose to Jorge Masvidal at UFC 261, a million silent voices will cascade into the echoes of the reasons stated above. We will hear how overrated he is; how boring he is; how undeserving he is of a rematch; how unimpressive his unmatched 18 match-winning run has been; and how he is too big for 170 and has to move up a weight class to truly challenge himself. That is if he loses. If he wins, people will do what they have accused Kamaru Usman of doing for years- they will get boring.
Kamaru Usman will be the voice of 220million Nigerians on Saturday as he brings his version of excellence to bear. It is not enough for this man that he is the champion, yet the most active fighter in his division. He is literally taking a second lap of his division’s top 5. Yet he wants more. He wants to create the kind of niche level of accomplishment that will never be enough for his detractors; but for his fans, is rich enough to be called the greatest welterweight in History… that is not GSP.