The Rise and Rise of Kamaru Usman

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - FEBRUARY 13: Kamaru Usman of Nigeria reacts after his victory over Gilbert Burns of Brazil in their UFC welterweight championship fight during the UFC 258 event at UFC APEX on February 13, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

The Rise and Rise of Kamaru Usman

As UFC 258 came to a close, the talk of the event was centred on a divisive and mercurial figure of Kamaru Usman – the Nigerian Nightmare – who cut a figure of confidence after dispatching his opponent in a long-awaited bout delayed by injuries and illness on both sides. BJJ World Champion Gilbert Burns was as qualified as Usman in his record and presented yet another skilled challenger that Usman was able to figure out. As Kamaru defended his title for the third time, a technical knockout of Burns in the third round, he surpassed a record set by former UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St-Pierre. Namely, the longest win streak of 13 in a row, not to mention a Performance of the Night award for his efforts. 

Usman is, like other fighters at the top of his game, someone segments of the UFC want to see lose. In a similar way to McGregor’s easy victories in his early career, the respect came after the headline match-ups against individuals like Jose Aldo and Nate Diaz. Win or lose, Usman earned respect in the past year because of the quality of his opponents. He’s now looking to have a rematch against Jorge Masvidal – a fighter who helped make Usman’s legend – and it would be an event sure to stir up considerable excitement amongst the fans. 

There is the opportunity for him to become the main face of UFC after the retirement of Khabib Nurmagomedov, although some expect the Russian to return and there are odds available in the online sports betting at William Hill for a potential fight against Georges St. Pierre. It’s hard to say if Usman could repeat his defeat of Masvidal in the same way again. Is he the deadliest Welterweight since St-Pierre? He may not be far off. Here, we’re looking at the fights that made Kamaru Usman the very real contender he is today. 

Minding Masvidal 

Jorge Masvidal has built a dedicated and passionate fanbase in his 17-year career. A Miami-born street fighter in his earlier years, the toughness and grit were there from the start of his career. Boasting a solid 35-13 over a long professional career, Masvidal enjoyed a period of success in which he strung together a series of TKO or knockouts in previous fights leading up to his match against Usman. His popularity sky-rocketed after earning a savage knockout victory of wrestler Ben Askren, with a flying knee to Askren’s forehead back in July 2019.

The 36-year-old was unquestionably a favorite to take on Usman and his impressive record. At this stage, Usman had already dispatched some highly-regarded names including Norwegian Emil Weber Meek and Brazilan Rafael Dos Anjos. After postponing his fight with Burns, Masvidal took the Usman fight on short notice. Masvidal was as tough in defence as he was in attack. Every loss of Masvidal’s career had still gone the distance. The manner in which Usman out-thought and proceeded to submit Masvidal by keeping him in the clinch throughout led to a unanimous decision win. 

Clinching the Belt

Tyron Woodley was the champion Usman had to beat. With a nine-fight winning streak, the energy was positive behind Usman entering UFC 235 as a co-main event and almost certainly taking the fight to Woodley. It was dominance embodied. Usman won in a highly one-sided affair, resulting in a unanimous decision. Dominating Tyron Woodley in the manner he did, raining down strikes for five rounds, it was a well-earned crowning as the UFC Welterweight Champion and another jewel in Usman’s crown. 

Catching Covington 

Colby Covington was a man who did not get along well with Usman. It was Usman’s first title defense post-Woodley and to come up against a long-time rival like Colby Covington at UFC 245, the match-up presented an exciting prospect as the two shared the offensive wrestling style – meaning adaptation was critical to win. It turned out to be an all-out slugfest with aggressive and rapid striking from both sides. Usman proved he was more than a wrestler and knocked down Covington twice before claiming the TKO victory in the fifth. 

Their Fight of the Night performance was also the latest finish to a title fight in UFC Welterweight history. Usman had the toughness, the stamina and the adaptability to take down even the most aggressive of opponents and he did it in style.