The Welterweight Title Reign
Not since Jon Jones’ Light Heavyweight title reign have we seen a champion eliminate all viable contenders (in a UFC men’s division) in the way Kamaru “The Nigerian Nightmare” Usman has since taking the Welterweight belt from Woodley in March 2019. Even then, the tail end of Jones’ reign was marred by close calls and controversial decisions.
On the other hand, Usman, the top Pound-For-Pound Fighter according to UFC.com, has all but dominated in each fight during his title reign and has only furthered the gap between him and his competition. Usman’s continued dominance is a credit to his commitment to skill development in each training camp, made fully evident in each of his performances displaying notable improvement in nearly each title defense.
In what could be perceived as a moment of vulnerability in the form of a flash knockdown against Gilbert Burns was quickly scrubbed from memory as Usman finished him in the very next round of their UFC 258 main event.
Even in his dominant first meeting with Jorge Masvidal, a fight in which Usman won all five rounds but drew notable ire from fans (although it was a short notice replacement), he made note to approach the second fight differently. The prevailing thought was that Masvidal owned a clear edge in striking. Usman, with an open ear, took that information and went to work.
In their rematch, “The Nigerian Nightmare” delivered one of the best knockouts in the UFC’s storied history.
The Colby Covington Rivalry
So now, as almost any perceivable worthy challenger has been defeated, Usman will defend his title in a rematch for the second time in a row. Colby “Chaos” Covington, however, presents an entirely different challenge for the acclaimed Welterweight champ.
In their first meeting, a 2019 fight of the year contender, Usman finished Covington in the final minute of the final round of an exceptionally close contest. Yet, even in an all time classic, Usman left no doubt of the victor, leaving Covington bloodied, battered, and with a broken jaw.
And even still, “Chaos” offered up the most competitive fight for Usman to date and still appears as the steepest of remaining tasks. Beyond the fact that Covington is the clear cut second best fighter in the division, he also offers a unique challenge in the way the two feel about one another.
In the buildup to their first fight, one did not have to imagine their contempt for one another as it was on full display. Even following their war of a contest, it was evident there would be no reconciliation between the two. Covington notably disputed the stoppage, even suggesting foul play in what was a likely case of ego protection, which isn’t exactly uncommon among the best fighters in the world.
In that, the challenge presented for Usman is to remove the baggage and emotion heading into the rematch and handle business as just that: business. Because stripped of the shared disdain and controversial statements, stands a well conditioned, well rounded and well trained fighter who wants to beat Usman as badly as he does.
For Usman and his camp, regardless of how they feel about him, there is an understanding of the test that Covington presents in the Octagon. In an interview with ESPN’s Brett Okamoto, Usman’s teammate, UFC Lightweight contender, Justin Gaethje, offered up the following:
“I dislike Colby like so much, so I want to see [Kamaru Usman] put it on him. But [Covington’s] a damn good fighter… Piece of [expletive] person, but he’s a good fighter.”
Knowing member’s of the Usman camp feelings and thoughts towards Covington provides insight into how Usman may be preparing. As mentioned, he has never been one to cut corners in preparation. In this rematch he won’t be riding the high of their first meeting, instead treating Covington like an entirely new challenge.
The UFC Records
A victory for a Usman at UFC 268 not only ends the rivalry with Covington, but ties him with seventh most title defenses in UFC history at five. In the welterweight division, the number would place him tied with Matt Hughes for second of all time behind GSP’s 9 (via fightmatrix.com). Additionally, a victory places Usman at a 15 fight win streak in the UFC, one behind Anderson Silva’s holy record.
From there, Usman would have legend making opportunities. Although the existing contenders in the welterweight division will have been mostly exhausted, the UFC seems to generate a fresh crop of contenders from division to division. With rising contenders like Vincente Luque, Michael Chiesa, and Khamzat Chimaev, or even established contenders like Stephen Thompson, there will be options for Usman’s record tying opponent.
Additionally, it’s hard not to anticipate a potential move to Middleweight in aims of joining the acclaimed “Double Champ” fraternity. Although close friend Israel Adesanya is currently the champion of the weight class, there could be a time in the future in which Adesanya moves up himself, leaving a clear avenue for Usman to vie for that second title.
Rest assured, these are not things on the forefront of Usman’s mind as he prepares for his November 6th clash. A man so focused on his craft and preparation surely doesn’t let his mind wander in time of war. However, on the brink of legendary status in the most unforgiving sport, it’s hard for us not to wonder what heights he may reach.