Violent means—strength, technique and supreme self-confidence chief among them—brought Kamaru Usman to power in the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s welterweight division.
The Hard Knocks 365 representative entered the UFC as “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 21 winner in 2015, recorded nine consecutive victories and cashed in on the opportunity to become the undisputed welterweight champion. Usman, 32, now finds himself on a 15-fight winning streak and universally accepted as one of the sport’s pound-for-pound best. His scorched-earth tear through the 170-pound weight class has seen him defeat seven opponents by knockout, technical knockout or submission and eight more by unanimous decision.
As Usman awaits his next title defense, a look at some of the rivalries that have fueled his ascent:
Usman buried Covington with punches in the fifth round of their UFC 245 headliner. (Photo: Getty Images)
Usman had one more gear than Covington. “The Nigerian Nightmare” kept his stranglehold on the Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight division, as he buried Covington with punches in the fifth round of their UFC 245 headliner on Dec. 14, 2019 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Covington succumbed to blows 4:10 into Round 5, as he tasted defeat for the first time in more than four years. Usman had to work hard to defend the mountain. Covington—perhaps the most-hated man in mixed martial arts today—raced out to a strong start behind volume punching combinations, often punctuated by powerful rolling overhand lefts. Usman answered by going to the body and began to turn the tide in Round 3, where he withstood an inadvertent eye poke and shook the challenger with a devastating right hand. They went to the fifth round with the outcome still in doubt. In the closing minute, Usman dropped the American Top Team export with another straight right, denied a desperation takedown and closed the door with a burst of unanswered hammerfists.
“There was a lot of pressure,” Usman said. “Nobody wants to lose to that guy. It was a lot of pressure, but this is what champions do. You are going to have to withstand all that pressure. You [have] got to rise to the occasion. You [have] got to show everyone why you are the champion, and I did that tonight.”
The Henri Hooft protégé outlanded Woodley by a 336-60 margin in total strikes. (Photo: Getty Images)
The situation became dire in a hurry for Woodley. Usman put together a virtually flawless performance, as he captured the welterweight crown with a one-sided unanimous decision over the two-time NCAA All-American wrestler in the UFC 235 co-main event on March 2, 2019 in Las Vegas. Scores were 50-44, 50-44 and 50-45, all for “The Nigerian Nightmare.” Usman wrecked his counterpart in the clinch, executed repeated takedowns and piled up points with heavy ground-and-pound. By the time the fight reached the championship rounds, Woodley seemed resigned to his fate. Usman nearly finished it in the fourth, where he unleashed a hellacious barrage of uppercuts and hooks along the fence. He could not have handled his business in more convincing fashion: The Henri Hooft protégé outlanded Woodley by a stunning 336-60 margin in total strikes on his way to becoming the first African-born champion in UFC history.
“It feels amazing to be the first Nigeran champion,” he said. “I’m putting my country on the map, and I can’t wait to bring the UFC back to my home. I always envisioned [being a champion] and having [UFC President] Dana [White] wrapping that belt around me and just knowing all those things I was fighting for, not just for me or people from Africa but for everyone who comes from humble beginnings.”
Masvidal figures to be first in line to challenge Usman for the welterweight crown. (Photo: Getty Images)
Whenever MMA returns to some semblance of normalcy, Masvidal figures to be first in line to challenge Usman for the welterweight crown. Consecutive victories over Darren Till, Ben Askren and Nate Diaz have pushed the American Top Team mainstay to the front of the line at 170 pounds. Usman has shown little regard for Masvidal, at least publicly.
“He seriously thinks he’s a superstar,” Usman told TMZ Sports. “He’s talking about how I’m the most famous fighter, I’m more famous than Conor [McGregor] and this and that. You are drinking your own Kool-Aid right now. He forgets that literally less than a year ago or two years ago he was just ‘Journeyman George.’ Now you lost some weight, did a little Spanish reality show and came back, and now he thinks he’s just Jacques Cousteau or something. My man, relax.”