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Dana White suggested before Saturday’s UFC 261 card that welterweight champion, Kamaru Usman (19-1), is the greatest fighter in the division’s history. George St-Pierre’s existence made that claim from the UFC boss contentious, but Usman significantly strengthened his case on fight night.
Usman, born in Auchi, Nigeria, returned to action in the UFC 261 main event, taking on No. 4-ranked welterweight contender Jorge Masvidal (35-14-0) in front of a sold-out Jacksonville, Florida crowd. After winning the first round with his world-class wrestling, the champ put a stamp on things in the second, flattening his notoriously durable challenger with a rocket-fueled straight-right to the chin. The impact sent Masvidal careening to the canvas in a dazed heap, and Usman’s follow-up ground strikes left the referee no choice: The contest was officially waved off at the 1:02 mark of the second round.
With that outcome, the welterweight champion is now on a 14-fight win streak in the UFC’s Octagon.
That’s the second-longest streak in the promotion’s history behind Anderson Silva’s historic 16-fight unbeaten run from 2006-2012.
“I am the pound-for-pound best fighter on the planet right now,” the welterweight champion told UFC commentator Joe Rogan after his victory, holding his young daughter in his arms.
Usman’s was as dominant as title defenses go, but the outcome was not particularly surprising, given that he defeated Masvidal by decision in a short-notice title fight less than a year ago. Masvidal was quick to blame the outcome of that first encounter on its short-notice circumstances, which prompted Usman to offer him a rematch in hopes of dispelling all doubt.
With their saga in the rear-view mirror, Usman credited his rival with helping him take his game to a new level.
“It’s been a while since I’ve been extremely nervous for a fight,” he told Rogan of Masvidal. “He elevated me.”
The fact that Usman is already recycling title challengers is reflective of his incredible dominance in the Octagon. Despite only being the champion since he defeated Tyron Woodley by unanimous decision in March of 2019, he already holds victories over four of the UFC’s top-5 welterweights, having previously beaten Leon Edwards, Colby Covington, Masvidal (twice) and Gilbert Burns.
As for what’s next for the champ, there are some interesting contenders currently climbing the welterweight ranks, such as Vicente Luque and Michael Chiesa, but none have done quite enough to warrant title shots just yet. There’s also widespread interest in seeing Usman move up to middleweight to challenge his fellow Nigerian, Israel Adesanya, in a bid for a second title. However, both men have made it clear they have no intentions of competing against the other.
That means that the trend of Usman fighting men he’s already beaten is likely to continue for the time being.
In fact, all signs point to his taking on Covington, who he defeated by fifth-round knockout in a 2019 war, in his next title defense. White revealed that booking as the most likely next move for the champion in the lead-up to UFC 261.
“[Usman’s] at a point in his career now where he’s looking at who’s next again,” White told TSN before UFC 261. “He’s coming back and going to be facing guys that he already beat. Obviously, Masvidal took that [first] fight on short notice so let’s give him this fight and we can do away with all the excuses. Then, Colby Covington’s next.
“Who knows. Anything can happen. Guys get injured, things happen, timing. Who knows, especially in this day and age but that should be the fight [with Colby Covington] that happens next.”
The UFC boss once again shared his interest in this rematch at the UFC 261 post-fight press conference.
If the Covington rematch doesn’t materialize, Usman could also be matched up with another familiar face in Leon Edwards. The Brit, who Usman defeated by decision in 2015, is slated to fight Nate Diaz in the co-main event of UFC 262 next month, and could earn himself a title shot in victory.
Whomever Usman ends up fighting, he will continue to enter the cage as a gargantuan betting favorite, and each time he justifies the oddsmakers’ confidence, it will be harder to deny his status as one of the greatest fighters of all time.
If you ask White, of course, he’s pretty much there already.