Is Kamaru Usman the Welterweight GOAT? What next for the dominant champion?
By George Nolan
‘Kamaru Usman is just the best ever, he is the best welterweight of all time and he is on his way to potential G.O.A.T status.’ Those were the words of UFC president Dana White after Kamaru Usman successfully defended his welterweight title for a fifth time in his rematch against Colby Covington by unanimous decision at UFC 268.
‘If Usman doesn’t exist, Colby Covington is the champion. Usman is in a place right now where he's the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world," White said. “He's already lapping guys, he's coming back and fighting guys for a second time."
The Nigerian Nightmare’s title reign has now stretched to 5-0-0, with two wins apiece over Colby Covington and Jorge Masvidal, as well as another successful defence against former teammate Gilbert Burns. In addition to his dominant performance to claim the welterweight throne against previous title holder Tyron Woodley, taking his record in title bouts to an impressive 6-0-0.
His most recent victory takes his professional MMA record to 20-1-0, with the Nigerian boasting a 19 fight win streak, his last loss coming all the way back in May 2013. Of those 19 wins, 15 have been in the UFC, placing his UFC win streak as the longest in welterweight history, and second in promotion history, behind only Anderson Silva’s 16 consecutive victories, a record he is sure to surpass in his current indomitable form.
At only 34 years old, Usman is arguably in his athletic prime and looks to be the full package. He entered the UFC as a decorated collegiate wrestler, a fighter who could smother opposition and control fights from the top and cruise to decision victories.
He’s now built on his elite wrestling skills which gave him his MMA foundations and developed, under the guidance of Trevor Wittman, into a composed, sleek striker with devastating one punch knockout potential, as illustrated by his emphatic finish of Jorge Masvidal at UFC 261. A black belt in jiu-jitsu, an iron chin which was put to the test in his first fight versus Covington, who stunned the Nigerian many times before eventually being finished in the 5th round. He also possesses tremendous recovery powers and ability to adapt to scenarios within fights, such skills were brilliantly showcased in his title defence against Gilbert Burns, who dropped the champion early in the first round before the Nigerian switched southpaw and dominated the Brazilian with power jabs before ending the fight in the 3rd round.
Usman is the very definition of a mixed martial artist.
As Dana White alluded to, for some, Usman can now be considered the greatest welterweight to ever grace the UFC, a title that for so many years had been unequivocally reserved for the great Georges St-Pierre (GSP). The Canadian UFC Hall of Famer, who retired with a record of 26-2-0, was the staple of excellence for the welterweight division in his era. He went 12-2-0 in welterweight title fights, his only defeats coming to Matt Hughes, who before St-Pierre, was seen as the greatest 170lbs fighter to grace the octagon; and his shock loss to Matt Serra, opponents he would comprehensively triumph over when they faced off again. He has the record of the most title defences in the welterweight division with nine, and prior to Usman’s current dominance, possessed the longest winning run in the division’s history with 12.
GSP, like Usman, fought every foe thrown his way and excelled against all styles of opposition; boxers, grapplers and wrestlers but an argument leveraged against the credentials of GSPs dominance is that the level of competition he faced and reigned over, does not compare with the level of challengers Usman has brushed aside, an argument recognised by the Hall of Famer.
‘In terms of accomplishments, it is different. I have done stuff that I believe he didn’t do yet... But as painful as it could be for any athlete to admit it, the athletes of today are normally better than the athletes of yesterday. And as good as the athletes of today are, the athletes of tomorrow will be better. That’s how it is. I don’t think the guys are better, I think the technology is better.’
Usman insists that he is not bothered by the GSP comparisons and dislikes the notion that he is ‘chasing GSP’. Usman makes it clear that ‘he doesn’t want to put the greatest of all time tag on himself, as by the time his career is up, he’s going to let others do the talking’. It’s a discussion he has earned the right to be involved in, and his case will only grow stronger with each subsequent victory and record surpassed.
So what does the Nigerian Nightmare do next? Does he continue to take on all comers at 170lbs and firmly put the GOAT welterweight debate versus GSP to bed? Or does he attempt to capture a second UFC title at middleweight like GSP did?
I believe that if Usman can take his number of title defences up to seven, he can firmly sit atop the welterweight throne as the undisputed great of the division, as his title defence numbers in the division would be similar to that of GSP in a more competitive era. Surpassing the winning run of Silva and setting his own records, taking his wins in title bouts into double digits and potentially capturing more UFC gold, will then undoubtedly put the Nigerian in a position where his achievements in the sport must unquestionably be discussed as the greatest mixed martial artist of all time.