For a moment, it appeared as though Kamaru Usman’s reign as welterweight champion would end inside of a round at UFC 258.
Early on in Saturday’s headliner at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, former training partner Gilbert Burns rattled Usman with a massive overhand right. Though it didn’t quite drop “The Nigerian Nightmare,” the champion was clearly reeling. However, he managed to survive the ensuing onslaught from his opponent and make it to the end of the round.
As the fight progressed, Usman regained his faculties and took control, relying on a powerful jab that would floor Burns twice in the fight. The second of those instances occurred early in Round 3, and Usman followed up with devastating ground-and-pound to force a stoppage 34 seconds into the frame.
“That’s the thing. I’m the best at recomposing myself in fights, I’m the best in the world at that,” Usman said. “It’s a funny thing, that’s pretty similar to how a lot of our sparrings went. I know he counters good, he’s very powerful, he’s got a lot of power in his hands, but he snuck in on me. I didn’t think he was going to be that close, he snuck one in and it buzzed me for a little bit. I had to recompose myself and do what champions do and that’s go out there and find a way to get it done.”
The storyline of former stablemates squaring off was heavily emphasized leading up to the bout. There was no glove touch at the beginning of the contest, but Usman and Burns embraced at the conclusion of the main event.
“This one feels good because there was a lot going into this fight, from obviously me leaving the old camp and them pushing the next guy through, which deservingly so… Gilbert is putting in the work, very tough guy, he deserved all of it,” Usman said. “I kind of felt like they trolled me a little bit, it was kind of like them challenging me, so I had to just go out there and show them why I’m the best in the world right now.
“It was a tough one for me because I do care about Gilbert, I care about him a lot, but when you step in there you can’t have any friends. He was trying to kill me and hurt me just as much as I was trying to hurt him.”
Usman has dominated many a fight with his wrestling and grappling, but on Saturday he avoided entering the guard of his opponent when the opportunity arose. Instead, he relied on his standup – a decision which looks prudent in hindsight.
“The strategy was just believing in myself, just knowing that I have the capability of doing whatever I want,” he said. “Like I said, when I step inside that Octagon, I do what I want, when I want, all the time. I just kind of had to stay composed and not force the other situations, stay with my striking. I can strike. Sometimes I get a little overzealous and I go to what I know, so I had to just stay with my striking and all the finishes are going to materialize like that if I stay with it.”
Usman has now won 13 consecutive welterweight bouts, a streak that surpasses former champ Georges St. Pierre, who is generally recognized as the greatest of all time in the division. By dispatching Burns, Usman also was victorious in his fourth title fight, which ties him with Tyron Woodley for fourth most in promotion history.
“It means a lot. By the time I’m said and done, that’s when I can kind of sit back and look and say ‘Wow, I did that’. Right now, is on to the next guy,” Usman said. “I’m going to take a little vacation, but then I’m going to worry about who the next guy is, because they are all coming for me.”
In the immediate future, Usman has his sights set on a rematch with Jorge Masvidal. “The Nigerian Nightmare” took a five-round verdict over Masvidal at UFC 251 in July. Though the bout wasn’t particularly competitive, Usman believes Masvidal had a specific reason for accepting the fight on short notice.
“Like I said, you’ve got this fake Jesus wannabe run his mouth, because he had a built-in excuse for stepping into that fight, why he took that loss,” Usman said. “So next time I’m going to close his mouth for good and I’m going to put him to sleep.”
In an ideal world, Usman would prefer to be an active champion in 2021. That would two more fights before year’s end.
“The big thing is my body,” he said. “I’m so hard on my body when I prepare for these fights, which is why I’m the champion of the world. If my body permits me, I’d love to get three fights in, I would love it. I would love to come in and run through this fake Jesus wannabe and then whoever else. I would love to get three in because that’s three times the money, so show me the money and let’s do it.”