Kamaru Usman is one of the best fighters on the planet right now.
Feel free to complain that his victory over Jorge Masvidal was boring (watch highlights), but ... Boo-hoo! That doesn’t at all contradict the above statement. Usman methodically wore down one of the most experienced and explosive contenders in his division until he was hardly a threat. Really, Usman handled him similar to how he did every other opponent who’s stepped into the cage with him.
When dealing with a dominant champion like Usman, we’re forced to consider the small victories his contenders achieve. The aforementioned Covington, for example, landed some good left kicks to the thigh and body. What did Masvidal do? Fire off a ton of left kicks from Southpaw stance!
Collecting and adding these little flaws or openings together is often the path through which a long-time roost-ruler is dethroned. Figure out the potential path to victory, then find the athlete best able to walk that track.
Jorge Masvidal still might be that guy.
Masvidal only gave up five takedowns on 16 attempts. That means Masvidal defended at a better percentage than Tyron Woodley or Rafael dos Anjos, and he did so while willingly backing into the fence and giving up poor position. In the clinch, Masvidal pummeled and escaped on numerous occasions and landed hard knees and elbows back, too. At distance, “Gamebred” landed some seriously hard strikes in the first and fifth rounds.
Masvidal just couldn’t keep his energy up. Seeing as he accepted the bout on short-notice — SIX DAYS! — against arguably the sport’s best grinder, it’s hard to see how he possibly could have kept up with Usman.
Masvidal has been guilty in the past of relaxing for too long in bad positions, but that didn’t seem the case last night. Instead, he was just too tired to do anything effective. When he did break free, Masvidal visibly struggled to put pop behind his punches. He wasn’t being lazy ... he was dead-tired.
Fatigue was Masvidal’s downfall more than any skill deficit, and fatigue is conquered through training. Given a full camp, “Gamebred” likely could have extended his first round success later into the fight. He denied the Usman onslaught better than most anyone else, and he did it while in iffy shape without his head coach (details).
Leon Edwards and Gilbert Burns are top-notch contenders who also present threats to Usman. However, we shouldn’t completely rule out Masvidal’s future chances based on a short-notice loss that actually vindicated some of his advantages.
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