There’s no denying that UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman is one of the most dominant fighters in recent memory. But just because “Nigerian Nightmare” is 12-0 inside of the Octagon and staring down the barrel of his third-straight title defense doesn’t mean he’s a bona fide star.
Just ask former UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley, who believes that UFC is forcing Usman into a star ahead of his clash with Gilbert Burns later tonight (Sat. Feb. 13, 2021) at UFC 258 live on ESPN+ PPV from inside UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Woodley, who lost his title to Usman at UFC 235 back in 2019, knows all too well about becoming a star in the promotion. Despite holding the 170-pound strap for nearly three years “Chosen One” had a difficult time breaking out like other polarizing champions. Woodley was certainly one of the most dominant fighters in the game, but he wasn’t exactly a “superstar.”
The former champion believes UFC is trying to make Usman into something he’s not ahead of UFC 258 and isn’t afraid to call a spade a spade.
“[The UFC is] trying their hardest to push him,” Woodley told MMA Island in a recent interview (h/t Low Kick MMA). “No disrespect to Usman, he’s a good guy. You can spend so much money trying to force a star on us and it ain’t happening. Right now I feel like it’s being forced.
“That’s when Ronda [Rousey] lost, that’s when Paige [VanZant] lost, that’s when Sage [Northcutt] lost. That’s when Nate Diaz beat Conor McGregor. That feeling feels very familiar to me.”
While Woodley has some bad blood with Usman and likely looking to take a shot or two when the opportunity presents itself “Chosen One” also lost to Burns via decision last year. Woodley doesn’t seem to have many negative things to say about Usman’s skills inside of the cage, but the former welterweight king is picking “Durinho” to walk away with the title this weekend in Las Vegas.
“Gilbert is tough. He’s a better grappler. He’s a harder puncher. I don’t think Usman was winning the ground wars against Gilbert in the practice room,” Woodley said. “When you got a guy who knows that, he can strike a little bit more efficiently because even if you take him down you know he got a leg lock game. If you take him down, you take his back, armbar, rear-naked choke, he’s very high level. Usman has to think about that at all times. I think Gilbert is going to come after him hard. He got this chance to be a champion. I think it’s a good fight.”
“Usman is very consistent, especially with making changes. He’ll go for a strike in and you know in the Colby [Covington] he didn’t have to go away from the straight punches. He had to go for a shot. In other fights like against Leon Edwards, he had to go for a shot to actually settle up to be successful in striking which took him back to the shot. Before you knew it, the time expired and Leon ran out of time trying to win the fight. If I had to say Usman was great in anything, he’s great at that.”
Only time will tell if Usman is able to take out Burns at UFC 258 and capture his third-straight welterweight title defense. A victory should help propel “Nigerian Nightmare” into an even bigger star than he is now, whether it feels rushed or not.
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 258 fight card RIGHT HERE, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches at 7:30 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.