Kamaru Usman is a problem in more ways than one.
First, let’s look at “The Nigerian Nightmare” from the view of his opponents, as his third title defense has really started to illuminate Usman’s strategies, and the issues he presents his challengers.
We have now seen Usman face the two best wrestler/grappler hybrids of his era (I love Demian Maia, but he’s a hanger-on from the past) in title fights, and the results were similar. Against Colby Covington, Usman traded big shots with “Chaos” before putting him in the ground. There’s certainly more to break down in his match last night against Gilbert Burns, but ... Usman traded big shots with “Durinho” before putting him in the ground.
Those two violent, fun wins sandwich a title defense so miserable to watch it’s almost not worth talking about. Jorge Masvidal managed to land some big shots on Usman, but he spent a huge amount of time getting controlled on the fence and on the mat. It was the night of a thousand foot stomps, and no new Usman fans were converted.
Usman’s last three fights are pretty definitive evidence that in order to defeat Usman, one must be an absolutely elite, world-class grappler. Being an amazing striker with good defensive wrestling is not enough (sorry “Wonderboy”). Covington and Burns are good enough to out-wrestle the vast majority of the Welterweight division — that’s what it takes to merely not get dominated on the canvas by current kingpin.
What then, however? As Usman has now proven twice, he’s not going to lose a striking match with a grappler. Even if his opponent throws more volume or clips him early, Usman’s mental toughness, physical ability, and ever-improving technique promises that he’s going to put his right hand straight through his foe’s jaw eventually.
In short, it will take a world-class grappler with amazing kickboxing to defeat Usman — nothing less. Georges St. Pierre is long retired, and the next closest thing is what Dana White wants Khamzat Chimaev to be. Leon Edwards is perhaps the actual most logical fit for that request, but he’s fallen to Usman’s physicality and wrestling once before already.
Subsequently, the Usman problem from UFC’s perspective: what to do with him? The champion does not appear to be going anywhere soon, and he is not a star. Even while his highlight reel is building as he dispatches elite wrestlers, it only takes one footstomp-fest to promptly soil any good will those knockouts build.
If Usman faces anything less than an amazing wrestler, that ugly outcome will happen. He doesn’t need to take chances against strikers that he can dominate with his wrestling. Since he’s running out of such match ups, and a rematch with “Gamebred” seems possible. It will probably be awful.
Fortunately, we as fans don’t have to partake in the Usman paradox. We will not be challenging him for his title nor figuring out how to market the champion. All that’s left to do is appreciate the champion’s talent and work ethic, because he’s a special athlete on a historic run.
For complete UFC 258: “Usman vs. Burns” results and play-by-play, click HERE!