It’s been a while since we saw the welterweight title get defended in the UFC and while the champ has been on the shelf, the division has continued rolling.
While Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson staked his claim for a top five opponent, Khamzat Chimaev has risen from the unknowns of the MMA world to compete with Leon Edwards and a bout between Colby Covington and either Jorge Masvidal or Michael Chiesa is tipped for the future too.
But the title match has been unchanged since July 2020. When Kamaru Usman was supposed to defend his belt against Gilbert Burns at UFC 251, it was expected to be one a tough challenge for the champ. When the fight didn’t happen, Usman ended up defeating Masvidal on short-notice with a dominant decision.
Dana White has maintained that Burns is the number one contender and when the fight was re-made for December he kept his word. Then it fell through again and was re-made for March 2021, it means we’re almost a year deep into their camps for this respective bout.
The two are former teammates for years, but separated in preparation for this camp. In a rare move, the champion left the gym and went to train with Trevor Wittman and Justin Gaethje, where he has been preparing for the jiu-jitsu and power striking of Burns.
But what Usman has over every single 170lber in the combat sports world is a physicality advantage. A tremendous wrestler with decent hands too, Usman is able to just overpower every opponent he has faced in the UFC to build an incredible 17-1 record, including an 11-0 stint in the UFC to date.
He’s shown in his title defences against Covington and Masvidal that he’s not scared to stand and strike, displaying knockout power against the former and a great chin in both fights too. But his wrestling is where he smothers opponents.
He’ll use his considerable frame and pressure to walk you to the cage, throw some heavy hands and then shoot the takedown. It doesn’t always work, as his 50% takedown percentage shows but the fact he averages just 3.44 takedowns per 15 minutes of cage time shows that once he gets you down you tend to not get back up.
Burns is a significant threat from his back, but the way Usman fights he makes it nigh on impossible to inflict damage on him. He walked through Demian Maia in his first UFC main event, then completely dominated against Rafael Dos Anjos too.
The welterweight division is currently full of talent. Covington, Masvidal, Edwards, Thompson, Chiesa, Chimaev and even the likes of Geoff Neal and Neil Magny could potentially be champions in the UFC – if Usman wasn’t around.
Right now, there is a gulf in quality and ability between the champion and his contenders. Usman has everything in his arsenal to win fights against any style that could be presented in front of him.
When I look through the division, despite the great depth it has, there is nobody that can be paired with Usman and come out as the favourite.
He’s the best of the best right now and at UFC 258 he will look to prove that he is levels above the rest of the division – despite how good it is.