UFC 246: Usman and Covington Need Only Be Concerned with Supremacy

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Kamaru Usman UFC
Kamaru Usman Credit: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com

Kamaru Usman will finally battle Colby Covington in a fight to establish welterweight dominance at UFC 245 and set-up a blockbuster match-up next year.

Saturday’s contest is a great reminder of why the welterweight division is enjoying a great surge of enthusiasm.  The title fight at the top of UFC 245 will be a big battle to establish dominance at 170 pounds, but the final hurdle to overcome will be next year, with top contender Jorge Masvidal riding an impressive win-streak.  But while it is easy to look ahead to a battle with the BMF, the fight between Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington is a long-awaited fight between two of the top fighters in the division.

The wait for “The Nigerian Nightmare” to return to action has been a long one.  In March he scored the biggest victory of his career when he routed long-time champion Tyron Woodley for his tenth straight victory in the UFC and his fourteenth straight victory overall.  In doing so he became the first African born fighter to win UFC gold and capped off a run that included victories over a former champion and contenders like Raphael dos Anjos, Leon Edwards, and Demian Maia.

Immediately afterward, the camera panned over to former interim champion Colby Covington who was in attendance and the MMA world immediately anticipated the collision between the two.  However, the road to the fight took more turns than anticipated.  For starters, the new welterweight champion took time to recover from a hernia surgery.  Negotiations for the fight at UFC 244 at Madison Square Garden also fell apart before the fight was eventually booked for UFC 245 to complete the trio of title fights on the card.

While Usman has been workmanlike in becoming welterweight champion, Colby “Chaos” Covington has spoken his shot at UFC gold into existence.  Covington’s seven fight win-streak has been accompanied by a heel turn over the past several years that has made his on-camera persona one of the biggest villains in modern MMA.  His trash talk, ranging anywhere between juvenile to classless, has propelled him to the top of the division.  By all accounts, however, his ability to incite engagement is one of the highest in the UFC.  Even if it is to root for demise, fans arrive in large numbers to make their opinions heard about Covington which is not something many fighters are able to achieve.

Another aspect of Covington’s rise in 2019, his willingness to cross into politics in a way that hasn’t been seen before.  In August, his bout with former champion Robbie Lawler on ESPN drew members of the first family to attend his fight.  That was coupled with a visit to the White House in 2018 and a now well-circulated photo with President Donald Trump.  His openness about his views has only increased with the attendance of the President last month at UFC 244.  It is also the reason Covington is the one getting a title shot despite Jorge Masvidal having arguably the Knockout of the Year and being a frontrunner for Fighter of the Year.

Stylistically, the two present an intriguing match-up.  Both Usman and Covington are effective wrestlers with the ability to smother opponents for five rounds if they get the fight to the ground.  The difference, Usman is the slightly larger athlete who has been able to use his physicality to stifle opponents.  By comparison, Covington has developed into one of the best conditioned fighters at welterweight whose high output has overwhelmed back-to-back former champions.  With two similarly matched fighters, the one to be able to dictate the wrestling and control the fight will likely come down to who is able to win the battle on the feet first.

The winner of the fight sets up a match-up with the newly crowned BMF of the UFC in Jorge Masvidal, in what is expected to be a major event in 2020.  For Usman, the prospect of dispatching Woodley, Covington, and possibly Masvidal in a two-year span would cement him as one of the most dominant fighters in all of mixed martial arts.  Covington also presents one of the best storylines in the sport as he is teammates with Masvidal and the friction between the two has grown as they continued their rise to prominence this year.  The idea of bragging rights with the undisputed title on the line would be a match-up that sells itself.

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