It’s hard to top what Kamaru Usman did the first time he faced Jorge Masvidal. Usman dominated the fight with his bitter rival on July 12 in Abu Dhabi, not only winning a unanimous decision but winning 14 of the cumulative 15 rounds scored by the judges.
Only David Lethaby, who gave Masvidal the first, didn’t have it a shutout.
Usman has so far lapped the field at welterweight that his best fights are now rematches of fights he’s previously won. And so he’ll face Masvidal for the second time in nine months on Saturday (10 p.m. ET, ESPN+ PPV) at VyStar Arena in Jacksonville, Florida, for the welterweight title in the main event of UFC 261.
Usman, who has won 17 fights in a row and 13 in a row in the UFC, is fighting to take any excuses from Masvidal. Masvidal took the first bout at UFC 251 on six days’ notice, and had to cut 20 pounds in five days to make the 170-pound welterweight title limit.
Usman disputes that and said that Masvidal had been training the entire time. Masvidal, though, said he wasn’t training as if he were about to fight, so he wasn’t prepared the way he would have been.
So after finishing Gilbert Burns in the third round in February in the main event of UFC 258, Usman decided it was time to prove his point: He’ll take on Masvidal again to end any arguments.
“I look at Kamaru as a marathon runner who has lapped everybody and is now coming around and passing them a second time,” Usman manager Ali Abdelaziz told Yahoo Sports. “Kamaru is on top of the mountain and let’s be honest: There’s no one close to him. But Masvidal is saying he can do much better, and Kamaru has already beaten everyone in the division who is title-worthy. Masvidal is able to say, ‘Oh, I wasn’t training and I had to cut all of this weight,' even though we all know that is [expletive] and he was training. But now there are no excuses: Kamaru is giving him another shot and he’ll prove it once and for all.”
UFC president Dana White had favored a rematch for Usman, but one with Colby Covington rather than with Masvidal. White said the Usman-Covington fight is one of the best he’d ever seen. Usman won that bout at UFC 245 by TKO in the fifth round on Dec. 14, 2019.
That was a definitive ending to an amazing fight. Though Covington claims the bout was stopped early, Masvidal’s argument that he didn’t have time to prepare properly carried much more weight.
And Masvidal told Yahoo Sports that if the circumstances were reversed and Usman took a fight against him on short notice, it wouldn’t have gone to a decision.
“If Kamaru takes a fight against me on six days’ notice with 20 pounds to cut, I finish him in the first or second round,” Masvidal said.
That argument is what swayed White to go with Usman-Masvidal 2 rather than Usman-Covington 2. The winner, though, is almost certain to face Covington next.
But White said Usman wanted the chance to prove himself and he went along with it.
“Usman was like, ‘I don’t want any excuses out of this guy,’” White said in an interview with Yahoo Sports. “So I’ve got no problem rematching them.”
Has Usman reached GSP's level?
Usman, who is No. 2 on the Yahoo Sports’ pound-for-pound list, already has wins over the top four men in the UFC’s welterweight rankings. He’s on that long winning streak and really hasn’t been challenged seriously in any fight other than the one with Covington, which he won by finish.
He’s getting into that territory where he should be regarded as the greatest welterweight in history. It’s almost heresy to say that, considering Georges St-Pierre’s achievements, but when you put the records side-by-side, Usman doesn’t have to take a backseat.
Unlike St-Pierre, Usman hasn’t been the victim of a huge upset, like St-Pierre was when he was knocked out by Matt Serra.
“That’s something I’m not dwelling on right now because I’m still in the mix and I’m still doing my thing, so I try to not really focus on that,” Usman told Yahoo Sports. “But I saw a clip of Georges St-Pierre doing an interview and I think this is where he and I are similar in a sense. We are brutally honest with ourselves; at least I think so. I’m extremely honest with myself and I’m very rational, to where I understand that fighters of today are better than fighters of the past.
“And fighters of the future will be better than the fighters of the present. I’m honest and I understand that point, so it’s tough to really say who is the best. But if you really think about it, Georges St-Pierre had a title shot four fights into the UFC. If I’d have gotten a title shot in my fourth fight, everything after that would have been a title defense.”
That’s an argument that no one will ever win. But whether you think St-Pierre’s the best or Usman has surpassed him, White’s observation about Usman sums up his stature in the sport well.
“Kamaru Usman is just awesome,” White said. “Just awesome. What the guy is doing is unbelievable. How can you argue that record he has?”
The answer is, you can’t. Usman is right where he belongs, on top of the welterweight division and at the top of the pound-for-pound rankings.
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