The Nigerian Nightmare, Kamaru Usman (MMA: 19 wins, 1 loss) is finally set to defend his UFC Welterweight title against bitter rival and former interim champion, Colby ‘Chaos’ Covington (MMA: 16 wins, 2 losses).
If the first fight between these two absolute savages widely regarded as two of the best welterweights in the world of mixed martial arts is anything to go by, then you can expect to be treated to a feast of fists.
These guys first went to war back at UFC 245 in 2019 and it was an instant classic. Both fighters went head hunting all through that fight, with each landing as many punches as he was receiving for nearly 25 minutes. Eventually, the Auchi-born Nightmare showed championship heart when he washed Covington away in the final minutes of the fifth round, knocking him down twice before securing the TKO.
While Covington was left with a broken jaw, that fight was the most punishment I have ever seen Usman receive in an MMA octagon. I thought it was the most difficult fight of his career. But the champ said he could have won that fight a lot easier if he had wanted to. During a media session in Lagos, the king of the welterweights said it was his choice to receive all that punishment.
“My first (title) defence is what people consider my toughest because that’s the one I took the most punches. But that was the decision that I chose and made. If I wanted to be systematic and stylistic, I could have won that fight easier. But I wanted to see blood so I didn’t care what happens,” Usman told us back in July.
MMA fighters are famous for being very boastful. It’s a part of the fight game. But the champ wasn’t braggadocious when he made that claim. On the contrary, he sounded like he meant it. So, stylistically speaking, how possible is an easy finish for Usman over Covington?
First off, anything is absolutely possible in the world of MMA. But with two high calibre fighters filled with so much bad blood fueled by vengeance, animosity, assertiveness and every kind of dangerous emotion you can think of, the possibility of an easy finish becomes even slimmer.
Both fighters are excellent wrestlers with some of the best take-down defences the sport has ever seen. Covington has only been taken down once in his MMA career while Usman has never been put on his back in all his 20 fights. Thus, it is likely that this fight, just like the one before it, will be decided vertically.
Covington used to be widely regarded as the better striker even after the champion KO’d him in that first battle. But we have seen Usman evolve his striking game after joining ONX Sport in 2020 where he started training under Trevor Wittman renowned as one of the best boxing coaches in MMA.
The result was instant. The champion, who had only one knockout and eight decision wins in his nine fights before Covington 1, has recorded two knockouts in his three fights after. The most devastating of them was that resounding punch with which he slept Jorge Masvidal in his last defence back in April. In a nutshell, Usman is becoming one of the elite strikers in the game and it would be hard to give Covington that edge.
Usman also has the advantage of having kept himself busy since their last meeting. The champ has defended his crown 3 times, all the while honing his skills and showing fans his vastly improving arsenal. Chaos, on the other hand, asides canvassing a rematch, has fought only once, when he destroyed former welterweight champ, Tyrone Woodley, with a TKO back in September 2020. In the more than a year since then, Covington hasn’t had a fight (Usman had two in that time).
But that doesn’t mean the former interim champ has been inactive though. Covington has changed training camps since his loss to Usman and has been putting in a lot of hard work all geared towards dethroning the champ whom he had (baselessly) accused of cheating during their first fight and of using performance enhancers. And if his dominance of Woodley is anything to go by, we could be seeing an even more dangerous challenger come Sunday morning.
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Unlike that first battle, I expect to see some wrestling this time. If Kamaru hadn’t TKO’d Covington in that first fight, the decision could probably had gone either way. It was that close of a fight. While Usman has been polishing his striking to deadly effect, if he wants to be more ‘systematic and stylistic’ as he said, he might be looking to mix up his attacks. For Colby, if he must rough out a win against the number 1 pound-for-pound in the world, he must be ready to initiate some scrappy fighting backed by some really sound strategy. However, Usman is ready for such a possibility.
“I think in this next fight he’s gonna try to be a little more strategic but he’s going to quickly realize that’s not gonna work so you’re just stuck in there getting beat up. The way I fight I want to dominate a guy from start to finish. I want to out-class a guy. I want a guy to go home, when they lay down in bed at night they’re like, ‘Sh*t, that guy’s better than me. There was nothing I can do to beat him,” Usman told MMA Fighting.
But Covington clearly isn’t feeling bested or outclassed or any other such way even after that first fight. On the contrary, he has called out the champ every chance he got, insisting he wants his title back and promising to leave no doubt this time. Ahead of this fight, the challenger says he feels like “a little kid before Christmas.” Chaos truly expects to be king by the time the card is done.
But first, he must confront a problem which no one in the UFC has been able to solve.
Date: Sunday, November 7 (Nigeria)
Venue: Madison Square Garden, New York
Time: 3am (Main Card)
Ejike Kanife is a journalist with bias for MMA, football and tech.
LinkedIn: Ejike Kanife