Kamaru Usman cemented his position as the UFC’s premier welterweight with a third-round TKO of No. 1 contender Gilbert Burns at UFC 258, and his reign of dominance at the top of the 170-pound division continued this past Saturday.
Usman now has defended his title three times since he dominated Tyron Woodley to win it. His wins over Colby Covington, Jorge Masvidal and Burns all showed Usman’s championship credentials. He outlasted the division’s cardio king, outbattled one of the most seasoned fighters in the UFC, then stopped one of the hardest punchers in the weight class.
Usman’s latest win means he now is riding a 17-fight winning streak, including an unbeaten 13-0 in the UFC with dominant victories over six of the current top 10, including each fighter currently in the top four.
It begs the question: Which UFC welterweight is most likely to dethrone Usman? In this week’s edition of Triple Take, MMA Junkie’s Farah Hannoun, Simon Head and Danny Segura offer their views on who from the UFC’s 170-pound division might have the best chance of taking out “The Nigerian Nightmare.”
Farah Hannoun: Colby Covington
Usman continues to prove it’s going to take a lot to whisk his title away from him. The champ has already cleared out the majority of the division with title defenses over Burns, Masvidal and Covington. But no one was able to push Usman to his limit more than Covington. In one of the greatest fights in UFC history, Covington and Usman stood toe-to-toe for 24 minutes until Usman was able to put Covington away in the fifth round at UFC 245. Up until Round 5, one judge had the fight scored 3-1 in favor of Covington. Another had it 3-1 Usman. The third had it tied at two rounds each. Covington was able to match Usman’s cardio and relentless pace, and neither even attempted a takedown. The dominant Usman has looked near flawless in all his octagon appearances and Covington was the only one to take him to the brink. With their bad blood and history, a rematch would be one of the most highly anticipated fights the UFC could possibly put together. Also, considering that it’s only rematches that are on Usman’s radar, why not run back the most tightly contested one?
Simon Head: Leon Edwards
It’s true: Usman was the clear winner when he faced Leon Edwards at UFC on FOX 15 in December 2015. But the Brit has evolved significantly as a fighter since, and for my money represents the most legitimate threat to Usman’s title reign. Since losing on the scorecards to Usman a little more than five years ago, Edwards has gone on an eight-fight winning streak, during which he has shown major improvements in all areas of his game – most notably his wrestling and scrambling abilities. Edwards outwrestled Dominic Waters, submitted Albert Tumenov and outstruck Vicente Luque, Bryan Barberena and Peter Sobotta. He showed he was ready for a step up with his dominant win over Donald Cerrone in June 2018, then proved he had reached elite level by defeating former lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos at UFC on ESPN 4 in July 2019. Unfortunately, the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic has left Edwards on the shelf. He missed out on a bout with Woodley in London, then saw three successive bookings to face Khamzat Chimaev fall by the wayside. Edwards’ inactivity may be a concern, but his growth as a fighter, coupled with the length of time that has passed since his first meeting with Usman, makes the rematch a compelling option for later this year. And given how Usman has dealt with the other top contenders in the division, Edwards offers the most well-rounded challenge to “The Nigerian Nightmare’s” title reign.
Danny Segura: Stephen Thompson
Stephen Thompson at UFC Fight Night 130.
It might just take a curveball to throw off Usman. The champ has established himself as a dominant force at 170 pounds. With three title defenses under his belt, Usman no longer is a new champion but the champion at welterweight. I’m hesitant to say he’s cleared out the division, but he does hold a win over everyone in the top five UFC rankings except one man: Stephen Thompson. Yes, “The Nigerian Nightmare” showed tons of evolution in his striking in his win against Burns and it feels like he’s really distanced himself from the pack. However, Thompson brings an uncommon style that’s hard to prepare for and gives everyone trouble, even if victorious. Thompson is nearing 40, but he’s looked better than ever in recent fights. Since suffering a knockout loss to Anthony Pettis, Thompson has defeated top-notch strikers in Luque and Geoff Neal. To be honest, I think Usman is now the second-greatest champion in the history of the UFC’s welterweight division – behind Georges St-Pierre, of course – and it’s going to take a lot to dethrone that man. I see him holding the title for some time, but Thompson might have the best chance at getting hold of that welterweight strap. [vertical-gallery id=309649] [listicle id=588342]