Kamaru Usman makes claim for P4P king – and approaches welterweight GOAT status
There looks to be a new pound-for-pound king on the block.
The MMA world – specifically the UFC – has been undergoing some changes the past few years.
The world's most popular mixed martial artist, Conor McGregor, has fought three times since 2018. He suffered a fourth-round submission loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 229 on Oct. 6, 2018, earned a first-round TKO victory over Donald Cerrone at UFC 246 on Jan. 18, 2020 and then lost to Dustin Poirier via second-round TKO at UFC 257 on Jan. 24 of this year.
McGregor and Poirier will meet for the third time in their careers on July 10 at UFC 264.
Nurmagomedov most recently lost never, defeating not only McGregor and Poirier (via third-round submission at UFC 242) but also dominating Justin Gaethje at UFC 254, winning by second-round submission. Then he strolled into retirement as the lightweight champion, with a perfect 29-0 record. Upon his retirement, he was widely regarded as the best fighter in the sport, regardless of weight – also known as the pound-for-pound king.
Jon Jones long held the P4P crown, and he still might hold it, but his past few performances have been anything but what fans became accustomed to from the light heavyweight legend. He earned a unanimous decision win over Anthony Smith at UFC 235, a split-decision win over Thiago Santos at UFC 239 and a controversial, unanimous decision win over Dominick Reyes at UFC 247.
Jones is now moving up to heavyweight, but he has no fight scheduled, as he and UFC president Dana White continue to publicly debate Jones' contract demands if he is to challenge Francis Ngannou for the heavyweight title.
With McGregor's success diminishing, Nurmagomedov's retirement and Jones' status in limbo, the UFC is leaning on new, dominant champions on the men's side, such as Ngannou and middleweight kingpin Israel Adesanya, to lead it into the future.
Professionally, Usman has won 18 consecutive bouts, 14 of which have come in the UFC. For a man who was once considered a boring fighter by some, he has been making it look both exciting and easy in recent outings.
After dominating former welterweight king Tyron Woodley at UFC 235 to win the belt, Usman has been on a tear. He defeated Colby Covington at UFC 245 in one of the greatest welterweight title fights in UFC history, earning a fifth-round TKO victory.
At UFC 251, he cruised to a unanimous decision victory over Jorge Masvidal after No. 1 contender Gilbert Burns was forced to withdraw from the welterweight title match, and Masvidal stepped in on six days' notice.
Usman and Burns then hooked up at UFC 258, and Usman blasted Burns in the third round, earning a TKO victory and his third title defense.
But it was Usman's latest title win, at Saturday's UFC 261, that seems to have changed the landscape of the UFC.
He and Masvidal came into their Saturday rematch with some bad blood. Masvidal said after their first fight that if he had a full camp, he could beat Usman.
Usman didn't like that – and it showed.
The welterweight king cracked Masvidal with a vicious right hand in the second round, and seconds later, he handed the rugged Masvidal the first KO loss of his career.
That's when the men's P4P chatter got louder.
Usman currently sits second behind Jones in the official UFC P4P rankings, but he owns wins over the top four ranked welterweights in Covington (1), Burns (2), Leon Edwards (3) and Masvidal (4).
With Jones moving to heavyweight and vacating the light heavyweight belt – now owned by Jan Blachowicz – Usman's title defense streak of four is the longest active streak on the men's side in the UFC.
White said Usman will next rematch Covington with the welterweight title on the line, but if Usman can earn another win over Covington – who most believe is the second-best fighter in the division – what's next for the welterweight king?
The answer is surpassing Georges St-Pierre as the greatest welterweight fighter in history.
After St-Pierre took the welterweight belt from Matt Serra at UFC 83 on April 19, 2008, he went on to defend it nine times, retiring as the champion after a controversial, split-decision win over Johny Hendricks at UFC 167 on Nov. 16, 2013.
St-Pierre's welterweight dominance has become the stuff of legend. He has the most wins (19), most title fight wins (12), most control time (2:58:49), most top position time (2:18:53), most significant strikes landed (1,254), most total strikes landed (2,523), most takedowns landed (87) and highest takedown accuracy (73.7%) in the division all time, among other records.
However, while the numbers might suggest that catching GSP is an unachievable task, it's important to note that he fought 21 times at welterweight in the UFC, compared to 14 for Usman as of Sunday.
GSP holds the records for total fight time (5:28:12) and decision wins (12), and eight of his 21 welterweight fights went five full rounds.
St-Pierre also has seven finishes in those 21 bouts.
Usman is prone to long fights as well. Nine of his 14 UFC bouts have gone the distance. But three of his past four fights have ended in a KO or TKO. Given the tempo of the first Covington fight, if the two men square off again, a finish could be in the cards.
The ghost of GSP is attainable if Usman continues on his current streak, but it will take time, considering that GSP's greatest strength might have been his longevity.
What's firmly in Usman's sights is the top spot on the P4P list.
With performances such as Saturday night's, it might be difficult to deny him that P4P glory for much longer.