“The Nigerian Nightmare” has never been closer to a title shot.
Despite periods of lackluster performances in the UFC spawning managerial disapproval and 30-percent nicknames, Kamaru Usman bounced back in a big way on the Ultimate Fighter 28 finale. He scored a dominant win over former lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos.
Striking? Check – Usman’s volume was higher than it ever had been, and his pace seemed to only improve as the fight went on. Wrestling? Check – that one’s a no-brainer for Usman. Even his defense was on point in both chin and escapes, as he ate an upkick effortlessly and escaped an armlock from the game dos Anjos.
Right after his win, Usman was clear about who he wanted. Tyron Woodley is the welterweight king, so he’s the man everyone in the division is targeting. But Usman knows he has some options, and he’s put out another name – Colby Covington.
Usman said: “I’m gonna go out there and knock out Colby Covington. That right now is the fight. The UFC just called and they offered us the fight. They said Colby Covington in January and you know what I’m gonna do. Of course, I accepted. For the fifth time, I’ve accepted the fight. Right now we’re just waiting on him.”
Usman and Covington have had words before – on social media. Covington’s antagonistic schtick, particularly in the digital world, has seen him go after many fighters. The two were close by at a media event, where Usman dared Covington to say something and got only silence in response. While Usman is gunning for a title shot, so is Covington – he was the interim champion during Woodley’s period of recovery from shoulder surgery.
The two could potentially face off in a title eliminator, or Usman could fight the winner. There are good options for him either way. All three men in the mix have similar styles – they’re big welterweights who rely on their wrestling and pressure to overwhelm their opponents. Woodley is also a knockout artist, using his grappling and power to set up the knockout. He used his punching power to set up a submission against Darren Till in his last title defense, effectively ending the unbeaten Till’s streak.
Usman even said he’d go do Woodley’s “dirty work” by taking out Covington. Originally, that was the must-see fight at 170-pounds, though Covington had sinus issues that kept him out of the fight. Now with the path to a title matchup clear, all the promotion must do is figure out who is more deserving. And if the situation is too close to call, let them fight for it and line up Woodley with the winner.
There are also rumors that the UFC’s welterweight division could get a new top limit, going from 170-pounds to 175-pounds. Though unconfirmed, it would open up more fighters to the possibility of competing in the division, and making things a little bit easier for the division’s bigger fighters.