To GOAT or to not GOAT – Kamaru Usman has a path to changing into the UFC’s biggest –

WHEAT RIDGE, Colo. — UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman hasn’t fought in almost 10 months. Often, those that observe this sport seek advice from that period of time between fights as a “layoff” — however nothing about how Usman selected to spend these 10 months appears like a lot of a break.

“Everyone says, ‘You had the long layoff,’ because it’s just the time between when they’ve seen me inside the Octagon,” Usman informed ESPN. “That doesn’t mean I wasn’t doing anything. Even when I just had one hand and the other was casted [after breaking his right hand in a November win over Colby Covington], I was still using my left hand and going to the gym.

“Being in the position that I’m in, it never stops. You don’t really get time off. I’m constantly thinking about this sport. That’s mental pressure. I’ve said this before: It’s my job to prepare for the rest of the world, while the rest of the world just has to prepare for one guy.”

Usman (20-1) will search his sixth 170-pound title protection at UFC 278 on Saturday (10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ pay-per-view), when he meets Leon Edwards (19-3) inside Vivint Area in Salt Lake Metropolis. Entering into, the 35-year-old Usman is closing in on a number of information, together with most consecutive wins to begin a UFC profession. Usman is 15-0 contained in the Octagon, only one win shy of former middleweight king Anderson Silva’s mark of 16-0 earlier than a loss.

Usman’s degree of perfection has some, together with UFC president Dana White, beginning to float the thought of him changing into the best fighter of all time.

“I still consider Jon Jones [the greatest], but it’s time to start talking about Kamaru Usman,” White mentioned. “He’s one fight away from tying Anderson Silva. He already beat Jon Jones and [Georges St-Pierre, in longest win streaks to start a UFC career]. If he beats Leon Edwards, then he ties Anderson Silva and he’s in that discussion.”

For what it is price, Usman says he does not care concerning the particular nomenclature of “greatest of all time.” He merely needs to have earned your complete sport’s respect by the point he hangs up his gloves.

“When I’m set and done, they’re going to say, ‘That guy was f—ing special,'” Usman mentioned.

However for dialog’s sake … what may Usman do that might make it exhausting to name anybody apart from him the GOAT? His excellence has reached such a degree that it is really potential to map it out. This is how he can get there:

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1. Shut the Leon Edwards chapter

Saturday’s combat is a rematch of a bout that came about in 2015. Usman defeated Edwards in what was solely his second UFC look (and Edwards’ fourth). The bout was not significantly compelling or memorable, as Usman out-landed Edwards in complete strikes 126 to 36 and took him down six occasions. However all the things that has occurred since that bout legitimizes Edwards as a critical risk.

Edwards is unbeaten in 10 in a row. And though the Englishman will probably be an underdog on Saturday, there’s definitely a path to victory for him. Since shedding to Usman in 2015, Edwards has devoted a ton of focus to his wrestling and has improved his takedown protection within the UFC to 70 %. He is additionally a veteran of 5 rounds, having gone that distance 3 times in his final 5 contests.

“Leon is very dangerous,” Usman mentioned. “He’s very dangerous. He might not have had those highlight moments yet, but he’s very, very dangerous. Even myself, I’ve had some highlight moments, but the majority of them came after being champion. So, I don’t discredit him. I fully respect him.”

Ought to Usman get previous Edwards, three of his six title defenses could be in rematches — that means, he is primarily lapping the division. To go down as the best of all time, that is without doubt one of the necessities: Clear out a division, in such a means that leaves little question as to your superiority. After Edwards is out of the way in which, the division could be almost cleaned out — outdoors of 1 identify.

2. Khamzat Chimaev

Chimaev is the one identify left within the prime 4 of the UFC’s division rankings that Usman has not overwhelmed. And if all the things falls proper, this may be the largest title protection of Usman’s profession.

Chimaev could be the fastest-rising title challenger in UFC historical past. Sure, there have been others who’ve fought for a championship earlier of their UFC runs, however these had been particular circumstances. As an example, Brock Lesnar fought for a title in simply his third UFC look (and fourth MMA combat general), however clearly he was already a famous person at that time from his WWE days.

The Wolf was primarily unknown when he debuted with the UFC in 2020. Chimaev (11-0) is now 5-0 within the UFC with 4 finishes. He faces Nate Diaz in the principle occasion of UFC 279 subsequent month, and if Chimaev wins, it could arrange a possible megafight: Usman, No. 1 in ESPN’s pound-for-pound rankings, taking up the UFC’s latest star.

“Now there’s another guy that people are excited about,” Usman mentioned. “People are like, ‘That’s the guy, that’s the guy that’s going to get you.’ That’s another moment that I have to be able to be graceful about and cherish, knowing that I’m going into a chaotic situation again. … I would be lying if I said I won’t be getting up much more for that one, because everywhere you go, people are going to be talking about it.”

3. Mild heavyweight

Over the past yr, Usman has floated the thought of chasing a second UFC championship up two weight courses. This sport has seen multidivisional champions earlier than, in fact, however by no means one who skipped a whole weight class on the way in which up. Usman is prepared to go straight to mild heavyweight as a result of, at middleweight, his good good friend and fellow Nigerian Israel Adesanya is the present belt holder.

This is not the primary time Usman has advised one thing that may very well be seen as borderline absurd. Final yr, he campaigned for a boxing match towards Canelo Alvarez. Pound-for-pound king of boxing vs. pound-for-pound king of MMA. The concept did not actually catch on, frankly, however this one may very well be completely different. If Usman is critical about transferring to 205 kilos, there is a world during which that occurs. And he says he’s very critical about it.

“I want [my fighters’] goals to be the biggest goals you can set,” mentioned Trevor Wittman, Usman’s head coach. “Going out there and setting the goals as large as you can make them, where they’re unthinkable — there’s no way, you’re changing history. … If he says, ‘Hey, I’m thinking about doing this,’ then I say, ‘Go, let’s do it.'”

Usman has already mentioned he would not bulk up for a lightweight heavyweight combat, though the load class is 35 kilos greater than the one he is at present in. He made some headlines final month when he confronted off with former mild heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz backstage at a UFC occasion in Las Vegas.

That felt like largely only a photograph op to pique individuals’s curiosity. If Usman had been to defend his title towards Edwards after which Chimaev in a possible blockbuster primary occasion, nonetheless, any request by him to maneuver up two weight courses to do one thing nobody has ever performed would seemingly obtain trustworthy consideration from the UFC.

Possibly that is why Usman does not speak an excessive amount of about being the GOAT. If he tackles as large of a purpose as going for the sunshine heavyweight title, he will not have to speak about being the GOAT. We’ll speak about it for him.

“I meant it, I will skip [middleweight],” Usman mentioned. “I will go up to 205 [pounds] and I will grab that belt. … I want to ask you a question: I skip 185, go up to 205 and I grab that belt, what do you say about my career?”