Kamaru Usman goes by the nickname ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ and the MMA world, slightly terrified, is waking up to the reality that the UFC welterweight champion might just hang onto his title for as long as he pleases.
Usman’s dominant performances have translated into what is becoming a dominant title reign, his win over No. 1 contender Gilbert Burns on Saturday night marking his third successful defence and a record-breaking 13th consecutive UFC victory at 170lbs.
The 33-year-old previously shared the record with the consensus greatest of all time, Georges St-Pierre, and while Usman (18-1) still has some way to go to enter any conversations around being the ‘GOAT’, he added a new sheen to his legacy in Las Vegas at UFC 258.
The storyline heading into the main event was of friends and former team-mates meeting in the Octagon, Usman and Burns having spent hours training and sparring together in the past, having attended each other’s children’s birthday parties, and having ultimately gone their separate ways last year.
Wittman was on the losing end that night but was on the winning side here, and he might well sense a common thread between the two bouts. Each saw the champion paired with a challenger who was supposed to be their toughest match-up yet stylistically, and each saw the challenger dismissed with a career-best performance.
Ahead of this convincing win for Usman, much was made of who had gotten the better of the other when he and Burns (19-4) sparred in the past, but the environment is different in a UFC title fight and that environment proved nightmarish for Brazil’s Burns in Vegas.
The 34-year-old seemed destined to discover a dream state when he clipped Usman with a right hook behind the ear early in the first round, partially dropping his opponent and unsteadying the champion’s legs, but that moment proved to be the peak of Burns’ challenge. After the jiu-jitsu black belt slipped while missing with a head kick, Usman wisely chose not to engage on the ground, and once Burns was eventually back to his feet he spent the majority of the second round wincing as Usman stung him with spiteful jabs – honed by Wittman – before the champion plunged the Brazilian into panic with a powerful right hand.
Burns covered up and, after later being dropped by a jab, survived the round, though his desperate takedown attempts were tellingly dismissed with indifference.
The challenger was dropped again early in the third round, and referee Herb Dean belatedly – as is becoming the case with increasing, concerning frequency – stepped in to spare Burns after a series of strikes on the canvas.
Uman, who had initiated an intense staredown moments before the main event, watched on fervently, almost entranced as a tearful Burns regathered his senses.
The friends soon embraced in a warming moment, but Usman’s grip on the welterweight division is much more severe.
Perhaps such a source does not exist. Perhaps Usman is destined to dominate the division for as long as he wishes.
Full UFC 258 results
Usman (C) def. Burns via third-round TKO (ground strikes, 0:34)
Grasso def. Barber via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Gastelum def. Heinisch via unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)
Simon def. Kelleher via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Marquez def. Pitolo via third-round submission (anaconda choke, 4:17)
Hernandez def. Vieira via second-round submission (guillotine choke, 1;53)
Muhammad def. Lima via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Gutierrez def. Ewell via unanimous decision (30-26, 29-28, 29-27)
Viana def. Martin via first-round submission (armbar, 3;18)
Green def. Rowe via unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28)