Properly, UFC followers — was that adequate? Has Kamaru Usman lastly, belatedly, laboriously earned his recognition as a champion to have a good time?

Usman methodically beat down Jorge Masvidal in the primary occasion of UFC 251 on Sunday in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, because the UFC launched its Center East residency with a struggle card headlined by three championship bouts and a rematch of ex-champs. The night time culminated with Usman making an emphatic assertion about who’s boss amongst welterweights. Nonetheless the boss, that’s. This second title protection in Usman’s reign of practically a yr and a half was environment friendly and thorough.

Masvidal got here out aggressively and had his moments early, profitable the primary spherical on one decide’s scorecard. However for essentially the most half, this struggle was all Usman. He landed 5 takedowns, and even when Usman could not get the struggle to the canvas, he trapped the challenger in clinches in opposition to the cage, punishing Masvidal with pictures from all angles and sporting him down. By the championship rounds, Masvidal was sagging, although he did nonetheless present some harmful bursts.

“Jorge is a troublesome man, and I give him credit score for that. They name him ‘Gamebred’ for a cause; he is at all times sport to struggle,” Usman stated. “However I am simply ranges higher, you recognize? I’ve extra instruments within the toolbox, and once I want to drag them out, I can pull them out and use them.”

In these clinches in opposition to the cage, Usman pulled out physique pictures, foot stomps, shoulder strikes and elbows, all however emptying that toolbox. When he was in prime place on the canvas, Usman delivered sharp elbow assaults and extra physique work. The champ had his manner.

It was a commanding end to the trumpeted debut of “Struggle Island,” which truly wasn’t an actual debut and wasn’t even on an actual island. However do we actually must sweat the main points? This entire Struggle Island tour represents a enjoyable, offbeat diversion for the struggle sport, at a time when homebound followers and fighters alike want one thing to imagine in. And what higher method to wrap up the seashore social gathering than for a dominant champion to kick sand within the face of the game’s “BMF”?

If Usman’s historical past foretells the long run, although, what we’ll in all probability be listening to loudest in days to return is not going to be accolades for Usman’s third consecutive virtuoso championship efficiency, however as an alternative rationalizations about how Masvidal took the struggle on six days’ discover and was merely not ready. Or that Masvidal wasn’t all that to start with, anyway — only a “journeyman” ripe for the squashing.

The shortage of appreciation for Usman truly started earlier than he was completed beating up Masvidal. Whereas many on social media acknowledged the champ’s complete management, some discovered themselves yawning because the bout wore on on the late hour. In one of many extra ironic examples of the pot calling the kettle black, Ben Askren tweeted, “This struggle is boring as s—.” Perhaps he has a degree. It wasn’t as thrilling as a 5-second KO.

It is perplexing that the Usman narrative at all times appears to unroll this fashion, as if he have been a bit participant within the story of a struggle he simply received. It is change into a recurring theme. The man he beat got here in on brief discover (Masvidal). Received robbed by the ref (Colby Covington). Had exterior distractions (Tyron Woodley). Usman, not essentially of his personal doing, has change into as identified for ducking below the radar as he’s for dodging punches. What was there to say about him, actually? He was simply the man who did not lose.

A part of the rationale for this seeming indifference among the many public has been Usman’s doing. He carries himself with the quiet confidence of a significant star. However whereas these within the struggle sport who shine the brightest sometimes attain that time by emphasizing their confidence (see McGregor, Conor), Usman leans in to the quiet. He broadcasts his arrival not with preventing phrases however with preventing itself, tenacious and relentless preventing. His prolonged monologues are the thumps and thwacks of punches and clinches, kicks and takedowns.



Dominick Cruz and Chael Sonnen give credit score to each Kamaru Usman and Jorge Masvidal for his or her efforts in UFC 251.

However phrases do matter within the struggle enterprise. You may make an announcement together with your fists, however your mouth is what spreads your message. A present of gab is not going to maintain you standing as soon as the Octagon door locks, after all, nevertheless it positive could make the journey there extra luminous and profitable.

Usman’s early performances within the UFC additionally contributed to slowing his roll. After profitable his debut 5 years in the past with a submission, he slogged alongside to judges’ choices in eight of his subsequent 9 appearances. Most of these nights, he made it a simple name on the cageside scorecards. However even a transparent determination win doesn’t state your case with the readability and certitude of a end. When the final in that run of determination victories made Usman a champion, it received him a flowery brass-and-leather strap, nevertheless it didn’t win him the extent of public assist appropriate for all the things he is completed inside a cage.

Even given his lack of flash, how is that this doable? The night time in March 2019 when Usman captured that 170-pound title belt, he did so by dominating MMA’s best welterweight south of Quebec. But there have been naysayers saying Woodley’s downfall was not Usman’s unrelenting ahead strain however fairly Woodley’s personal pursuit … of a rap profession. This narrative conveniently ignores that Woodley was freestyling rhymes six months earlier throughout preparation for his Darren Until struggle. Woodley positive did not look distracted when, simply days earlier than dropping a single he’d recorded with Wiz Khalifa, he dropped Until and choked him out.

If Usman’s thorough beatdown of Woodley wasn’t sufficient to impress, what adopted ought to have been. His first title protection was in opposition to the cartoonishly villainous Covington, and due to that, the buildup to the December conflict had the entire melodramatic animus {that a} struggle promotion wants to collect steam. And what a struggle it turned out to be. These watching the struggle did not realize it because the fighters entered Spherical 5, after all, however the judges had the bout scored even by way of 4 rounds. The struggle, the belt and dominion over a bitter rivalry have been up for grabs in that last spherical, and Usman seized all of them. His TKO with 50 seconds left was exhilarating.

However even within the face of such a decisive end below the brightest of spotlights the UFC can present, any reward that was coming Usman’s manner was drowned out by the incessant drone of Covington making excuses. The challenger had fought an incredible struggle, and getting caught late and KO’d within the last minute didn’t diminish that. However Covington tossing out all the things from “the ref cheated me” to “the canine ate my homework” didn’t cowl him in glory. It did distract from Usman’s glory, although.