Just days away from the biggest UFC card of the year, we find ourselves in front of the most anticipated welterweight tittle fight in some time in the main event. The champion, Nigerian born Kamaru Usman faces the self turned heel American Colby Covington for the UFC´s 170 pound strap in a fight that has bettors and fans divided equally on who will emerge victorious.
Both enter the fight with the same record, an spectacular 15-1. Usman got submitted in his second pro fight and has never looked back, being tremendously dominant since then, currently riding a 14 fight win streak and having lost maybe a single round in his 10 UFC appearances. Meanwhile, Covington is 11-1 in the big leagues, his only loss coming at the hands of Warlley Alves via guillotine choke.
Kamaru Usman became the champion after a extremely dominant win over then champ and betting favourite Tyron Woodley, in a performance that is second to none between tittle winning efforts. He absolutely controlled the champion throughout the whole fight to claim a lopsided decision (arguably 50-43) that left many wondering what they had just seen. During his UFC run he has beaten the aforementioned Woodley and a list of top tier fighters that includes Raphael Dos Anjos, Demian Maia, and the darkhorse of the division Leon Edwards among others. Until proven otherwise, he is the top 170 pounder in the UFC and maybe in all of MMA.
Covington, at first a quiet, blue collar fighter that changed his gimmick in recent times to get public attention, has some good wins of his own inside the promotion, including common opponents Raphael Dos Anjos and Demian Maia. Fighting out of American Top Team, he won the interim welterweight belt after defeating Dos Anjos by decision (he was stripped of the belt later after failing to meet Woodley) and enters this fight after an elite performance in which he absolutely dominated aging Robbie Lawler from start to finish.
Up to this point, both fighters have implemented almost always the same gameplan to keep winning their respective fights. They grind and outgrapple opposition until they impose their will for a wide decision or late finish when opponents finally get suffocated and break. Wrestlers at core, Covington has been wrestling since early age, eventually becoming a D1 wrestler. Usman, even though he started wrestling at much later age, became a surprisingly good wrestler himself, achieving D2 pedigree and showing a great development as a wrestler over a series of matches in his late collegiate career against top quality opposition. This is the first time in their respective careers they face a guy that has the ability and will to try and outwrestle them, or at least to prevent them from doing it themselves. It could be said they are kind of a mirror machup for the other, even if it is not entirely true. To go with their amazing wrestling credentials, both gentleman force a suffocating pace during their fights. Cardio is not going to be an issue in this matchup.
On the feet they both exhibit a serviceable striking ability that, while not being elite by any means, is functional for both. Covington throws an endless volume of punches in combination from his southpaw stance, punctuauted by good leg and body kicks with his rear leg, forming a tremendous combo with his grappling that helps keep opponents working endlessly towards gassing them. The man is a fighting dinamo. Kamaru, on the other part offers less volume on the feet, but is arguably more polished whenever combinations do not exceed two punches. He offers an always improving jab under the expert eye of Henry Hooft and a heavy right hand. While probably close in overall striking ability, both having some defensive issues when throwing in combination, Usman is the way heavier puncher in this matchup. Covington lacks fight ending power on the feet while Kamaru, even though he has not scored many finishes in the UFC, has hurt almost every opponent bad at some point on the feet. It is also worth mentioning Colby has a tendency to cut that will not serve him well as the fight goes on if it becomes a grueling affair.
So how will this fight play out? When predicting each fighter´s gameplan entering this encounter, I would say Usman will try to do the same as he always does. Advance, corner opposition, inflict damage when possible against the fence, take them down, and grind them out. His ability to cut space and corral opponents is quite underrated, and while he is not the most amazing striker his footwork works well for his goals. I doubt Usman will want to fight this fight entirely on the feet, as I see him as the superior wrestler, and I think he sees himself the same. Usman has displayed and incredible variety of takedowns in his UFC ternure, and even though I can see him equalling or even surpassing Colby in pure wrestling technique, what I think will make a difference here is his unbelievable physicality. The man is a beast, an absolute powerhouse that can muscle through positions if needed. Colby is not. He depends on his wrestling prowess to complete his entries, which usually are a low double leg he seemengly effortlesly completes after engaging fighters almost behind the kneecap esily disturbing their base. Momentum does the rest, and if needed he masterfully transitions to single legs from every angle in the book. However, one cannot be entirely sure which will be Colby´s gameplan here. Maybe he wants a grapple heavy affair and advances from the get go, maybe he tries to outpoint Usman on the feet negating his entries and playing the matador, or a mix of both. Only one thing is for sure, whichever his gameplan is his trademark pace will be set. But the question is, can he do it?
I guess the answer is no. Under normal circumstances I do not see a scenario where Colby wins three rounds here, and he is not well equiped to produce a finish. Why? Because Usman will dominate the wrestling exchanges, and most importantly, and I see no one talking about this overall, while both are equally great wrestlers, Usman is by far the superior all around grappler. Covington has shown a great ability to take people down, but not to keep them there. He exhibits an excellent riding ability to control the get ups and put people down again, but he has not shown anything resembling a real, “established” top game, and his guard is yet to be seen. Usman on the other hand takes people down easily too, but actually keeps them there and shows an excellent top game and passing ability, and an amazing understanding of every position. To go with it he utilises some heavy ground and pound. If Usman takes you down there is a big chance you are not getting up, at least for that round, and even is Colby is capable of winning some scrambles, when both guys get taken down I see Usman being able to get up every time, but not Colby. That is if Colby is actually able to put Usman down, which I doubt. I am entirely sure Usman can take down Covington without major issues. If we look at their common opponent in Raphael Dos Anjos, the former lightweight champion turned contender, Covington needed an otherwordly effort to beat him, and although he won a clear decision, it was a competitive fight in which they exchanged heavy blows and takedowns. Usman beat the living shit out of Raphael, leaving him looking like he just came back from Vietnam war. From round four onwards the Brazilian was done, it was surprising he made it to the final bell.
Even if Covington was capable of stopping Kamaru´s attemps at taking him down, it would be a tall order for him to win three rounds on the feet, as his striking is designed to work along his takedown game and lacks real power, and it will turn into a wild affair with Usman pressuring him and both throwing heavy blows inside exchanges, which presumably favours Usman big time as he is the bigger, heavier and stronger guy and also the puncher in the fight. Anyway, I highly doubt we get to see the fight playing out like that. However this may happen during the short breaks that will surely form between grappling exchanges, and this will take a toll on Colby as the rounds go, if he does not eventually get hurt and finished. To win this fight, I think Colby Covington needs to hurt Usman on the feet and if not finish him at least make enough damage for it to be entirely fight altering or to open an option for him to start winning the grappling exchanges over a hurt Usman and gass him on his way to a decision. I do not see this happening at all. I expect domination from the champion on Saturday to culminate a memorable night of fights.
At the moment of this writing, Kamaru Usman is the betting favourite at (-185) while the dog Covington sits at around (+160). The pick here is Usman to dominate and break down the challenger Covington for a stoppage in the championship rounds or a lopsided decision win.
Official pick: Kamaru Usman KO5 Colby Covington