Post-Fight Thoughts: Kamaru Usman -vs- Jorge Masvidal
I didn't do a Pre-Fight Thoughts for this bout, since we only had 6 days notice that it was even going to happen. When Gilbert Burns was pulled from UFC 251, following a positive test for COVID-19, Jorge Masvidal stepped in to salvage the main event. It was a fight people wanted, albeit under less-than ideal circumstances; Masvidal would be coming in effectively without having had a training camp. There was also the possibility that something went wrong at the eleventh hour, and even this fight wouldn't happen.
When the dust settled, I didn't find myself with much more to say. In all honesty, the main event of UFC 251 was a lesson in consistency across multiple fronts. Once you divorce yourself from how exciting it would be to see Masvidal defy the odds, you realise why the odds were set the way they were.
Kamaru Usman put on a textbook performance by his standards: dominating Jorge Masvidal in the clinch, employing his effectively limitless conditioning to pressure from the first to the final bell, stifling any and all offence. Meanwhile, Jorge had some meager success in the first round, exploiting his obvious striking advantage while Usman got his bearings and made reads on him.
It didn't even take long for Usman to force Jorge Masvidal against the fence, a position he is notorious for conceding in almost all of his fights. From there, defeat was all but inevitable. Sure, it wasn't fun to watch; seeing Usman bully Masvidal and simply hold him against the cage did not make for fun viewing, but it was effective MMA. Likewise, the takedowns were suffocating and demoralising, even if they aren't the sort of thing you put on a highlight reel.
As interesting a narrative as it would have been, to see Jorge Masvidal go on a late career run reminiscent of Robbie Lawler's warpath to the welterweight title, the facts of the matter are that Kamaru Usman is a stylistic nightmare for Masvidal. Even with a full camp and an increased emphasis on wrestling, I don't see Jorge Masvidal ever having a significant advantage in this match-up. It doesn't mean he can't win, it's just incredibly unlikely — and this past Saturday illustrated that quite well.
Some fans have reacted harshly, claiming that Masvidal didn't have his heart in it, or that he just showed up to cash a cheque. I think that's absurd, insulting to Kamaru Usman and simply not supported by the facts. This loss was a very predictable reenactment of the many other times Masivdal has lost in his career; he hasn't been finished since 2009, but Masvidal has lost a number of decisions in a consistent fashion. Masivdal fans can be understandably disappointment, but should put this loss in proper context — nothing shocking happened here.
Everyone had dreams of Masvidal sneaking in, grabbing the title and then booking a super-fight with Conor McGregor. I see no reason that fight still can't be made, and with the added bonus of not tying up the welterweight title. Kamaru Usman can fight Gilbert Burns or Leon Edwards next, whoever the UFC decides to reward and snub respectively. I don't think it matters who fights Usman next, since he's starting to look more and more like someone who might exceed Georges Saint-Pierre's high watermarks if given enough time.
I don't think Masivdal lost much in defeat, he wasn't finished or humiliated, he just got dominated by a powerful wrestler with amazing conditioning. The only problem with this fight was that it didn't do much for Usman; sure, the champ notches a title defence against a quality name but people are mostly complaining about how 'boring' the fight was. Usman's going to be around for a long time, and we're going to have to get used to what his fights look like. This is how he chooses to fight and it works very well for him — it would be foolish to change a winning formula to appease a fickle base like MMA fans.
Published: July 13th, 2020.