Who Will Win at UFC 245: Kamaru Usman or Colby Covington?
Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington will finally settle their bad blood this weekend in the main event of UFC 245, and the question on everybody's mind is the same: Which welterweight will rise to the occasion to solidify himself as the premier 170-pounder in the world?
Both have made compelling cases.
Usman decimated Tyron Woodley from start to finish at UFC 235 in March to become UFC welterweight champion. That ran the 32-year-old's win streak to 14 straight fights, including a remarkable 10-0 run during his time in the UFC.
But Covington will carry just as good a record into the melee. The brash American has won seven straight which include a five-round decision win over former lightweight champion Rafael dos Anjos for the UFC interim welterweight title in June 2018 at UFC 225.
While he was subsequently stripped because of injury, the former interim champ didn't seem to miss a beat when he finally made his way back to action in August to dominate Robbie Lawler at UFC on ESPN 5.
Now, Usman and Covington will meet at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas to determine which fighter will head into 2020 having proved beyond doubt to be the best the division has to offer.
Before that happens, though, read through Bleacher Report's staff picks featuring Tom Taylor, Lyle Fitzsimmons and myself pondering who we think will ultimately come out the victor.
Taylor: Colby Covington
Tom Taylor: Oh man, this is a tough one to call.
Contrary to their hugely differing political views, Usman and Covington are very similar fighters in terms of their accomplishments, skill sets and physical tools.
Both are 15-1 overall. Both have scored finishes in seven of their pro victories and won the other eight by decision. Both are tremendous wrestlers. Both are well-conditioned and strong, and they're almost exactly the same height. There are a few subtle differences between them, though, and I think those slight differences will determine who wins this one.
Usman, at least statistically speaking, is the busier and more dangerous striker of the two. He lands at a higher rate than Covington and has won more fights by knockout or TKO. Covington, on the other hand, has proved to be the more dangerous grappler. He completes takedowns at a marginally higher rate and has finished more fights via submission.
I think Covington's ever-so-slight grappling edge will be more important than Usman's minuscule striking advantage in this fight. Usman has never been taken down in the UFC, but I see that changing in Sin City.
If there's a gun pointed at my head, I'm picking Covington to land more takedowns, have more success when the fight hits the canvas, and ultimately win the belt with a unanimous decision, but I recognize there's a good chance my brains are going to end up splattered on the wall.
Thankfully there isn't a gun pointed at my head, and I'm just talking shop with my B/R buddies.
Fitzsimmons: Kamaru Usman
Lyle Fitzsimmons: I'm with you, Tom. If this pick were a matter of life and death, I'd be sweating profusely.
They're the same size. They have the same record. They come in with similar momentum. Not a whole lot to separate, so it's got to come down to a vibe—one way or the other.
And my vibe is for Usman.
Not that I think Covington can't fight. He surely can. And not that I don't think he's earned the position in which he'll find himself come Saturday night. He certainly has. In this case, it's more of a feel based on which guy has the higher ceiling, and which guy is closer to that peak than the other.
While Covington might have warranted that nod 18 months ago at UFC 225, he's spent much of the subsequent time on the mend from injury and working his way back into competitive form. Usman, meanwhile, has been full-on surging, and his erasure of Tyron Woodley in March—you know, the guy Woodley hadn't lost in nearly five years—was a masterclass in mixed martial artistry.
He may not work quite the same magic on this trip to Las Vegas, but Usman ought to be a little better on his feet, a little better at evading danger and a little better over the long haul at this point in time. So, armed only with that hunch, I'll push my chips to the center and go all-in on the "Nigerian Nightmare."
McCarson: Colby Covington
Kelsey McCarson: Usman-Covington is quite an amazing way to finish off 2019. As both Tom and Lyle have stated so well already, each man has a legitimate case. That means my job right now is to build an argument as to why I think this coin-flip fight will ultimately land one way over the other.
To me, it all boils down to two important factors. First, it seems like Covington's antics have gotten inside Usman's head a bit. While it often seems counterintuitive to the uninitiated, it never actually behooves a professional fighter to head into the Octagon with tons of emotion.
Usman is an incredible performer, but he's spent way too much energy lashing out at Covington over the last few months that otherwise could have gone into helping him prepare for the fight. More importantly, though, he is likely to be even more filled with rage by the time the two finally get their hands on each other, and that means he'll probably tire way faster than Covington over the course of the five-round fight.
Second, Covington seems the more technically precise MMA grappler. He competed at the higher level as an amateur in college (Div. 1 compared to Usman's Div. 2 credentials), and he's super-adept at doing the important little scrappy things great Octagon grapplers do that move opponents into dangerous positions.
Usman's saving grace is that he's definitely the harder puncher and probably the physically stronger athlete. But I think he's just a tad too amped up for this one, so he won't be at this best come Saturday night.
This one goes the full five rounds, and Covington earns a hard-fought split-decision victory by virtue of his tremendous work rate and otherworldly cardio.