Kamaru Usman Silences Colby Covington and Becomes Welterweight King at UFC 245

Scott Harris@ScottHarrisMMAMMA Lead WriterDecember 15, 2019

Kamaru Usman (left) punches Colby Covington
Kamaru Usman (left) punches Colby CovingtonSteve Marcus/Getty Images

What do you think Georges St-Pierre thought about all this?

In February, St-Pierre retired from pro MMA. After a record nine title defenses over more than six total years as champ, GSP rode into the sunset as the greatest welterweight in history. 

So the main event Saturday at UFC 245 was a fitting bookend to the year. With champ Kamaru Usman in his first title defense and with Colby Covington wearing interim gold earlier this year until being stripped for inactivity—and with identical 15-1 pro records heading into Las Vegas—this was the crowning of a new welterweight kingpin, one who could prowl the top of the division for years to come.

It wasn't always easy. After a politically charged war of words nearly as grueling as the 24 minutes and 10 seconds of Octagon time they racked up, Usman tenderized and then brutalized the shrill but game Covington to retain his title and cement his status as the planet's best 170-pound fighter. It was the latest finish ever in a UFC welterweight fight.

Covington falls the canvas afer a fifth-round knockdown.
Covington falls the canvas afer a fifth-round knockdown.John Locher/Associated Press

"This one's not just for me; this one's for the entire world right now," Usman told broadcaster Joe Rogan in the cage after the fight. "I heard 'Colby's in his head. Colby's this. Colby's that. He's gonna fight emotional.' I'm telling you guys right now: I'm the best in the world because my mind is stronger than everyone else's in the division."

It was refreshing to watch the fight between these two finally play out in the literal sense. The contest was a battle of attrition, a striking match between two wrestlers whose bases were so formidable as to spur a pre-emptive stalemate. The bout contained no takedown attempts.

There were no knockdowns, either, at least not until the final two minutes. Although in fairness, the emphatic late ending, while surely satisfying to many, overshadows the fact that this fight was a close, back-and-forth affair for much of its lifespan.

Covington (left) and Usman
Covington (left) and UsmanSteve Marcus/Getty Images

In the early stages, Covington was busier and outlanded the champ, while Usman's shots were more accurate. Both men used strong, popping jabs to good effect. Usman was methodical, almost plodding at times, while Covington's output came in bursts, usually in the form of big punch combinations. Usman's unbroken chin no-sold even Covington's sharpest shots.

The central storyline of the action was Usman's body work. A diving right uppercut and a front kick found the mark time and again, with the Nigerian-American seeming to dig his toes into Covington's guts. It goes a long way to explaining why Covington was looking decidedly wilted later on.

The give and take went on for a good portion of the fight. As the third round wore on, Usman landed a nasty straight right, which in real time was unremarkable. Usman throws a lot of nasty punches.

This one proved pivotal, though. In between rounds, Covington told his coaches: "I think I broke my jaw."

Nevertheless, Covington answered the bell in the fourth like the MMA fighter that he is. In the opening moments of the championship rounds, and perhaps with his condition in mind, Covington seemed to make a  decision to just kinda say, you know, forget it. He charged forward, swinging for the fences, and got the better of enough exchanges to at least call the outcome of the round into question.

On the judges' scorecards, only one had Usman in the lead going into the final round.

Covington began the final frame as he'd ended the fourth. Could he beat Kamaru freaking Usman with a broken jaw? But this time he began to flag, just as the champion's slow burn finally reached full boil. Usman's hellacious right slammed home, right on the jaw. Covington took it like a champ, but it was cringe-inducing to watch Usman coolly target that area as it noticeably purpled, knowing full well what everyone else did. 

And then the right slammed home again. Covington hit the mat. He found a way to get back up. And then it happened again, and that time he stayed down.

"I really wanted to knock him out," Usman later told Rogan. "I was saying I want to punish him for 24 minutes, then knock him out in the last minute."

Good visualization, if true. With Usman hammering away, Covington's chances of surviving another 50 seconds didn't look promising. Covington protested referee Marc Goddard's decision to stop the action—he later said on the internet that he was "robbed" by a "fake ref," whatever that might mean. But given Covington's condition (the UFC later confirmed a broken jaw) and Usman's clear ability and willingness to continue beating on Covington's head indefinitely, no one's really buying it. That can't be such an unusual position for Covington.

What was unusual was the way Covington ran out of the cage and back to the locker room. If you're a fighter primed and ready to avenge or at least respond to a robbery, do you literally run back to the locker room as quickly as possible after the fight is over? Is that the preferred go-to? 

On the mic, Usman was generous enough for both men afteward—generous enough, in fact, to shout out Brazil, the country that booed Covington out of one of its arenas after he called them all "filthy animals" back in 2017.

"Hey, Brazil!" Usman said. "This is for you guys as well!" 

Usman seemed to genuinely dislike Covington in the run-up to the bout, while at the same time doing his level best to stay out of the muck. Will these two fight again? It's possible, but one probably shouldn't hold one's breath for a quick rematch, especially with Jorge Masvidal and others like stud Leon Edwards lurking.

At this point, every fight fan and any Google user has all the information they need to make a decision on Covington and any actions he takes moving forward. Despite the loss, he's an excellent fighter. He'll be back, and he'll be back in precisely the same form he was in during UFC 245 fight week. There will be no face turn, even if circumstances won't allow him to be quite so preening.

Covington will find a soft landing because there are plenty of fighters willing to line up and be insulted for the brighter spotlight and higher paycheck a date with Covington—like it or not—will provide for the foreseeable future. So don't worry your head one bit. Covington will surely return to our lives as soon as he's able.

Until then, Usman and plenty of others are going to enjoy the silence.

                    

Scott Harris covers MMA for Bleacher Report.

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