Who Would Win: Jorge Masvidal or Kamaru Usman?
Is there a bigger potential fight at welterweight than Jorge Masvidal vs. Kamaru Usman?
UFC President Dana White sure doesn't seem to think so.
"The Masvidal fight now versus Usman is a big deal," White said, according to ESPN's Marc Raimondi, and he's not wrong.
Both Masvidal and Usman enjoyed stellar 2019s to make the prospective showdown between them one of the best fights that could possibly be made next year.
Masvidal, 35, didn't even fight in 2018 but roared back with a new sharp Street Jesus-look and sharper three-piece and a soda-attitude to score three fantastic finishes over just eight months of work.
First, Masvidal traveled across the Pond in March to stop Darren Till in front of the Englishman's fans in London. Next, he scored the fastest knockout in UFC history over previously undefeated MMA wrestling savant Ben Askren in July.
And as if all that weren't enough, Masvidal followed those feats with that life-altering win over Nate Diaz at UFC 244 for the first and only BMF title.
But the Nigerian Nightmare enjoyed a pretty solid year too.
First, Usman dominated Tyron Woodley in March for the 170-pound title. On Saturday, he defended his shiny new belt in equally impressive fashion by stopping former interim champion Colby Covington in five rounds at UFC 245.
Perhaps even most intriguingly, though, Usman displayed elite-level adaptability across those performances. The 32-year-old mostly relied on wrestling against Woodley but employed powerful boxing techniques to beat Covington.
The more I think about Masvidal vs. Usman, the less sure I am about who wins. Masvidal is red-hot, but Usman has to be considered the best welterweight the world today.
Hey, Tom Taylor and Lyle Fitzsimmons, can I get a little help with this one?
Taylor: Kamaru Usman
Tom Taylor: Let me preface what I'm about to say by assuring readers that I am generally extremely leery of what UFC commentator Joe Rogan has to say. Even when he's off the clock, riffing on whatever ridiculous topic happens to have come up on his podcast, he remains the UFC's most dedicated carnival barker, which tends to weaken the value of the praise he gives out.
All of that being said, I think Rogan described the 2019 version of Masvidal pretty well on a recent episode of his podcast.
"He's a different person now," he said, comparing the current Masvidal to Masvidal of old. "Now he's what he could have been. He is potential realized. He's at 100 percent right now."
I agree with that. Masvidal is in the zone. He's bolstered what's always been a well-rounded game with a new-found killer instinct, and perhaps even more importantly, unshakeable confidence. For that reason, my heart tells me he can beat any welterweight in the world—Usman included!
If this cruel and merciless sport has taught me anything, though, it's that when it comes to making predictions, it's far smarter to pick with your head than your heart. And my head tells me that things like killer instinct and confidence don't matter all that much when you're being wrestled into mulch, which is probably what would happen to Masvidal in a fight with Usman.
Usman, an incredibly smart fighter, would no doubt lean on his substantial wrestling and strength advantages to take Masvidal down and batter him on the mat. Masvidal might deny a few takedown attempts—he might even land some big shots on the feet—but Usman is a good enough wrestler and a durable enough fighter to handily win this fight. So completely ignoring what my heart's telling me, that's my pick.
I like Usman by unanimous decision.
Fitzsimmons: Kamaru Usman
Lyle Fitzsimmons: I'll start by conceding that Jorge Masvidal is a worthy holder of the "BMF" title.
The renaissance he's experienced since reaching his mid-30s warrants the attention he's getting, and I am in no way suggesting he's not qualified for a fight of this magnitude.
But that doesn't mean he would win it.
Masvidal is the flavor of the month thanks to the roll he's been on in 2019, but the 13 losses on his record are hardly indicative of a disaster that can't be averted. He was worked on the mat by Demian Maia in a May 2017 loss and handled decisively with strikes by Stephen Thompson six months later.
Wins over Darren Till and Ben Askren were nice enough since, but more than a few people believe the go-round with Nate Diaz would have wound up different had the doctor been a touch less squeamish.
Lest anyone forget, Kamaru Usman—particularly the versions of the muscular Nigerian who mauled Woodley and assaulted Covington—is as good or better than any of them.
As a decades-long follower of boxing, this fight reminds me a smidge of a 2005 bout between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Arturo Gatti. Mayweather was the establishment champion who had done nothing but win on the highest levels, while Gatti was the darling of the rugged car-crash types thanks to a unique ability to absorb hellacious punishment from C-listers and return to launch some of his own.
It got Gatti a couple of world titles and a huge TV following, but whenever he aspired toward the ladder's highest rung—in ambitious challenges of Mayweather and Oscar De La Hoya—he was beaten down to the tune of two TKO losses that lasted a grand total of 11 rounds, none of which he won.
And while the gap between champion and challenger here may not be quite as vast, it's close. Usman is better on the mat, more varied on his feet and on too much of a roll to be stopped here.
I like Usman by TKO in Round 4.
McCarson: Kamaru Usman
Kelsey McCarson: Bless us, Street Jesus, for it appears we all have sinned.
Just don't "baptize" us.
Seriously, though, there isn't much more for me to add here that hasn't already been said by Tom and Lyle.
I'll admit that there's something about Jorge Masvidal that begs me to throw caution to the wind and pick him to beat Kamaru Usman, but my rational mind just can't seem to let that happen.
In short, Street Jesus might demand a little more faith from me by now, but I can't seem to muster enough courage to give it to him.
Look, what Masvidal did in 2019 was outstanding. He appeared reborn in those three great wins, and he deserves some serious consideration for Fighter of the Year. Plus, I love when fighters have the ability to talk smack like elite pro wrestling characters, with the caveat that it only works on me in the long run when the fighter can consistently back it up inside the Octagon.
Masvidal does all that, and he's become one of the biggest stars in the sport because of it.
But Usman just looks like the better fighter. He mauled Woodley for the title in a fight that most people thought would go Woodley's way, and he stuck the landing this year by stopping his nemesis Colby Covington in a grudge match that proved nobody in the world is ever going to be capable of getting inside Usman's head.
The exceptional ability Usman displayed in beating those two guys, using virtually opposite methods to do it, tells me he's just reaching his true potential as a fighter. That's a seriously scary thought.
Nigerian Nightmare indeed.
I like Usman over Masvidal by unanimous decision in a fight that would be fun to watch but super easy to score for the UFC welterweight champ.