Jorge Masvidal vs. Kamaru Usman: A Head-to-Toe Breakdown
There's nothing like Super Bowl week.
And as far as marketing is concerned, there's nothing like crashing Super Bowl week.
That's precisely what the UFC's two hottest welterweights not named Conor McGregor—specifically Jorge Masvidal and Kamaru Usman—did Wednesday when they crossed paths on Radio Row in Miami, creating enough of a stir with heated verbal jabs to snatch headlines from the likes of Patrick Mahomes, Jimmy Garoppolo and Jennifer Lopez.
Which suddenly makes their potential title fight, one Usman told Joe Rogan was imminent upon his return from an injury suffered in a thrilling victory over Colby Covington last month, the biggest thing in mixed martial arts.
"If you look at the division, I've beaten almost everybody there in the top 10," Usman said. "It's a matter of who they really want, what's next. Dana (White) said they really want Jorge. Jorge is the next guy."
Masvidal is ranked third at 170 behind Tyron Woodley and Covington, Usman's last two victims.
He's also coming off a storybook 2019 in which he had three fights, won them all inside the distance and made himself a hardcore fan favorite thanks to the BMF belt created for a UFC 246 rumble with Nate Diaz.
He won the Diaz fight, had the belt presented by Dwayne Johnson and instantly became a star.
Not bad for a guy who'd entered the year with 13 losses.
Some insist Usman is a slam dunk to inflict No. 14. Others suggest "Gamebred" is just rugged enough to push the "Nigerian Nightmare" to the limit...and perhaps beyond.
Regardless, it could be one of the most compelling fights in recent MMA history. And the sudden buzz has everyone at Bleacher Report headquarters thinking about what will happen when it becomes reality.
Masvidal vs. Usman figures to be amazing. Let's break it down from head to toe.
Heading into his title match with Covington at UFC 245, the educated money said Usman's path to retaining his belt was on the mat, while the challenger was better suited to win by striking.
History shows that the educated money could have used a pre-fight refresher course.
Nevertheless, Usman has to again play second fiddle to Masvidal when it comes to scouting striking.
Now 35, the Miami native was initially a backyard brawler before maturing into one of the sport's most well-rounded hand strikers. He's become much more aggressive since making the leap to welterweight, working off a savvy jab while launching hooks to the midriff or straighter blows up top.
Of his 34 career wins, 15 have come via KO/TKO.
And let's not forget, he's not averse to other forms of contact—as evidenced by the memorable five-second blitz of Ben Askren, courtesy of a well-placed knee to the forehead.
Usman, however, is anything but a slouch on his feet.
He's won six of 17 fights by KO/TKO and handled everything Covington threw at him in December before twice dropping his man with punches and finishing with a flurry of ground strikes inside the final minute.
It would be really no surprise if the same scenario unfolded here, but if the fight is to be dominated by striking, it will more likely be Masvidal who's succeeding. In fact, it might be his only legitimate chance.
Let's face it, when it comes to grappling, Masvidal is facing one of MMA's best.
Whenever and wherever they get together, Usman will arrive as a three-time Division II All-American wrestler—including a national title at 174 pounds for the University of Nebraska at Kearney in 2010.
He mauled Tyron Woodley and ended the then-champ's seven-fight unbeaten streak last March, taking him down in four of five rounds and landing a ridiculous 156 strikes while on the ground.
He's also 4-0 in 25-minute bouts—two in title fights—while Masvidal has lost both times he's gone five rounds.
So if there's a prolonged smothering, expect Usman to be enjoying it more.
That's not to suggest Masvidal's submission wrestling chops and American Top Team pedigree are entirely without merit, but trying to best Usman while horizontal is best left to others.
Suffice to say that submissions are not the go-to weapons in either man's arsenal.
Only two of Masvidal's 34 pro wins have come from a surrender, while Usman has only a single submission among his 16 victories. So if you're laying money on a tap-out, the payoff would be substantial.
Admittedly, Masvidal's victory over Michael Chiesa via D'arce choke does look a bit better since Chiesa took care of ex-lightweight king Rafael dos Anjos at Fight Night 166, but it occurred nearly seven years ago and he hasn't had another win by those means since.
Usman's submission win, meanwhile, came during his Ultimate Fighter days in 2015.
Nevertheless, the needle's got to point one way or the other.
So, while it's awfully difficult to envision Masvidal getting his taller, longer foe into a truly precarious position, the hunch here is that if one man is somehow on the verge of a submission win, it will be the sneaky "Gamebred."
Masvidal's X-Factor: Is He The Real Deal?
We know he's charismatic. We know he's great on the mic. We know he's a genuine badass.
We know, then, that he'd have made a great member of the old-school nWo.
But do we know whether Masvidal—great run in 2019 notwithstanding—truly belongs among the 2020 elite at welterweight? Maybe not really. Or not yet.
"Gamebred" was a 13-loss fighter heading into last year who had been beaten not so long before by the title-less likes of Stephen Thompson and Demian Maia.
Maia took Masvidal down four times and landed 67 strikes to his 55 in May 2017, then the Brazilian proceeded to lose two straight to Woodley and Covington—Usman's two most recent opponents—later that same year.
And then to Usman himself in his first fight of 2018.
So as much fun as Masvidal may be with Usman away from the cage, he'll need to prove pretty quickly he belongs with the "Nightmare" on the inside.
Usman's X-Factor: Getting Up For The Task...Again
Attentive MMA fans will tell you that Usman had been a stud for years before finally breaking through with beatings of Woodley and Covington in 2019. The bout with Covington, though, was his first real placement in a high-profile event with a chronically trash-talking and baiting opponent.
The record shows how it turned out.
But a date with Masvidal will likely turn the hype needles past 10.
The South Floridian is the reigning fighter of the year in many circles, he's the baddest mother f--ker in the game according to the UFC's belt-making department, and he'll bring the heat, the noise and the attention in a way even the outspoken, Trump-embracing Covington never did.
Can Usman go through that again and not be rattled or impacted? Who knows.
He managed to steer clear of most of Covington's blather while keeping his mind on business, but the fracas in Miami and the subsequent back-and-forth headlines—even before the fight's been signed—indicate that this one could be an entirely different animal.
And if the champ enters the Octagon as anything other than the cool, focused force that he was last time out, the result script could be flipped as well.
Jorge Masvidal is a worthy holder of his "BMF" title.
His renaissance warrants the attention he gets, and no one ought to argue he's not deserving of a title fight.
But that doesn't mean he wins.
In fact, his 13 losses indicate neither an irresistible force nor an immovable object.
Maia worked him on the mat and Thompson handled him with strikes. More than a few believe the Nate Diaz result would have been different had the doctor not panicked.
And Usman is better than any of them.
On some level, this one mirrors 2005's boxing match between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Arturo Gatti. Mayweather had done nothing but win on the highest level. Gatti was far more popular because he absorbed shots from middling opposition and returned fire.
But when he climbed the elite ladder, he was beaten down by both Mayweather and Oscar De La Hoya, losing two fights in a combined 11 rounds.
The gap here isn't as wide, but it's still significant. Usman is better on the mat, as much or perhaps more varied on his feet and has way too much going for him to lose here.
Prediction: Usman defeats Masvidal by TKO in four rounds