4 Ways Jorge Masvidal Can Beat Kamaru Usman at UFC 251

Lyle Fitzsimmons@@fitzbitzFeatured ColumnistJuly 10, 2020

4 Ways Jorge Masvidal Can Beat Kamaru Usman at UFC 251

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    Fighting Kamaru Usman after a full-length training camp is difficult enough.

    So much so that fighting him on less than a week's notice resembles competitive suicide.

    But it seems to suit Jorge Masvidal just fine.

    In fact, the Miami-bred welterweight was eager to step into the daunting 170-pound breach created when Gilbert Burns tested positive for coronavirus, snatching the coveted marquee position opposite Usman in the main event of a three-title card that will unveil Fight Island to the world at UFC 251.

    "That's why he holds the baddest motherf--ker belt," Masvidal's manager, Malki Kawa told MMA Fighting. "I don't care about his losses, all that other talk. He holds that BMF belt because only bad motherf--kers do what Masvidal does."

    Still, there's a pretty big gap between accepting a fight and winning it.

    Particularly against a guy as good as Usman, who's lost precisely once in 17 pro fights and not at all in the UFC since landing a contract prior to a decision over Leon Edwards in December 2015.

    His nine subsequent wins have included a Performance of the Night bonus against Rafael dos Anjos, a championship-winning shutout over Tyron Woodley and his most recent outing, a fifth-round TKO of Colby Covington at UFC 245 last December that yielded Fight of the Night cash.

    Given all that, it's no shock that Usman's a favorite of the odds-makers at Caesars Palace, who've made the incumbent a minus-230 betting proposition—meaning it will take a $230 outlay to make a $100 profit if he wins—while Masvidal, at plus-190, will reward his backers with $190 for a $100 risk.

    Late-notice upsets, however, do happen in the Octagon.

    And in the spirit of Masvidal's BMF rival Nate Diaz—author of a 2016 stunner over Conor McGregor with less than two weeks of prep time—we assembled a short list of ways in which the man with the "Gamebred" persona might have his own story come Sunday morning.

    Click through to see how your thoughts jibe with ours.

Be a Precise Striker

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    When a guy like Daniel Cormier uses words like "best pure striker in the UFC," it matters.

    So for those searching for ways Masvidal can get it done this weekend, look no further.

    Cormier lobbed that praise in Gamebred's direction during the UFC 244 main event against Diaz, thanks to the winner's eventual 63-percent success rate across 179 significant strike attempts in 15 minutes of action.

    And if you think Masvidal was just head-hunting, think again.

    His attack was so successful against Diaz because it was so varied, including 78 lands to the head alongside 27 to the body and seven more to the legs. Indeed, an elbow to the head opened the gash that ultimately stopped the fight, but frequent and vicious kicks to the body consistently prompted his foe into retreat mode and set up two right-hand strikes that resulted in the fight's only two knockdowns.

    It was his 12th loss, but only the third in which the rugged Diaz failed to go the distance.

    Make no mistake, Usman is no slouch in this aspect of the game, as evidenced by an erasure of Covington in which the former Division II college wrestling champ attempted zero takedowns and landed 175 strikes. But if Masvidal has a competitive area in which he clearly deserves a check mark in his column, it's this one.

    In fact, if his work and connect rates are similar to what they were last November, his chances go way up.

Be a Pace-Changing Attacker

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    Rewatch the scrap with Diaz and see how often this happens:

    • Masvidal gets in close and seemingly settles in for a grinding battle for positioning along the fence.
    • Then, in an eye-blink, he rips off a combination with an elbow or a kick tossed in for good measure.

    It occurred frequently enough in the BMF title fight to gain the attention of Dominick Cruz, who suggested that, "Masvidal lulls you to sleep with one pace and then all of a sudden changes gears and he's all over you."

    It left Diaz unable to establish a comfortable rhythm before cuts doomed him after three rounds.

    It's also particularly pertinent when it comes to Usman, who was behind on two scorecards after allowing Covington to control the tempo through the initial 10 minutes. The frenetic challenger landed 80 strikes in those opening two rounds, which presents the possibility that Masvidal—with a career striking accuracy 10 percentage points better than Covington's—can find similar success by deftly working the gas pedal.

Be an Opportunistic Opponent

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    When it comes to recent UFC highlights, few reach its magnitude.

    But Masvidal's five-second obliteration of Ben Askren wasn't just ideal fodder for social media.

    It was also a testament to prudent game-planning and spur-of-the-moment execution.

    Because he'd researched Askren enough to anticipate a fight-opening level change, Masvidal was able to instantly put himself in position to land the knee strike that left his "Funky" foe senseless.

    And while no one with credibility is suggesting Usman will suffer the same ignominious fate, it's no remarkable stretch that his proclivity for wrestling—evidenced by a career rate of 3.44 takedowns per 15 minutes—might present a rival as astute as Masvidal an opportunity to take advantage of a go-to technique.

    Though he jettisoned grappling in his initial defense against Covington, Usman is more likely to go to the mat to negate this challenger's fists, meaning there ought to be at least a chance or two for lightning to strike.

Be a Pain in the Ass

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    Aside from obvious athletic prowess, it's Masvidal's defining characteristic.

    He's brash, cocky and completely willing to play the villain while irritating foes to the point of madness.

    He sank verbal teeth into Usman during Super Bowl week in Miami as a fight between the two was initially being discussed, then he picked up where he left off upon subbing in for Burns—filling up notebooks during a fight week virtual media day session in which he said, among other things, that he'd happily land "more than the super necessary punches" before a referee intervention on Saturday night.

    Other highlights included a suggestion his once-beaten rival is "nowhere near as good as advertised" alongside a promise that he'd take "full advantage of this individual and his weak-ass ways."

    He's already gotten the businesslike Usman to play the baiting game, and while it's true that incendiary weekday jabs often result in zero fireworks come fight night, it's no less true that getting an opponent off his game with words can occasionally yield tactical possibilities in the Octagon.

    A Triple-A talker like Covington had Usman clearly riled as the fighters headed to corners at the end of each round last December, and it may be no coincidence that the chatty underdog was ahead on one scorecard and even on another as the fight headed into its final five minutes.

    Masvidal, by all estimations, is on a trash-talk level reserved for the likes of Conor McGregor.

    So if he's able to use that skill anywhere near as well as his predecessor did, he may get the last laugh.

    NOTE: Unless otherwise indicated, all quotes were obtained first hand.