Call Kamaru Usman Boring at Your Own Risk After TKO Win at UFC 258

Scott Harris@ScottHarrisMMAMMA Lead WriterFebruary 14, 2021

Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

If Kamaru Usman can do that to his friend, imagine what he could do to me.

That's why I'm not going to call him boring anymore. I'd recommend the same thing for everyone else, too, if you know what's good for you.

After demolishing former training partner Gilbert Burns (19-4) Saturday in the main event of UFC 258, Usman (18-1) probably won't have to worry about that "boring" tag anymore. The champ's third defense of his UFC welterweight title was as emotional as it was masterful, coming as it did against a buddy and a distinguished contender in Burns.

This might explain why, as Usman knelt to soak up his third-round TKO, his celebration had a note of catharsis, as if something had just been lifted off of him. 

"This one was a tough one. It was a very, very tough one," Usman told broadcaster Joe Rogan in the post-fight interview. "Because of the whole gym situation … We started together. We started this journey together, and he showed it tonight. He's knocked off one guy after another to get to this point."

This was the moment in the interview when you could sense a "but" coming.

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"But," Usman continued, "I'm the varsity guy. You know? My fight IQ is different. It's different when you're in the gym with me. But when you get in here, it's a different ballgame. I'm a whole other savage."

The action came in bursts throughout the contest. Burns started fast out of the gate—maybe a little too fast, in retrospect—and drew the proverbial first blood with a right hand that put Usman on roller skates. An uppercut rocked the champ again. Was there an upset brewing?

Nothing doing, because Usman had a circuit breaker up his sleeve. The champ caught a Burns kick and dumped him on the mat, then refused to let him stand back up. The middle of the round slowed to a crawl as a result, but it gave Usman a chance to clear his head. Eventually Burns got back to his feet, and rewarded Usman with more heavy punches. Usman's chin held up under the blows (and I can't remember seeing Usman's chin tested that way), but Burns did enough to win the round.

"I knew he hit hard," Usman told Rogan. "If I threw one, he would counter heavy with shots … Anyone else in the division goes to sleep to one of those [Burns punches]."

In the second, it seemed an adrenaline dump arrived for Burns. As Usman sorted out distance and timing, suddenly the champ was a step ahead. Even at his most exciting points, Usman is controlled in his movements. You can see him quietly leveling his energy up and down throughout the fight. He first smelled blood toward the end of the second, with a looping right being the champ's first big offense. It sent Burns reeling backward and fishing in vain for a desperation takedown.

At this point, Usman had his jab timed perfectly and began using it to the great effect, flooring Burns in the round's closing moments.

To start the third, the champ went right back to the well. Straight away, Usman fired the jab and again knocked Burns on his backside. The champ rushed forward like a tidal wave, and an extended barrage of relentless ground strikes eventually forced referee Herb Dean to intervene.

With the win, Usman set a new record for the longest win streak in UFC welterweight history with 13.

Remember that post-fight catharsis I mentioned? It was a two-way street. A few feet from where Usman knelt, his face showing relief as much as exultation, a turtled-up Burns audibly sobbed as his team attempted to console him. As emphatic as the win was, it came with some pretty heavy emotions on both sides.

In an indescribably sweet moment after Bruce Buffer read the result, the old teammates shared a long embrace, with Burns literally crying on the champion's shoulder as Usman whispered a private pep talk in his ear. It was the kind of moment you can never really explain to a non-MMA fan, but it's one of the little things that makes the sport so lovable if you take the time to get to know it. 

Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Usman loves to call himself a problem. It seems that's always been his catchphrase, and it's more apt now than ever as he rules at 170 pounds and likely climbs a spot or two on the pound-for-pound rankings. But he also now poses a new kind of problem: Who will he fight next?

In his last four, he's beaten Burns, Tyron Woodley, Colby Covington and Jorge Masvidal. Leon Edwards doesn't seem quite ready, particularly since he's already feuding with other fighters. Stephen Thompson is 2-2 in his last four and doesn't seem well suited for Usman's power-grinding style, but it could work. Georges St-Pierre has long been bandied, but that ship seems more remote on the horizon by the day.

After the bout, Usman called out Masvidal for a rematch. Good on Masvidal for trash-talking his way back into the title picture, but given that Usman dominated Masvidal in their original match, it's hard to say whether the UFC will grant Usman's wish.

It's clear after Saturday that Usman doesn't need an opponent who can pick up the promotional slack. To be honest, there aren't a whole lot of fighters who seem ready to meet a task as tall as Usman. If you want to tell him any different, be my guest.