Nigeria’s Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) welterweight champion, Kamaru Usman has found himself placed against daunting odds heading into this weekend’s title fight with Jorge Masvidal as several pundits believe the challenger has a better chance of winning the bout, megasportsarena.com gathered.
Although Usman is the current champ and younger of the two fighters, with a better win ratio also to flaunt, the verdict among fight pundits is that experience and pedigree would mace the difference for Masvidal, who holds the record of the UFC’s fastest knock-out victory of all time.
While mere fans would insist that Usman is still the man to beat in the 170-pound division, the view from two leading pundits is that Sunday’s encounter is a golden chance that Masvidal will not let slip through his fists; though the 35-13 challenger took on the fight at short notice, after the original contender, Gilbert Burns was forced to pull out after testing positive for COVID-19.
Among the critics are two of the most respected and biggest pundits in the sport, who are bold enough to openly put their votes against Usman ahead of Sunday’s bout, in which the UFC’s welterweight belt will be on the line when ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ tangos Masvidal on ‘Fight Island’ in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Yahoo Sports’ combat columnist, Kevin Iole opined: “A simple question surrounds the reconstituted main event of UFC 251 on Saturday in Abu Dhabi: Who really has more to lose when Kamaru Usman defends the welterweight title against Jorge Masvidal on Fight Island?
“The conventional wisdom is that Masvidal has all the risk. He took the bout on six days’ notice after Gilbert Burns failed a COVID-19 test and was forced to withdraw. Masvidal has to drop 22 pounds by Friday morning to make the welterweight division’s 170-pound title fight limit, and though he’s been in the gym helping teammates, including Dustin Poirier.
“But while Masvidal clearly saved the show and helped boost its pay-per-view prospects, the risk lies primarily on the side of the champion. Masvidal has morphed into one of the best promoters in the game, and his disdain for Usman makes it easy for him to sell a card that includes two other title fights.
“Early tracking indicates a higher-than-expected sales rate. All of that, though, overlooks the risks that Usman faces and what is at stake for him: He trained for a fighter with a grappling-heavy style, and now has to switch to prepare for a kickboxer.
“If he loses to a guy who did not have a legitimate training camp, he’ll look less than the dominant fighter who blew out Tyron Woodley and who rallied to stop Colby Covington in the final round of his first title defense.
“If Masvidal loses, he has the built-in excuse of having taken the fight on short notice and then had to quarantine in his room for 48 hours upon his arrival in Abu Dhabi. Usman has no such luxury.
“A Masvidal win would send him into a lucrative payday against the likes of Nate Diaz or Conor McGregor. An Usman loss would like put him into a difficult rematch with either Covington or Leon Edwards, because he’s unlikely to fight Burns, his close friend, unless there is a title at stake.
“So this isn’t just a breeze for Usman, who found out Masvidal had accepted the bout while he was about to eat a Mexican dinner at the Dallas-Forth Worth International Airport while he was en route home to Florida.
“Usman and Masvidal could have been remembered for a brawl in a Las Vegas hotel lobby if each of them had been looking in slightly the opposite direction. On Sunday, Masvidal had arrived in Las Vegas to undergo his COVID-19 test and other medical tests needed to compete. Usman was in the hotel awaiting a flight on Monday to Abu Dhabi.
“Masvidal was in the lobby at a bank of elevators waiting to go to his room. Two elevators arrived and opened at the same time. Masvidal got in the one on the left just as Usman was exiting the one on the right. They didn’t see each other, but if they had, the fight Saturday could have been a rematch. Usman, though, said he’s not interested in brawling in a hotel lobby.”
On his part English MMA pioneer, Mark Weir told Sky Sports that all the pressure is on Usman and added: “He’s in a lose-lose situation. It doesn’t matter what he does. He’s just got to win the fight. He’s just got to take this guy out.
“I think he’s going to try and keep him at bay, because his strength is going to be going into the later rounds. I cannot see him trying to take a risk – he doesn’t need to. In the championship rounds, I reckon that’s where he can actually shine.
“(As for Masvidal,) he’s a street-fighter. He’s got nerves…Excitement of those nerves probably get him fighting even better. For me, I reckon it’s a win-win on his side. He loves that tension, and people against him. He’s the underdog. Everything is in his favour. He can’t lose out of this. He’s going to go in, go for broke I reckon, and no matter what I think he’ll get a rematch. If he wins this though, if he pulls it off, the sky is the limit!
“This is the best thing ever. It’s made everyone really excited about it. It’s happened before in the past – people step in last minute. We’ve had a few upsets as well. This could be another upset, but I think this would have to be a quick fight for him to pull it off against Usman. Cardio is not in his favour.
“On paper, I would say definitely Usman is prepared and stronger. But it’s just his style. I really do believe [Masvidal] is going to run and close him down. Usman is going to want to keep him at range, which is hard to do really. My prediction is, in the later rounds Usman.”
Usman calmly retorted in response to both permutations: “Each and every time you step in there, there’s always a risk, especially in my situation. First of all, I have everything to lose. I’m the champion of the world. It was my decision [to accept the Masvidal fight].
“I could have said no. Everyone’s like, ‘Oh, this guy’s stepping in on short notice.’ Yeah, I understand that, but he had one guy to train for and that’s me. I’m the champion. I’m the guy everyone’s training for. But I had to be the one to say, ‘Yeah, I’ll take that fight. I’ll take on that challenge.’
“There’s always a risk to step in there, but especially doing it on seven, six, seven days’ notice after you just trained for a different opponent [with] a different style and now having to make that mental switch. But at the end of the day, this is what champions are made of. This is what champions are remembered for.”