UFC #7 ranked welterweight Kamaru Usman has all but 7 fights under the promotion, but he feels he’s been deserving of a ranked opponent for the longest time. Tonight at UFC Chile he gets what he’s been asking for, but where will a victory over Demian Maia put him?
Kamaru Usman, 31, has been in the UFC for nearly three years, but the self described most avoided fighter in the welterweight division has been itching for a ranked opponent for some time now. The problem is that five of his seven UFC victories have come by way of decision. Usman’s first round KO win over Sergio Moraes last September was probably the biggest statement he’s made. The “Nigerian nightmare” put fans and his division on notice and proclaimed himself as a problem for his competition.
Usman followed up his impressive performance with a lackluster win over unranked Emil Meek in January, which did him no favors. Usman proceeded to make things worse when he got on the microphone and stated that we had just witnessed only 30% of his effort. Injured or not, the reaction was a negative one especially after his previous KO victory. Fans hoping to see another knockout performance were treated to another unanimous decision win instead.
Usman’s complaints about the rankings ironically worked out in his favor as he went from being ranked tenth to seventh following his win over an unranked opponent. Still, the season 21 winner of TUF was matched up against the #11 ranked Santiago Ponzinibbio until he was forced out of the bout due to injury. Enter Demian Maia.
Demian Maia took the fight on a month’s notice and put his professionalism on display by making the weight. Maia also secured himself what he claims to be his final contract with the UFC. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu master won’t be competing for much longer and his last two fights were evident of that. Maia lost to current champion Tyron Woodley and interim title contender Colby Covington. Both losses were proof that Maia’s jiu-jitsu can be nullified by high level wrestlers. Usman believes he is the highest level wrestler in the division.
If he can hand Maia his third consecutive loss then it can only mean bigger fights going forward for Usman. And if he fails to do so then it will be quite the setback for the former Blackzillian. Usman could feel pressured to put on a better performance than Covington, but it’s also worth noting that the former only had a month to prepare for the human backpack. Usman’s lone MMA loss took place in 2013 via rear-naked choke. Three of Maia’s last seven victories came by way of the rear-naked choke and he is likely hoping to add to that list.
Both men have 25 minutes to do their worse. Maia’s cardio will be something to keep an eye on given his short preparation for this bout and Usman would be putting himself at further risk the longer the bout goes. It’s also worth noting that Maia’s last two losses came against high level wrestlers who opted to keep the fight standing. It’d be wise for Usman to do the same, but old habits tend to die hard. Usman might have to rely on his striking, which is something he’s not accustomed to doing. All in all tonight should separate the contenders from the pretenders.