There are many reasons to get excited about a title fight. The most obvious one clearly being… well, the fact that a world championship is being fought over between, more often than not, the very best athletes that a division has to offer. If the excitement of a shiny gold belt being on the line wasn’t enticing then the UFC wouldn’t demand that all pay-per-views are headlined by them. According to them, of course.
UFC 251: Usman vs. Masvidal is this weekend!
Three title fights are scheduled for UFC Fight Island on Saturday, July 11. Order the PPV now on ESPN+.
Despite all the anticipation that can surround a championship duel, that doesn’t mean that all are created equally in terms of hype as well as delivery. For some divisions, there can be a string of these bouts that can be less than spectacular, whether that’s the champion’s fault or just a matter of a bad stylistic clash.
Although the unbelievably stacked 170-pound welterweight class homes several of the best fighters on the planet today, in specific regards to the UFC, the most important fights at the top of the heap haven’t quite offered up as much as they did at one point six years ago.
However, that will all be changing sooner rather than later once the current kingpin in Nigerian-born, Kamaru Usman attempts to defend his newly earned title against brash top contender, Colby Covington. At UFC 244 on November 2 in Madison Square Garden, it will be the biggest welterweight title fight since Georges St-Pierre was pushed to the limit by Johny Hendricks.
Since the long-awaited for and unfortunately controversial match-up of wrestling based combatants in 2013, we have indeed seen some very solid fights and performances that saw the gold be exchanged. Perhaps the best of them all even directly followed St-Pierre vs Hendricks when “Bigg Rigg” officially was crowned as the division’s ruler by defeating the always dangerous veteran, Robbie Lawler at UFC 171.
As prefaced, the fights that have followed St-Pierre vs Hendricks have had bright spots, no doubt about it. But if we rewind back to that specific one, the hype has yet to be matched.
The man known as “Rush” was already established as the greatest of all-time at welterweight and was arguably the best in history regardless of the weight. While he was walking through the likes of Carlos Condit and Nick Diaz following a return from a torn ACL, Hendricks was punching top contenders’ skeletons out of their skin and showing that he was a legitimate threat to be the one that could take out St-Pierre.
Many believed that the Oklahoma native in Hendricks should have been rewarded with his title shot earlier than he was. And in hindsight, that’s still fine to say. On the same night that “GSP” took on his bitter rival in the aforementioned Diaz, who was fresh of a loss, Hendricks starched perennial top 10 contender, Martin Kampman in just 46 seconds. If anything, it should have been Diaz vs Kampman and St-Pierre vs Hendricks at UFC 158.
Because of this somewhat elongated path for Hendricks, fans began to make the claim that the iconic Canadian was afraid of his future opposition and that he knew how tough of a test was ahead of him. And as evidenced by the fight, Hendricks would be exactly that. Therefore only further provided ammo for the critics.
Fast forward to 2019 and a similar situation has unfolded in the division but the claims have now been made in reverse with the clear top contender assumed to be afraid of the champion. Or in this case; champions.
MMA fans can be as anti-Covington as they want, which is just what he wants, but at this stage, there’s absolutely no denying the skills that the proud American brings to the table. And the same can obviously be said for his upcoming adversary in the champion, Usman.
When breaking down each fighter’s skill set, this match-up is one of the very best we can get in the sport right now. They’re both athletic freaks and are practically the exact same fighter which is even crazier. The only key difference appears to be Covington’s relentless striking volume. Something that “The Nigerian Nightmare” has yet to be tasked with handling.
They’re both immovable objects and unstoppable forces with their grinding wrestling and consistently smothering pressure, whether striking or grappling.
St-Pierre vs Hendricks was a big fight solely based on the competitors’ abilities, and rightfully so. However, there’s an added element to Usman vs Covington that has become a trend over the years and that’s the bad blood. Which admittedly is the case with every Covington fight…
Unlike “Chaos'” most recent victim in the former champion, Lawler, Usman has already reciprocated in the back and forth banter – prior to and after the unexpected clash at UFC Minneapolis.
Modern-day fans just enjoy the entertainment value that two fighters disliking each other bring to the table. Primarily in Covington’s case, people just want to see the guy get beat up, which is more than enough to add extra intrigue to the fight overall.
To top it all off, as has – for the most part – been the case at 170-pounds since Hendricks was on the wrong end of that split decision to St-Pierre, Usman vs Covington is a clash between the two consensus best of their class. And in the end, that’s all that spectators really ask for; fights pitting the absolute best against one another.
A lot of questions can be answered when the pair square off and emotions could very well be high. Despite his constant trash talk, Covington has remained a picture of composure on fight night. On Usman’s side, he has yet to show any serious signs of being triggered in this build-up. Or that of any past fight, honestly. But with Covington firmly locked in his crosshairs, will that remain the same in the lead-up to UFC 244?
We’ll see if any holes can be poked into each man’s seemingly impervious armors. It’s not often we get fights where the fighters are as similarly dominant as these two.
One way or another, this fight should leave a solid mark on the division’s rich and storied history.
Drake Riggs is an MMA writer based out of Brush Prairie, Washington, USA who specializes in feature pieces, the women's fight scene, lists, news coverage, and rankings. He has been a passionate fan of MMA ever since 2009. Drake has most notably written for BJPenn.com, FanSided, The Body Lock, South China Morning Post, MyMMANews, Cageside Press, Sherdog, The Scrap, and MMA Today. He has also written for and created video content for RT Sport. As for other sports, Drake is a longtime fan of the NFL's Green Bay Packers and Jacksonville Jaguars.You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram: @DrakeRiggs_ . Also check out all of his video content on YouTube at: "Drake Riggs" where he uploads fighter interviews, podshows, and various other types of content.