When Khamzat Chimaev’s first opponent Paulo Costa was pulled from UFC 294 for medical reasons, fans speculated who could fill in on such short notice. The former welterweight king Kamaru Usman will be making his 185lb debut in the UFC when he does just that.
Usman, who last fought in March, where he lost the rubber match with current champion Leon Edwards, is regarded as one of the best welterweights of all time and one of the best pound-for-pound champions of the current era. He defended his title five times, notching victories over Jorge Masvidal and Colby Covington twice each and Gilbert Burns once.
Burns is also the man to give Chimaev his toughest test to date, a three-round war in 2022. He has since marked down one more win, a submission of Kevin Holland at a catchweight in September 2022, before taking off significant time and making his way to middleweight.
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The line would likely be closer, given both men the appropriate time to train and prepare, but on short notice, Kamaru Usman will come in the +225 underdog
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The general consensus from fans about both Kamaru Usman and Alexander Volkanovski is that both men would likely make it a razor-sharp fight given normal circumstances, but on late notice, it’s a tough puzzle to solve. However, unlike Volkanovski, Usman does have a few added advantages.
Kamaru Usman has always been a big welterweight and known to cut a decent amount of weight. Therefore, he is fighting arguably closer to his natural weight class, without a large weight cut. He is also fighting for the first time in a long time – for only three rounds. From May 2018- March 2023, Usman has fought exclusively in fights scheduled for five rounds, seeing the fifth in 8 of those 10 times. Between the lack of weight cutting and the shorter fight time, Usman can have some confidence that his conditioning and pace will hold up, especially against a guy in Chimaev who is a fast starter and who has showed fatigue in the past.
Chimaev has so far looked nearly unstoppable because he gets his opponents out of the fight in the first round, if not the earliest exchanges of round two with one exception. Chimaev has exceptional wrestling, looking to throw out big flurries of strikes from the opening bell only to set up a blast double, which he can chain around to taking the back and riding his opponents. What he does so well is not only chain his wrestling techniques together, but recycle his choke attempts between control positions, which is what allows him to snatch Darce chokes and other submissions off of wrestling transitions from the back and front headlock positions.
Both men are great wrestlers, but the major differences are the explosive and early physicality of Chimaev, meaning he will likely get ahead in the first round in terms of wrestling, and the submission skills. Usman may be contentious in wrestling exchanges but has to watch his neck, whereas that isn’t likely as great a concern for Chimaev. Usman on the other hand, may want to wrestle to drain Chimaev, who can make mistakes on the feet the more tired he gets.
One of these mistakes is keeping his head on the centre line. Both Usman and Chimaev strike on a line primarily and utilize straight punches. However, usman is good at dipping inside when he jabs, whereas Chimaev shows good head movement in early exchanges but can abandon it the dirtier the fight gets. Gilbert Burns, found success working Chimaev’s body with kicks, but Usman may go to the body with his cross, and lead liver hook, as another means to take away the wind of Chimaev.
When both are fresh, I do like Chimaev’s chances. Both men are dominant wrestlers, with powerful striking and knockout power. Chimaev has shown some slick striking mostly prior to his UFC days, and shown great offensive striking in the UFC so far.
However the one blotch on his otherwise perfect performances was Gilbert Burns, where he was dragged into a war, and although victorious did show a lack of fluidity and comfort on the feet when he was forced to take those big deep breathes late in the fight.
Usman is a veteran, and if anyone in his position is set up to take advantage of this in the second half of the fight, it’s him. I do think Chimaev earns points early, and Usman late, if it was all equal I give to the edge to Chimaev banking the first two rounds but at +225, Usman turning the momentum of the fight earlier than that is a decent value.
Pick: Kamaru Usman to win (+225 at BetUS)