The UFC welterweight division was conquered by Kamaru Usman in 2019 after his win against Tyron Woodley. Since then, he has successfully defended his title thrice - against Colby Covington, Jorge Masvidal and Gilbert Burns.
The UFC's number two pound-for-pound fighter and current welterweight champion Kamaru Usman (18-1-0) has built a strong legacy of his own. The 'Nigerian Nightmare' is unbeaten since 2013. Having won 17 consecutive fights (13 in UFC) in the welterweight division now, Usman is a puzzle that seems unsolvable.
However, a lineup of lethal fighters are just waiting for an opportunity to snatch the UFC welterweight title from Kamaru Usman. Let's take a look at five fighters who can become the next UFC welterweight champion.
#5 - Jorge Masvidal
Jorge Masvidal (35-14-1) will soon take on Kamaru Usman in a rematch at UFC 261 to avenge is loss less than a year ago at UFC 251.
At UFC 251, Jorge Masvidal started early on with nasty kicks and boxing combinations on Kamaru Usman, often slipping the champ's loaded hooks. However, Kamaru Usman kept on unleashing his fury and putting pressure on 'Gamebred', round after round.
Kamaru Usman out-striked and out-wrestled Masvidal in their previous fight. Having dealt a total of 88 strikes throughout the fight and zero takedown attempts, Jorge Masvidal ate up 263 strikes by Kamaru Usman in return. He was also driven into the mat as many as five times.
It was a surprise that Jorge Masvidal was still standing solid on his feet by the end of the fight. That is precisely why he is being backed to cause an upset and steal the belt from Kamaru Usman. That, and Jorge's massive experience with 35 MMA wins on his resume.
Speaking about the possible result of a rematch between him and Jorge Masvidal, Kamaru Usman told ESPN:
"He doesn’t have the skills to beat me. Now, is there a possibility of an unusual accident on a particular day? Definitely. But 10 out of 10 times I hit him badly — badly."
The 'accident' is what could make Jorge Masvidal the new welterweight champion. Take away the battering received against Usman at UFC 251 and Jorge Masvidal was coming off a great three-fight streak.
'Street Jesus' does, indeed, have a chance at 'baptizing' the UFC welterweight champion at UFC 261.
#4 - Stephen Thompson
As the saying goes, styles make fights. Stephen Thompson is a good match-up for Kamaru Usman. While the 'Nigerian Nightmare' is an accomplished grappler and wrestler, 'Wonderboy' is known for his distinct karate and kickboxing.
Ranked number five in the UFC welterweight division and aged 38, Stephen Thompson is one of the most accomplished strikers in UFC history. With five KO/TKO finishes to his name, 'Wonderboy' is technically ahead of Kamaru Usman (three KO/TKOs) when it comes to striking in the UFC.
In his previous fights, Stephen Thompson (15-4-1) has defeated top-ranked strikers like Johnny Hendricks, Jorge Masvidal, Vicente Luque and Geoff Neal.
The biggest reason for pitting 'Wonderboy' against Kamaru Usman is that he is the only fighter in the current UFC top 5 who the current UFC welterweight champion hasn't faced.
After Kamaru Usman's successful title defense against Gilbert Burns at UFC 258, Stephen Thompson called out the welterweight champion on Twitter.
However, when the news broke that Usman was pitted against Jorge Masvidal for a rematch at UFC 262, Stephen Thompson told Submission Radio:
"I was definitely disappointed to hear that I wouldn't be getting it. I mean it was a long shot, there's a lot of guys that are ranked above me that are looking for that shot. You know, Colby Covington and a lot of these guys have already faced him. Of course, I was pushing, I'm the only guy he hadn't fought. I thought that would be interesting."
Despite coming off a 2-2 record in his last four fights in the UFC welterweight division, a curveball like Stephen Thompson could be just what it takes to defeat Kamaru Usman.
#3 - Leon Edwards
Leon Edwards (18-3-0, 1 NC) took on Kamaru Usman in 2015, losing the fight via unanimous decision. Usman had outclassed Leon Edwards completely, outstriking him, especially in the clinch. On top of that, the 'Nigerian Nightmare' outwrestled him too with a total control time of almost 11 minutes in a 15-minute fight.
However, Leon Edwards had managed to hurt Kamaru Usman on a few occasions as well. Since losing the fight against Usman almost six years ago, Leon Edwards has shown tremendous growth. Improving on his wrestling and scrambling abilities, 'Rocky' has gone on an eight-fight winning streak.
Ever since his loss against Kamaru Usman, Leon Edwards has outwrestled his previous opponents such as Albert Tumenov and Dominic Waters. The Brit has also heavily outstruck recent opponents like Vicente Luque, Peter Sabotta, Donald Cerrone and Gunnar Nelson.
In 2019, Leon Edwards displayed elite-level wrestling when he defeated Rafael Dos Anjos via decision after three successful takedowns and 113 total strikes.
Edwards hasn't fought since 2019 due to the pandemic and a series of canceled bouts against Khamzat Chimaev. His most recent bout against Belal Muhammad was declared a no contest after an eye poke.
However, Leon Edwards is set to pick up from there with a fight against Nate Diaz at UFC 262. Provided he bests Nate Diaz, 'Rocky' will present himself as one of the more well-rounded challenges for UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman.
#2 - Gilbert Burns
Gilbert Burns (19-4-0) lost against Kamaru Usman recently at UFC 258 via TKO. The welterweight champion successfully defended his title, abruptly ending Burns' six-fight win streak.
However, Gilbert Burns still makes for a deadly match-up for Kamaru Usman, and might get the better of the 'Nigerian Nightmare' in a rematch.
It's a known fact that Gilbert Burns has what it takes to dethrone the second most successful UFC welterweight champion after George St-Pierre. 'Durinho' has the ground game and the striking ability.
After losing against Gilbert Burns last year, Tyron Woodley lauded the Brazilian, saying that he was a better grappler with a harder punch than Kamaru Usman.
Speaking on the UFC Unfiltered Podcast, Woodley said:
"(Burns) has power. He has more power than Usman. He's a better grappler than Usman, jiu-jitsu wise, but I think the striking—he may not be better, but he does punch a little bit harder."
What Tyron Woodley said tallies with the result of UFC 258. Coming into the fight, Gilbert Burns started stinging Usman early, displaying his power advantage. He also controlled the pace of the fight, keeping it at the center of the octagon, not letting Usman hold him against the cage.
However, the 'Nigerian Nightmare' adjusted well after inputs from his corner. While defending Gilbert Burns' takedown attempts, Kamaru Usman started hitting him with hurtful jabs and hooks before finishing him off with a ground-and-pound attack.
If a rematch takes place, the number two ranked welterweight will have a great chance at dethroning the champion, especially after having seen the fight footage and making adjustments accordingly.
#1 - Colby Covington
Kamaru Usman has risen victorious against six of the current top 10 welterweight fighters in the UFC. The champion has defended his title three times, against Covington, Masival and Burns. But no other fighter has given him a tougher time than Colby Covington.
Colby Covington was the first to challenge Kamaru Usman for the welterweight title at UFC 245 in 2019. In what was awarded the Fight of the Night by UFC, Covington and Usman put up a hell of a slugfest.
Kamaru Usman put away Colby Covington late in the fifth round, earning himself an award for the latest finish in UFC welterweight history. However, up until the fifth round, Covington had really tested Usman, stinging him with stiff jabs, swinging hooks and leg kicks.
Kamaru Usman, who usually dominates his opponents, was nearly bested by Covington. Colby had not just matched Usman's relentless pace and cardio, but was going all guns blazing without even attempting a takedown.
Had Kamaru Usman not TKO'ed Colby Covington in the fifth round, the result could have gone either way. Up until the fifth round, one judge had scored the fight 3-1 in favor of Covington, one had it 3-1 for Usman, and the third had it tied at two rounds each.
A more interesting fact that reflects Covington's toughness is that his jaw was reportedly broken in the third round. 'Chaos' had gone through the last two rounds sustaining excruciating pain.
With the heated rivalry between Colby Covington and Kamaru Usman, it would not just be a high-selling PPV event, but could also see a new UFC welterweight champion.
With Kamaru Usman scheduled for a rematch against Jorge Masvidal at UFC 261, Covington says he is weight-ready in case either fighter pulls out for some reason.
Covington told The Schmo:
"Everybody knows: The UFC hasn’t told me, but I think it’s pretty self-explanatory that I’m the backup guy. If anything happens, anybody gets COVID, anybody gets cold feet and pulls out of that fight, I’m showing up. That’s right down the road from me."