Kamaru Usman is a force to be reckoned with. He is on the verge of cleaning out the UFC welterweight division as the weight class is running out of contenders who 'The Nigerian Nightmare' hasn't already defeated. He's currently set to rematch former foe Leon Edwards at UFC 278. Should the reigning welterweight champion overcome Edwards as expected, he'll have fewer interesting matchups in this division.
Thus, the 170 lbs divisional kingpin has expressed an interest in plying his trade in the light heavyweight division in what would be an unprecedented feat in modern-day mixed martial arts. If UFC President Dana White agrees to Usman's demands, the Nigerian will bypass the middleweight division altogether, likely out of respect for fellow Nigerian Israel Adesanya.
The challenge Kamaru Usman would face is unlike any other. Not only will he encounter an enormous 35 lbs weight difference, but he'll be locking horns with men who walk around as heavyweights when they're not forced to cut weight. The problems this presents are plentiful and this list outlines five of them.
#5. Kamaru Usman's strength will be nonexistent
At welterweight, 'The Nigerian Nightmare' is a physical specimen unlike any other. Kamaru Usman possesses enormous power, steely durability, endless cardio and brutish strength. Against other welterweights, the strength advantage he wields is significant, enabling him to ragdoll his opponents in the wrestling department.
This is due to Kamaru Usman's muscular build and his overall size as one of the largest welterweights on the UFC roster. Usman is so large that he would not be out of place at middleweight, as he is slightly bigger than even former UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker.
However, weight classes exist for a reason. Part of the reason is the assumption that a massive weight disparity between two differently sized fighters is caused by functional mass. Thus, significantly larger fighters possess far more functional mass than their smaller counterparts in the lower weight classes.
So as strong as Kamaru Usman is at welterweight, he is unlikely to have the kind of strength to contend with anyone who has at least 35 lbs of functional mass more than he does. This principle was evident in Luke Rockhold and Chris Weidman's failed attempts in the light heavyweight division, with both men being much larger and stronger than Kamaru Usman yet finding themselves outmuscled and overpowered against larger foes nonetheless.
#4. His wrestling will be ineffective
Kamaru Usman is a power-wrestler. While he does not dive at his opponent's hips to secure explosive double-leg takedowns due to the poor physical condition that his knees are in from all of the wear and tear over the years, Kamaru Usman often relies on strength as much as technique to outmuscle and overpower his foes in the clinch.
However, due to the size difference between him and the light heavyweights he'll encounter, 'The Nigerian Nightmare' will find that his wrestling will not be nearly as effective as it is in the welterweight division or as effective as it could be in the middleweight division. The trips, throws and slams that Usman specializes in will prove difficult to secure against taller and longer foes.
Usman, perhaps for the first time in his MMA career, will encounter opponents who have greater leverage than he does in the clinch due to their superior length and height.
Furthermore, Kamaru Usman will have the same problems Jon Jones faced when he fought Alexander Gustafsson in their first bout and the same problems Daniel Cormier faced when he and Jones first locked horns. Wrestling against tall opponents is especially difficult when they widen their base to defend takedowns.
#3. The size difference will affect his striking
While Kamaru Usman possesses the same reach that former UFC light heavyweight champion Glover Teixeira does, there is a difference most observers fail to account for. Teixeira is a few inches taller than Usman. Thus, even with arms of the same length, 'The Nigerian Nightmare' will be punching two or three inches upwards against Teixeira.
What this means is that even against Teixeira, Kamaru Usman will be at a reach disadvantage of two or three inches because he will have to punch two or three inches higher. Without his reach advantage, the welterweight kingpin will not be able to implement his jab or his right cross.
Usman throws his jab with violent intentions. He steps in as he jabs, putting all of his weight behind the punch as he extends it from the shoulder. However, as powerful as his jab is, 'The Nigerian Nightmare' recognizes that a jab is a weapon of attrition that requires a follow-up to deter opponents from simply coming forward and smothering him.
To do so, Kamaru Usman often pairs his jab with a seismic right cross. Unfortunately, at light heavyweight, his reach and height will be so short that Usman will have to step into range and risk getting countered every time he hopes to throw his straight punches. He will no longer have the luxury of hitting his foes from a distance at which they can't return fire.
Instead, he will have to step in and put himself in position to be counter-struck every time he hopes to land his own blows. Least of all against the current light heavyweight champion Jiří Procházka whose arms are 80 inches long while standing 4 inches taller than Usman, bringing his reach to 84 inches against the Nigerian.
#2. His worn out knees will trouble him
Fight fans around the world have noticed the night and day difference between Kamaru Usman's upper and lower body. The Nigerian's torso is well-muscled, featuring both great size and a low body fat percentage. His legs, however, leave a lot to be desired, being visibly thinner than what many expected to match his herculean torso.
Usman has explained the reason behind this as being due to the amount of wear and tear his knees have suffered from all the years he spent as a wrestler. The damage has rendered him unable to do much work involving his lower body. This does not bode well for a debut in the light heavyweight division.
Knee injuries are not uncommon when an awkward turn happens during a takedown. This is more common when smaller wrestlers opt to face much larger ones. A wrong twist while trying to wrestle a significantly bigger opponent can cause a fight-ending knee injury.
The light heavyweight division features heavy low kickers who will demolish his thin, injury-prone legs. Fighters like Jan Błachowicz will pose true threats as the Polish great even injured recent opponent Alexander Rakić's knee with a low kick.
#1. There is no potential champion he can defeat
It remains unclear who the current UFC light heavyweight champion, Jiří Procházka, will face. However, there are three men Kamaru Usman will likely encounter should he defeat Leon Edwards to challenge whoever will be reigning as the light heavyweight champion by then. Jiří Procházka, Glover Teixeira and Jan Błachowicz make up all three of his potential opponents.
Procházka might rematch Teixeira or face Błachowicz in a fresh matchup. No matter who wins in either bout, Usman will be facing a stiff challenge. Jiří Procházka is too tall and long, and will outstrike the Nigerian from a distance that he will not be able to return fire from.
His jab will be nullified, and his chin will not withstand the level of power that Procházka carries in every strike he throws, least of all because Usman has been hurt by Gilbert Burns and even Colby Covington.
Glover Teixeira will present the kind of Brazilian jiu-jitsu threat to neutralize Usman's wrestling, forcing the Nigerian into a kickboxing bout with a taller, more powerful striker who can walk through his best punches as even Procházka could not knock out Teixeira. Lastly, Błachowicz will prove incredibly difficult to take down due to his brutish strength and improved takedown defense.
The Polish legend immediately digs for underhooks to stuff takedowns and if Usman is unable to wrestle him, as Luke Rockhold was unable to, he will be forced into an ill-suited kickboxing bout where his weak knees will be brutalized by Błachowicz's powerful low kicks and wrestling.