This weekend saw UFC Welterweight champion Kamaru Usman make history in his title defense at UFC 258. Not only did The Nigerian Nightmare defeat challenger Gilbert Burns, but he also extended his UFC win streak to 13 fights.
So is Kamaru Usman now the greatest Welterweight in UFC history, or does that title still belong to the great Georges St. Pierre?
It’s a question that it appears UFC President Dana White is considering, at least. Following UFC 258, White stated that after Usman’s win over Burns, it was “undeniable” that the Nigerian would go down as the best Welterweight of all time.
So can we put this down to more hyperbole from White? Or has Usman truly surpassed arguably the greatest MMA fighter of all time?
Has Kamaru Usman surpassed Georges St. Pierre?
It is undeniable that following his win over Gilbert Burns, Kamaru Usman has now surpassed Georges St. Pierre’s greatest UFC winning streak.
Between 2003 and 2017, St. Pierre put together an astonishing UFC record of 20-2. His best winning streak came from 2007 – when he outpointed Josh Koscheck – through to his last fight in 2017, encompassing 13 fights.
However, his final win came as a Middleweight against then-UFC champion Michael Bisping.
So that means that with his win over Burns, Kamaru Usman now has 13 UFC wins in a row at Welterweight – breaking St. Pierre’s record.
However, it’s worth looking at the quality of Kamaru Usman’s wins when compared to those of Georges St. Pierre.
St. Pierre won the UFC Welterweight title from Matt Serra in the third fight of his 12-fight streak. That means that nine of his fights during that streak were title defenses against the toughest fighters the UFC had to offer at the time.
Highly rated fighters like Thiago Alves, Carlos Condit, and Nick Diaz all fell to GSP during that run.
Kamaru Usman, on the other hand, has never been beaten in the UFC, meaning that his current 13-win streak encompasses his entire UFC career.
The Nigerian Nightmare won the UFC Welterweight title in his 10th fight with the promotion and has since defended it on three occasions.
However, that means that nine of his wins came prior to his title win. And while he did beat some great fighters on his way up – Demian Maia, Rafael Dos Anjos, and Leon Edwards – many of his wins came against lesser-regarded foes like Emil Meek and Hayder Hassan.
With that in mind, despite breaking his record for UFC Welterweight wins in a row, it’s hard to really suggest Kamaru Usman has surpassed Georges St. Pierre’s legacy.
Is Kamaru Usman more dominant inside the Octagon than Georges St. Pierre was?
It’s hard to argue that Kamaru Usman has surpassed Georges St. Pierre’s overall legacy in the UFC. But there is an argument that he’s more dominant than GSP was inside the Octagon.
Like Kamaru Usman, St. Pierre’s dominance was sometimes criticized by fans who felt that he didn’t do enough in terms of finishing his opponents off.
After winning the UFC Welterweight title by stopping Matt Serra in 2008, St. Pierre only finished one more fight at 170lbs – a corner stoppage of BJ Penn in 2009.
But this penchant for fights going the distance didn’t really rear its head for St. Pierre until he won the UFC title. Prior to that, he finished opponents like Sean Sherk, Frank Trigg, and Matt Hughes in violent fashion.
Strangely, Kamaru Usman’s UFC career has gone the other way. The Nigerian Nightmare was widely criticized for a boring fight style on his way up the ladder.
But since winning the UFC title from Tyron Woodley, he’s become more violent and has finished two of his three title defenses.
That suggests that while St. Pierre was capable of dominating his opponents, he probably reached his ceiling during his title reign.
Kamaru Usman, on the other hand, seems to be getting better and better with every fight. And that’s manifested itself in his ability to stop opponents who are arguably tougher than ones who lasted the distance with him.
With that in mind, if Kamaru Usman can reach a number of title defenses close to St. Pierre’s total of nine – while also continuing to finish most of his foes – then the argument for him surpassing GSP would become much stronger.
Will Kamaru Usman stay at Welterweight long enough to surpass GSP?
There can be no doubt that if he continues on his current trajectory, Kamaru Usman will definitely have a good shot at surpassing Georges St. Pierre as the greatest Welterweight in UFC history.
But will The Nigerian Nightmare stay at 170lbs for long enough to actually achieve it?
It’s certainly true that today’s UFC champions are more willing to move into different weight classes in an attempt to cement their legacies.
This could be labeled the Conor McGregor effect. Prior to the rise of The Notorious One, the only UFC champion who attempted to claim gold in another weight class was BJ Penn.
And The Prodigy failed in his attempt to hold both the UFC Lightweight and Welterweight titles when he lost to GSP at UFC 94.
But since McGregor moved up to 155lbs to become the UFC’s first simultaneous champion, it seems that every UFC belt-holder wants to follow in his footsteps. This has been the case even after just one or two title defenses.
And sure, looking to enter in a ‘super-fight’ against a fellow UFC champion might mean more money. But as the likes of Max Holloway and TJ Dillashaw found out, it doesn’t always work out.
But will Kamaru Usman follow the same path? It’s actually doubtful, surprisingly enough.
Firstly, the UFC Welterweight division has always seen its champions stick around for the long haul. Early champions like Pat Miletich and Matt Hughes put together multiple title defenses before being dethroned. And of course, Georges St. Pierre built a real legacy thanks to his willingness to defend against all comers.
Even since GSP relinquished the UFC Welterweight title in 2014, we’ve seen both Robbie Lawler and Tyron Woodley go on lengthy reigns before Kamaru Usman claimed the gold in 2019.
So why is this? Well, the truth is that for all the fuss that the UFC Lightweight division gets, Welterweight is an equally deep division in the UFC. That means that the queue of contenders is constantly growing and refreshing itself.
Kamaru Usman might’ve defeated Colby Covington, Jorge Masvidal, and Gilbert Burns. But he still hasn’t fought Stephen Thompson, Michael Chiesa, or Leon Edwards in title fights. And that isn’t even mentioning red-hot prospects such as Khamzat Chimaev and Miguel Baeza.
Add in the fact that to move weight classes, Kamaru Usman would either have to lose or gain 15lbs. And the chances of him chasing a second UFC title seem slim.
So with all of this considered, will Kamaru Usman end up being seen as the greatest Welterweight in UFC history when all is said and done?
Right now, the answer is no. Georges St. Pierre’s legacy is unmatched in the entire sport of MMA, let alone in the UFC. However, give him two or three more years to overhaul St. Pierre’s record of nine title defenses, and he should definitely be in the conversation.