UFC 251: Kamaru Usman beats Jorge Masvidal to retain title in Abu Dhabi

The Nigeria-born champion saw off the American via a unanimous decision at Flash Forum to top the card at the Fight Island opener

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Kamura Usman has sights on a rematch with Jorge Masvidal so he can dominate him even more than in Sunday’s main-bout victory at UFC 251 in Abu Dhabi.

The welterweight champion defeated his long-time foe in the Fight Island opener at Flash Forum in an incredibly convincing display to retain his crown. With it, Usman climbed to 12-0 in the UFC.

Masvidal was a late replacement for Gilbert Burns, but for many represented the greatest threat to Usman’s reign. However, the current belt-holder out-muscled his opponent throughout to win by unanimous decision.

Burns has dropped out last week, leaving Masvidal to sign on six days’ notice – something that impacted both fighters. Neither touched down in Abu Dhabi until mid-week.

“Dealing with all the circumstances I had to deal with this whole week; I think in the last three days I slept 10 hours, if that,” Usman said. “And then with the heat, and having to weight cut, it was a very, very challenging week for me mentality. I can’t even tell you guys what it was like mentally.

“And then of course with a guy, with a dog like Jorge Masvidal, it was very challenging. But this is what champions are made of. You have to rise to the occasion and take care of business. And that’s what I did tonight.”

Usman triumphed 50-45, 50-45, 49-46 to make the second successful defence of the belt he won last March from Tyron Woodley. He said he had to be wary against someone of Masvidal’s standing, with the 2019 fighter of the year a dangerous competitor no matter the situation. Masvidal won three times last year, but had not fought since defeating Nate Diaz for the “BMF” title in November.

“You always have to be a little concerned, especially with a guy like him, he’s a real dog,” Usman said. “A lot of people thought he’d be out of shape, but he wasn’t – he’s been training. He came in prepared, ready.

“Of course, I would like a lot more time to really strategically prepare for a guy like him, to take him apart, like I still did. But I had to do what I do best, and that’s dominate a guy from start to finish.

Asked if their high-profile public feud was now over having spoken amicably inside the octogaon post-fight, Usman said: “It’s just mutual respect. It’s hard not to respect a man when you spend 25 minutes in that octagon punching each other in the face.

“It’s just mutual respect. We both feel that we’ll do it again. Absolutely. I would like more time to prepare for a guy like that and really be able to dominate in the way that I want to – picking my spots and try to get that finish standing.”

Still, Usman was criticised on social media for the manner of his victory after relying on his grappling and fence work for much of the proceedings.

Asked about his critics, Usman replied: “Maybe they need to get in there and fight Jorge Masvidal for 25 minutes, then say something. That’s the thing.

“There was a time where people started hating Floyd Mayweather because he was so dominant. Floyd, his defence was so good. He was just so good at what he did. We can agree on that. Everyone is like ‘Oh that’s boring. He’s not fighting,’ because they didn’t see a bar fight.

“We’re risking our lives in there. We’ve trained. What’s the point of training each and every day and then go in there and just slugging around, taking punches?”

Usman is expected to take on Burn next, with UFC president Dana White confirming the No 1-ranked challenger takes priority, provided he gets healthy again.

“You’ve got to wait to see what happens,” Usman said. “We all know what happens in the UFC, that nothing is for sure. Unless you're stepping inside that cage, that's when something is for sure. We learned that six days ago.

"So it doesn't really matter. First and foremost, I need to get home to my daughter. That's what's important. Then we’ll start thinking about finding somebody again. That's the one thing: there’s no shortage of contenders.

"Leon Edwards is there – the guy's been tearing it up. Gilbert had an amazing year. He's there. You know Colby [Covington] thinks he's there. So there’s no shortage of challenges. There's always going to be a challenger and they're always going to throw somebody in there with me. And whatever the company feels like they want to throw in there: that's my job as a champion is go out there and dominate him like I just did."