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To GOAT or not to GOAT – Kamaru Usman has a path to becoming the UFC’s greatest –

WHEAT RIDGE, Colorado — UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman has not fought in almost 10 months. Usually, those who follow the sport refer to that time between fights as a “layoff” – but nothing about how Usman has spent those 10 months sounds like a big hiatus.

“Everybody’s like, ‘You had the long break,’ because it’s just the time they saw me in the Octagon,” Usman told ESPN. “It doesn’t mean I haven’t done anything. Even if I only had one hand and the other was cast [after breaking his right hand in a November win over Colby Covington]I still used my left hand and went to the gym.

“It never stops in the position I’m in. You don’t really get any free time. I think about this sport all the time. It’s mental pressure. I’ve said that before: it’s my job to prepare for it Rest of the world while the rest of the world only has to prepare for one guy.”

Usman (20-1) will seek his sixth 170-pound title defense at UFC 278 on Saturday (10pm ET on ESPN+ pay-per-view) when he takes on Leon Edwards (19-3 ) meets . Starting out, Usman, 35, is close to several records, including most consecutive wins, to start a UFC career. Usman is 15-0 in the Octagon, just a win behind former middleweight king Anderson Silva’s 16-0 mark from loss.

Usman’s level of perfection has some, including UFC President Dana White, who is beginning to float the idea that he will become the greatest fighter of all time.

“I still think about Jon Jones [the greatest], but it’s time to talk about Kamaru Usman,” White said. “He’s one fight away from tying Anderson Silva. He has already beaten Jon Jones and [Georges St-Pierre, in longest win streaks to start a UFC career]. If he beats Leon Edwards then he ties Anderson Silva and he’s in this discussion.”

For what it’s worth, Usman says he doesn’t care about the specific nomenclature of “the greatest of all time.” He just wants to earn the respect of the entire sport when he hangs up his gloves.

“When I’m done and done, they’re going to be like, ‘That guy was freaking special,'” Usman said.

But for the sake of conversation… what could Usman would make it hard to call anyone but him the GOAT? Its excellence has reached such a point that it is actually possible to depict it. Here’s how he gets there:

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1. Close the Leon Edwards chapter

Saturday’s fight is a repeat of a fight that took place in 2015. Usman defeated Edwards in only his second UFC appearance (and Edward’s fourth). The fight wasn’t particularly compelling or memorable as Usman overtook Edwards by a total of 126 to 36 punches and took him down six times. But everything that has happened since that fight legitimizes Edwards as a serious threat.

Edwards is unbeaten 10 times in a row. And although the Englishman will be an outsider on Saturday, there is certainly a way for him to win. Since losing to Usman in 2015, Edwards has been very focused on his wrestling, improving his takedown defense to 70 percent in the UFC. He is also a five-round veteran, having covered that distance three times in his last five competitions.

“Leon is very dangerous,” Usman said. “He’s very dangerous. He may not have had those peaks yet, but he is very, very dangerous. Even I had some highlights myself, but most of them came after I became champion. So I’m not discrediting him. I respect him completely.”

Should Usman get past Edwards, three of his six title defenses would be in rematches – meaning he’s essentially lapping the division. To go down as the greatest of all time is one of the demands: Clear out a division in such a way that there can be no doubt about your own superiority. With Edwards out of the way, the division was almost wiped out — save for a name.

2. Khamzat Chimaev

Chimaev is the only name in the top four in the UFC divisional rankings that Usman hasn’t beaten. And if all goes well, that would be the biggest title defense of Usman’s career.

Chimaev would be the fastest rising title challenger in UFC history. Yes, there have been others who have fought for a championship earlier in their UFC runs, but those were special circumstances. For example, Brock Lesnar was fighting for a title in just his third UFC appearance (and fourth MMA fight overall), but obviously he was already a superstar from his WWE days at that point.

The Wolf was essentially unknown when he debuted with the UFC in 2020. Chimaev (11-0) is now 5-0 in the UFC with four goals. He faces Nate Diaz in next month’s UFC 279 main event, and if Chimaev wins it would lead to a potential megafight: Usman, No. 1 in ESPN’s pound-for-pound rankings, takes on the latest star the UFC on.

“Now there’s another guy that people are looking forward to,” Usman said. “People say, ‘That’s the guy, that’s the guy that’s gonna get you.’ That’s another moment I need to be able to be graceful and appreciate knowing I’m going to get myself into a messy situation again… I’d be lying if I said I didn’t make up for it get up a lot more because everywhere you go people are going to be talking about it.”

3. Light Heavyweight

Last year, Usman floated the idea of ​​pursuing a second UFC championship move up two weight classes. This sport has seen multiple champions, of course, but never one who jumped an entire weight class on the way up. Usman is poised to jump straight to light heavyweight because his good friend and fellow Nigerian Israel Adesanya is the current middleweight belt.

This isn’t the first time Usman has suggested something that might be considered borderline absurd. Last year he fought Canelo Alvarez for a boxing match. Pound-for-pound king of boxing vs. pound-for-pound king of MMA. To be honest, the idea didn’t really catch on, but this one could be different. If Usman is serious about going to 205 pounds, there’s a world where that’s going to happen. And he says he’s very serious.

“I will [my fighters’] Making goals the biggest goals you can set,” said Usman head coach Trevor Wittman. “To go out there and set the goals as big as possible where they are unthinkable – there is no such thing, you change history. … If he’s like, ‘Hey, I’m thinking about doing that,’ then I’m like, ‘Come on, let’s do it.’”

Usman has previously said he would not upgrade for a light heavyweight fight despite the weight class being 35 pounds heavier than where he is currently. He made some headlines last month when he took on former light heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz backstage at a UFC event in Las Vegas.

That mostly just felt like a photo op to pique people’s curiosity. If Usman were to defend his title against Edwards and then Chimaev in a potential blockbuster main event, any request from him to move up two weight classes to do something no one has ever done would likely be honestly honored by the UFC.

Maybe that’s why Usman doesn’t talk too much about being the GOAT. When he’s tackling a goal as big as the light heavyweight title, he doesn’t have to talk about being the GOAT. We’ll talk about it for him.

“I meant it, I’ll skip [middleweight]’ Usman said. “I’ll go up to 205 [pounds] And I’ll grab that belt …I want to ask you a question: I’ll skip 185, go to 205 and grab this belt. What do you say about my career?

https://www.espn.com/mma/story/_/id/34412890/ufc-278-kamaru-usman-path-becoming-ufc-greatest-wants-it To GOAT or not to GOAT – Kamaru Usman has a path to becoming the UFC’s greatest –

Emma Bowman

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