UFC 261: Kamaru Usman vs. Jorge Masvidal II – The Breakdown

Usman
Mandatory Credit: Josh Hedges – Zuffa LLC

A full camp. Painted since the very conclusion of their July showdown, Jorge Masvidal maintains he can overcome Kamaru Usman with a full, complete camp under his belt. Detailing a drastic weight cut on just six day’s notice last summer in Abu Dhabi, UAE, Masvidal fancies his chances of stopping the dominant reign of the incumbent in his tracks with a full camp nailed down. 

Let’s make one thing clear from the onset here. Jorge Masvidal wasn’t the lone participant stepping into the Flash Forum Octagon in July with just six day’s knowledge that he would tackle Kamaru Usman, but Usman also only had six day’s notice that he would be standing opposite Masvidal on fight night. The full camp narrative can be applied to both parties here. Masvidal can make some much-needed, and maybe even too wide to close alterations to his game, but Usman can tighten up his own game as well. 

I feel like, given the short-notice nature of their July matchup, I wouldn’t necessarily be opposed to seeing Usman and Masvidal share the Octagon once again before they both hang up their gloves, however, not immediately. The promotion is clearly attempting to capitalize on the new-found ‘stardom’ of Masvidal, with a BMF championship in tow, and a hometown pay-per-view return, with fans in attendance for the first time since March of last year. 

Some names spring to mind when you look to find a more deserving challenger, a trio, in fact. Colby Covington, Leon Edwards, and Stephen Thompson. In order; Covington would fall top of my list given his rebound against former champion, Tyron Woodley, while Thompson has notched two spectacular striking performances against both Vicente Luque and Geoff Neal. Edwards, akin to Covington, has already shared the Octagon with Usman, however, that was six years ago, and he’s firmly reinserted himself into title contention since. 

I just question the validity of Masvidal’s immediate rematch against Usman, apart from the fact both featured on short notice. Make no mistake about it though, Usman seems as willing as Masvidal to run this one again — even getting the ball rolling off the back of his UFC 258 win over Gilbert Burns. I just feel like we’ve got maybe not an abundance, but certainly a few more worthy contenders. 

The ball is now firmly placed in the American Top Team court of Masvidal. Can he and co, construct a gameplan that sees him avoid the wrestling expertise from Usman which are sure to return following the brief reserve against Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu ace, Burns? Last summer, Usman successfully shot five times on the Miami striker, zapping him each time. 

What stood out most from Usman’s third successful title defence back in February, was a newfound, extremely potent jab — orchestrated and puppeteered by masterful head coach, Trevor Wittman. Usman managed to sit Burns down twice with a really stiff, straight shot from both his lead left side and his switch right in the third, something we had failed to see prior to when his work began at the ONX Labs. “You’re a champion ’cause of your jab, it’s your jab.” The words planted in the mind of Usman by Wittman in between the opening two rounds. 

Each time that jab from the left lead came out from its guard, it was getting a notable reaction from Burns, and each time it landed — it almost found its target like a straight following up an initial jab. It was stinging Burns each time it landed, and if Usman can set up that same shot in the early goings, he’s likely to gain the respect of Masvidal which is pertinent to this weekend’s puzzle. 

Usman seemed to struggle with the fast and almost wild start from Burns last time out, and against Masvidal, he’s going to come in as the less polished striker, so earning that respect in between chaining together shots and clinch work is very, very important. 

As far as wrestling goes, Usman is unlikely to stand and trade with someone as dangerous with combinations and setups as Masvidal for longer than he needs to, and that’s where he’s got this determining factor. The wrestling. The majority of Usman’s best work comes from the clinch in regards to pressure and searching for trips and body locks. 

What’s also worth noting – for as good and whipping Masvidal’s kick to the body off his usual rear left is, it can be caught by Usman, who can chain it together to force the Floridian on his heels and ultimately to the canvas. Masvidal’s willingness to goad and bait Usman to steam forward on the outside almost against the fence on occasion, left him susceptible to wrestling shots at the least, which waned and wore on him. 

Akin somewhat to this weekend’s co-main event between Zhang Weili and Rose Namajunas, the longer their respective bouts play out for both Weili and Usman, conceivably, the better.  

Usman has undoubtedly tidied up his striking game in regards to angles, setups, and his ability to roll and bobble his head, but I’d still, like the majority, favour Masvidal in any early, meaningful exchanges within close quarters. The wrestling almost ‘x-factor’ presented by Usman forces me to lean toward a successful defence for him, although I must stress, I’m not near half as confident in this pick as I am in my prior two predictions for this card.

Prediction: Kamaru Usman def. Jorge Masvidal via decision. 

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