UFC 294 saw a massive shake up in its lineup. After Paulo Costa withdrew from the card, former welterweight champion Kamaru Usman filled in on short notice. He had a tall order in front of him in Khamzat Chimaev. Up until now, Chimaev had made short work of most of his competition. Furthermore, he has seemingly moved permanently to the middleweight division. As such, he enjoyed a noticeable size advantage against Usman. In addition, the fight was only three rounds, which favored Chimaev’s aggressive style. Most importantly, Chimaev is younger, faster, and more athletic than Usman, who is towards the end of his career. Most fans expected Chimaev to beat—and likely finish—Usman.
In round one, Khamzat seemed on track. He immediately took down Usman, an incredibly impressive feat. Renowned grapplers such as Colby Covington and Gilbert Burns had never come close to taking Usman down. Khamzat dominated the round, threatening submissions and landing strikes.
However, Usman has traditionally gained strength as the fight progressed. He has always had incredible cardio and an impressive fight IQ. Both fighters looked tentative to start round 2, but Usman began to land with his hands. Khamzat did score a late takedown, but Usman rebounded impressively from a disastrous first round.
In the crucial third round, Usman demonstrated his championship mettle. He defended the takedowns more successfully and continued to implement his boxing. Usman gave an inspired effort in the last thirty seconds, returning to his feet and exchanging blows with Chimaev.
Ultimately, the judges scored the fight for Chimaev in a majority decision. One judge scored it as a draw. Although both fighters had success in rounds two and three, Usman landed the more impactful strikes. With Khamzat arguably scoring a 10-8 in the first round, one could argue that the fight should have been a draw.
Usman v Chimaev, UFC 294, image – MMA Fighting
Regardless, Kamaru Usman gave a truly admirable performance. Most consider Chimaev one of the most dangerous fighters on the active roster. Usman accepted the fight at a higher weight class on short notice, and nearly won the fight. At 36 years of age, many wondered if he could still compete at the top. He showed the world that he still can. Khamzat will likely go on to fight Sean Strickland for the middleweight championship. Kamaru Usman, however, still has exciting fights ahead of him. Whether he stays at middleweight or returns to welterweight, don’t write off “The Nigerian Nightmare” just yet.