Kamaru Usman once proclaimed, “I’m a problem.” After spending 24-plus minutes in the cage with him, Colby Covington—whether he admits so publicly or not—probably agrees with the assertion.
Usman subdued the mouthy American Top Team export with fifth-round punches to retain the undisputed Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight title in the UFC 245 main event on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Covington succumbed to blows 4:10 into Round 5, as referee Marc Goddard swooped in to save him from further abuse.
Despite stellar credentials as amateur wrestlers, neither man attempted a takedown. Usman was credited with a career-high 175 significant strikes landed, one of which appeared to break the challenger’s jaw in the third round. Covington answered with 143 of his own and was the busier fighter, but he lacked the horsepower he needed to keep Usman at bay. He hit the deck twice in the fifth round before a volley of hammerfists resulted in his demise.
In the aftermath of UFC 245 “Usman vs. Covington,” here are five matches that ought to be made:
Kamaru Usman vs. Jorge Masvidal: All 11 of Usman’s victories in the UFC have resulted in either a finish or a unanimous decision—a testament to his dominance. “The Nigerian Nightmare” made Covington his latest victim in the headliner, as he successfully defended the UFC welterweight throne for the first time. While Usman has established himself as the unquestioned alpha male at 170 pounds, plenty of qualified contenders are lined up to challenge him in 2020. Masvidal last appeared at UFC 244 on Nov. 2, when he dominated Nate Diaz and forced a doctor stoppage on “The Ultimate Fighter 5” winner in between the third and fourth rounds of their main event.
Alexander Volkanovski vs. Zabit Magomedsharipov: Those who doubted Volkanovski’s legitimacy as one of the sport’s premier featherweights were understandably stunned when he laid claim to the 145-pound title with a unanimous decision over Max Holloway in the co-main event. The Aussie outlanded Holloway in three of the five rounds but separated himself with a sustained barrage of leg kicks that limited the Hawaiian’s mobility and forced him to switch stances. Volkanovski swept the scorecards with 50-45, 48-47 and 48-47 marks from the judges, as he remained undefeated in the UFC and recorded his 18th consecutive victory overall. On a 14-fight winning streak of his own, Magomedsharipov took a unanimous decision from Calvin Kattar at UFC Fight Night 163 on Nov. 9.
Amanda Nunes vs. Julianna Pena: Nunes has effectively cleaned out the women’s bantamweight division following her unanimous decision over Germaine de Randamie. The American Top Team-trained Brazilian has cut a swath of destruction through the 135- and 145-pound weight classes since she captured the bantamweight championship by submitting Miesha Tate in 2016. Wins over Ronda Rousey, Valentina Shevchenko, Raquel Pennington, Cristiane Justino, Holly Holm and de Randamie have followed in six subsequent appearances, leading many to lay the Greatest of All-Time mantle upon her shoulders. Ketlen Vieira’s knockout loss to Irene Aldana on the undercard thinned the herd further and left Nunes with few viable options. Pena owns a 5-1 record in the UFC and returned from a pregnancy-induced layoff at UFC Fight Night 155, where she outpointed Nicco Montano across three rounds on July 13.
Petr Yan vs. Henry Cejudo: Yan could not have been more impressive in clearing his latest hurdle with room to spare, as he wiped out Team Alpha Male patriarch Urijah Faber with a third-round head kick after brutalizing him for the better part of 10 minutes. The 26-year-old Russian juggernaut has enjoyed a rapid ascent on the bantamweight ladder and now sits at 6-0 in the UFC. The promotion would be wise to capitalize on Yan’s momentum and push him into a title fight with Cejudo in the first half of 2020. Cejudo has not fought since he became a rare simultaneous two-division champion and linked the vacant bantamweight belt with the undisputed flyweight crown by stopping Marlon Moraes on a third-round technical knockout at UFC 238 in June.
Geoff Neal vs. Rafael dos Anjos-Michael Chiesa winner: Neal has started to move from person of interest to full-blown contender in the UFC’s welterweight division. “Handz of Steel” recorded his seventh straight win in the featured prelim, as he needed just 90 seconds to bury Mike Perry with a head kick and follow-up punches. The notoriously durable Perry had never before been stopped by strikes. Neal, who does not turn 30 until August, has been one of the true success stories to come out of Dana White’s Contender Series and seems poised to make some serious waves at 170 pounds moving forward. Dos Anjos and Chiesa have been booked opposite one another at UFC Fight Night 166 on Jan. 25.