Under the Radar at TUF 28 Finale: Kamaru Usman

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UFC gloves (Getty Images)

Prior to every event, Under the Radar will cast the spotlight on an up-and-coming talent who shows the potential for growth in their division and isn’t getting enough attention as they head into battle.

  • Name: Kamaru Usman
  • Record: 13-1 overall, 8-0 UFC
  • Division: Welterweight
  • Team: Hard Knocks 365

I know it sounds crazy to suggest that a fighter who is in the main event a UFC event is somehow under the radar, but hear me out.

Usman might be the most slept on 8-0 fighter in UFC history, as he has registered wins over Demian Maia, Sergio Moraes, Warlley lves and Leon Edwards without losing so much as a round, yet alone a fight.

He’s dominated with his wrestling, shown flashes with his hands (particularly against Moraes) and collected wins that have aged extremely well (see Edwards, Leon) while continuing to chase down the top fighters in the division. While people got all hyper about Darren Till after beating “Cowboy” Cerrone and still ride for Mike Perry after getting beaten by “Cowboy” Cerrone, the 31-year-old Usman is out here pitching shutouts getting very little love from the masses.

The argument against him is that he’s boring because he wrestles, but style points aren’t part of the scoring criteria and disliking how he gets it done shouldn’t diminish what he’s accomplished thus far.

Besides, who would you rather see — a surging contender who hasn’t lost in the UFC or a guy that throws haymakers, but has serious holes in his game?

On second thought, don’t answer that. I don’t trust you to give the answer I’m looking for.

Squaring off with and potentially beating dos Anjos isn’t going to earn him any real sway with his critics either since they’ll likely just point to the former lightweight champion’s loss to Colby Covington and suggest that Usman replicated the game plan, as if beating dos Anjos doesn’t mean anything unless you find a new, creative way to do it.

But the reason Usman lands here is that he’s a nightmare matchup for anyone in the division, including reigning champ Tyron Woodley.

There is a relentlessness to the way “The Nigerian Nightmare” attacks takedowns and is willing to grind out opponents. It’s never a last resort, nor does he tend to just hang out o top and burn time off the clock. He’s always working, always peppering with shots, looking to advance, looking for openings, forcing his opponents to either accept being on the bottom and the mauling that comes with it or take risks to get out of a terrible position. Whatever they choose, Usman is there and ready to capitalize.

Against competitors with sound takedown defense, he’s improved enough on the feet to more than hold his own, as he showed against Maia and Moraes, who ate a right hand down the pipe and did a face plant similar to the one “The Korean Zombie” did at the end of his fight. While it’s never going to be on par with his wrestling, Usman’s striking gets a little better between each appearance and the more time he spends drilling and honing his skills with Henri Hooft, the more dangerous he is going to become.

He doesn’t need to have Woodley’s single-shot explosiveness either because he’s a little taller than Woodley with a little more reach, so he doesn’t need to quickly close the distance to land something with force. Additionally, his mass is more evenly distributed than Woodley’s, so Usman is able to work at a quicker clip for a more sustained amount of time than the champion, while deploying a comparable style.

While I get the feeling most would be loathed to watch the two square off in a 25-minute fight, it ranks highly on my list of fights I really want to see in 2019 because I want to know if my suspicion that Usman is the superior all-around talent is correct.

Which is why I love this weekend’s clash with dos Anjos and believe it’s crucial to getting the surging contender the respect he deserves as he continues to work his way up the welterweight ladder.

Beating dos Anjos is no easy feat — there is a reason he’s only lost to elite talents in the last six-plus years — and if Usman can one-up Covington against the lightweight champ turned welterweight contender they way he did when he faced Maia, there will be no way to deny the former TUF winner a place on the short list of contenders heading into 2019.

And then, just maybe, people will stop sleeping on Kamaru Usman.