Kamaru Usman’s performance at UFC 235 was spectacular in many ways. Not only did he completely run through defending UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley, but he also did it by going against the grain of today’s MMA world.
From “Showtime Kicks” and fancy trips, the world of MMA has always been about the flashy techniques. With advancements in the Internet and social media, fighters are always looking to land a spectacular strike such as a spinning elbow, a flying knee or any other type of strike that could go viral. We’ve seen prospects look for the sizzle, but totally neglect the steak. It’s part of the reason Usman’s performance at UFC 235 was so impressive.
He didn’t come in and land a bunch of fancy strikes. He didn’t wow fans with impressive techniques. He executed a perfect game plan and even brought back some old-school flair to the new age of the UFC.
Now, there are certain nuances to Usman’s grappling attack. Any grappling fan could break down his clinch and takedown entries, as well as his ability to hold his position and keep the explosive Woodley on the canvas once he got him there. However, none of this will be noticed by the casual fan.
Instead, Usman utilized a grappling-heavy attack against Woodley to completely nullify the champion’s chances at defending his belt. Woodley, as he tends to do, backed straight up to the fence and circled against the outer ring of the UFC canvas. By doing this, he already eliminated half of the work for Usman. The challenger was able to corral his opponent near the fence, an ideal spot to initiate a clinch or a takedown. Once Usman grabbed a hold of Woodley, the champion rarely got away.
Not only did Usman’s grappling game plan pay off, but he kept an active pace that would’ve exhausted almost anyone else who tried to replicate it. Usman got the takedowns he wanted, maintained position and completely wore out Woodley over the course of five rounds. We’ve seen Woodley dominated in the striking game, but never in a grappling battle.
Usman even brought back some old-school moves like foot stomps, shoulder strikes, covering the mouth and nose of the champion, and the idea of “position over submission.” He did everything he could to keep Woodley off rhythm and uncomfortable in the cage. It showed on Woodley’s part, as his team continued to urge their fighter to come forward and be more aggressive. Yet, Woodley’s offensive output became less and less frequent.
This isn’t meant to discredit Usman’s performance by saying it was basic or devoid of technique. Far from it, actually. However, Usman was able to take out a guy some considered the greatest welterweight of all time with a game plan full of straightforward, no-nonsense tactics. It was a refreshing change of pace to the age of fighters looking for the next big spinning kick. Impressive knockouts and flashy techniques are still fun, but the new welterweight champion proved that the old-school ways still have a place in MMA.