Usman (20-2 MMA, 15-1 UFC) had his title reign brought to a shocking and abrupt end nearly two weeks ago when he was knocked out by Edwards (19-3 MMA, 12-1 UFC) in the fifth round of the UFC 278 headliner. “The Nigerian Nightmare” was 54 seconds away from winning a unanimous decision on the scorecards for a record-tying 16th consecutive octagon victory, but was caught by a devastating head kick that brought it all crashing down.
It was a brilliant moment from Edwards, and one that’s raised questions about how Usman will rebound from being knocked out for the first time, and in such brutal fashion.
Former longtime divisional champion and UFC Hall of Famer St-Pierre agrees with that sentiment, and said Usman’s ability to get the title back will hinge on the mental side of his game.
“Kamaru was winning the fight, but he made a crucial mistake that is unforgettable at this level,” St-Pierre told fans and media during a Q&A on Friday in Paris. “He zigged when he should’ve zagged, and credit to Leon Edwards. He did a beautiful setup. It was amazing, and he won the world title. Now they’re going to have a rematch, hopefully, and we’ll see. Things change. You never fight the same fighter twice. You can fight the same name twice, but you never fight the same fighter twice. Every fight leaves a scar, for the best or for the worst.
“After a loss, very often we see fighters that a loss can affect their confidence. Confidence is very important for a fighter, because you can have all the skills in the world, but if you don’t have confidence it’s like someone that has a lot of money in his bank account, but no way of accessing it. So for the magic to happen, you need the skills and the confidence. So we’ll see how mentally strong Kamaru Usman is, and if he comes back and wins the title, I think it will add up to his legacy even more. But it’s going to be a hell of a fight, a hell of a challenge.”
In the aftermath of Edwards’ win, some of his critics have deemed the knockout “lucky” or a “fluke,” because he clearly was on the losing end of the contest before the knockout occurred.
St-Pierre doesn’t buy into that narrative, he said, and argued Edwards deserves credit for leading Usman into the strike that closed the show.
“He showcased, in the first round, incredible skills to put Kamaru Usman on his back, mount him, taking his back. He showcased incredible skills right there,” St-Pierre said. “He was losing the second, third and fourth round, and was on his way to losing the fifth round. But I think what makes Leon Edwards so good is his fighting IQ. He is also so good at neutralizing his opponent’s strength. He is very good at shutting down his opponent’s strength and bringing the fight where he is comfortable – to make his opponent fight outside of his comfort zone, and I think that’s why Leon Edwards is so good.”
St-Pierre said the title change at UFC 278 ultimately showed the wild, unpredictable and diverse nature of the fight game. St-Pierre has been in Usman’s shoes in suffering a stunning and traumatic upset loss, as he did against Matt Serra during his first UFC title reign in 2007.
How will Usman answer the call from defeat, though? St-Pierre is as intrigued as anyone else.
“That’s what makes the beauty of the sport, if you’re on the side of the winner, of course, because everything could happen,” St-Pierre said. “It would be boring if you would always know who would win. Like in any other sport, fighting, football – it’s no different. The best team doesn’t always win the game. It’s the team who plays the best the night of the game that will win. Fighting is the same. It’s not the best fighter that wins the fight. It’s the fighter that fights the best the night of the fight.”