UFC 245 preview: Breaking down Kamaru Usman vs. Colby Covington

Elias CepedaYahoo Sports Contributor
Yahoo Sports

Conventional wisdom has it that Colby Covington and UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman are the same type of fighter, and they surely have similarities. Both have strong wrestling bases and have become fearless on the feet with strikes.

Each man usually ultimately dominates their opponent with grinding pressure on the fence, takedowns and mat control. With all that having been said, however, there are significant differences between the two men who face off at Saturday’s UFC 245 main event.

Covington throws strikes at an almost unmatched pace and seems to fight with reckless abandon. His wide arsenal of strikes thrown with every limb and at every level of his opponents seems largely meant to occupy their attention so that he can then change his level and close the distance, working for clinches or takedowns.

It’s an approach that has served the President Donald Trump supporter quite well over the course of his MMA career. It isn’t unusual for Covington to take the center of the cage, and throw several punches and attempt a takedown before his opponents have even had time to realize the fight has begun.

Covington’s preference seems to be to effectively walk opponents backward so that his initial grappling attempt will press them against the cage but he isn’t afraid to shoot, even from far away, out in the open, either. Covington’s best entries happen near or against the cage after strikes, whereas his shots from out in the open sometimes happen from quite far away.

He likely won’t be able to build a base from shots begun far away and turn it into an effective takedown attempt against Usman the way he has against opponents with less wrestling ability. Covington’s busy striking on the feet does not seem to possess the same power as Usman’s, either.

(L-R) Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington face off during the UFC 245 press conference at the Hulu Theatre at Madison Square Garden on November 1, 2019 in New York, New York. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
(L-R) Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington face off during the UFC 245 press conference at the Hulu Theatre at Madison Square Garden on November 1, 2019 in New York, New York. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Usman’s educated stand-up striking usually offers less in the way of volume compared to Covington, but his patient variety does pack more power. Don’t expect Covington to show that power too much respect, however, unless Usman can hurt him with it.

In fact, neither man has been hurt enough to have much apparent reticence in their approach to stand-up striking. Covington didn’t show any fear staying in the pocket against Robbie Lawler to set up takedown attempts, and Usman similarly didn’t hesitate to stay in Tyron Woodley’s face all fight long. Both Lawler and Woodley are some of the most dangerous knockout artists the welterweight division has ever seen. It will be interesting to see who takes a step backward, first, and what effect that might have on the bout.

Both Covington and Usman are typically keen to take control of the ring and press their opponents backward. If neither adjusts that approach, we could see punches fired in bunches right away before clinch sequences, and then this scene repeating over and again until someone gets an advantage and scores a takedown or knockdown.

Once they’re clinched up it should be a hard-fought and technical battle with either man capable of scoring takedowns, though either will likely have to struggle mightily to score any. Still, it’s hard not to give Usman the benefit of the doubt against the cage once clinched up.

He is a better wrestler, larger, and stronger than someone like Rafael Dos Anjos who Covington controlled and beat but had difficulty taking and keeping down. Usman is also considerably larger than Covington — who reportedly doesn’t drop much weight to make the welterweight limit — and just might be physically stronger.

If the fight goes long, expect both men to tire but neither to give up or give in. Covington has repeatedly shown an ability to stick to a pace over the course of five rounds whether he’s dominating or facing a bit of difficulty.

Against Dos Anjos, for example, Covington was taken down repeatedly late in the fight, but still managed to get back to his feet and continue his offense. Usman has also shown excellent endurance, but hasn’t had to do so while being put on the defensive all too much.

If Covington can stick around and make Usman work off of the cage and/or off his back late into the fight, the reigning champion will have the opportunity to show something new in that regard.

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