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The Fights

Kamaru Usman Earned His Missing Exclamation Point

JACKSONVILLE, FL - APRIL 25: Kamaru Usman of Nigeria celebrates his victory over Jorge Masvidal of the United States during the Welterweight Title bout of UFC 261 at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena on April 25, 2021 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images)
Photo: Alex Menendez/Getty Images

On Saturday night, Kamaru Usman and Jorge Masvidal stepped into the octagon to cap off an immensely satisfying UFC 261 card. The previous five fights had ended in finishes, and though the two welterweights were following up a stunning KO and had previously fought to a decision, Usman proved himself a more than worthy headliner.

Even before Usman defended the welterweight belt in February against Gilbert Burns, he had been angling for a rematch against Masvidal. The Nigerian-born champ dominated Masvidal last July, though the win was his only successful title defense by way of decision. Usman had just one knockout in his pre-title UFC career, winning truly boring fights by safely smothering opponents with pressure wrestling. His standup has been a revelation, and he clearly wished he’d shown it off more against Masvidal, probably the best striker he’s defended against. “I was unhappy because as much as I put into preparing for fights, I basically was just on autopilot that fight,” Usman told ESPN in January. “I want to do it again because I want to put an exclamation on it. I want to finish him. I want to impress myself.”

Well! Usman smoking Masvidal with a straight right, sending him to the canvas in a puff of vaporized sweat, is certainly what I’d call an exclamation point.

Masvidal hadn’t been knocked out since 2008, and Usman clearly relished capping off their little rivalry with such an emphatic shot. After the fight, he was asked about hitting Masvidal a few more times before the referee intervened, and he used the question to sneak in an extra little jab at Masvidal, calling them “super necessary.” That is, of course, the phraselet that helped elevate Masvidal from journeyman to unlikely star after his freak flying-knee KO of Ben Askren. Rude, but earned.

Next up for Usman will probably be Colby Covington. Let’s hope the striking improves even more for the rematch.