Heading into UFC 268, Daniel Vreeland takes an in-depth look at a particular technique or group of techniques that could influence the fight. This week, he digs into Kamaru Usman and the vast improvements he’s made in the boxing realm.
Prior to the knockout of Jorge Masvidal, Kamaru Usman had taken a lot of criticism from fans, pundits, and opponents alike about his boxing skills. There were many who said he lacked power. Others said he was limited on the feet. However, that tune changed with one quick blow. It seems extreme for that single two-punch combination to be something that changes the public tune. But really, that combination shows a great deal of the development that Usman has made on his feet under Trevor Wittman.
To understand everything that goes into that combination, you first have to understand the combination itself. For the purpose of this breakdown, we’ll use the seminal shot from the Masvidal fight (which comes at 4:02 of the second round in their second fight). It starts with a hard lead jab from Usman’s conventional stance, that doesn’t exactly come straight at his opponent. Instead, it travels a bit to the left of the opponent’s head. This small detail is part of what allows this combination to work. By throwing it just off-center, he diverts his opponent’s defensive resources to that spot. The time between this jab and the follow-up right is very short and therefore creates the only opening needed. Then he releases the right straight down the middle for the KO blow.
All of this may seem as if it was just one simple combination. If you do believe that, you may think that over-analyzing it is either giving Usman too much credit. I would argue that this combination was already a cornerstone for what Usman and Wittman were trying to put together. Some of the evidence that points to that is the fact that he had landed it earlier, although not nearly to the same extent. Exactly one round before (at 4:02 only of the first round this time), Usman landed the same jab to straight combination. The punch landed in that case, but with Masvidal moving backwards slightly, he avoided substantial damage. Once again, if you think it was just chance that he happened to stand his ground or try to counter, you are not giving Usman enough credit for what he’s doing.
One of the reasons why Masvidal is trying to counter and stand his ground in the moment of the knockout is the work Usman put in prior. Leading into the combination that ends the fight, you’ll see a couple of feints where Usman gets Masvidal to think a takedown is coming. As a result, Masvidal backs up and winds up near the edge of the cage, where he’s much more likely to try to fight his way out rather than circle away. Although this seems obvious, it wasn’t happening in the fight before against Gilbert Burns. Sure, some of this could be because Burns might have welcomed a takedown. However, that is not the only development we see in this time.
The other major development we see is the fact that the rear hand comes after that hard jab. In the Burns fight, Usman had begun laying the groundwork for this combination. I believe the limited time he had with Wittman left it less than fully developed. As a result, you see a lot of the hard jabs with the straight ready-to-go – only it never comes. Some examples of this are at 4:13 of the first round with Burns, 0:52 of the first round, and 4:42 in the second round. The time spent with the famed striking coach appears to have added both the extra layers. Now with more feints and the confidence to add the punch behind it, his striking has added depth.
Match-up: Usman vs Covington II
This development is extremely relevant to this second fight with Colby Covington for two reasons. The first being that one of the punches that dropped Colby in the first fight came from a very similar combination. The difference though is in the development. The first time it worked, it seemed like two separate punches. There was a moment where Usman sets his feet in between the punches when he was fighting Colby. That appears to be gone now and more dangerous as a result.
The second reason why it is more important is that it’s a development. Usman had not begun working with Wittman when he and Covington first fought. He was still at Sandford MMA in Florida. With the difference being subtle, the adjustment would have to be as well. Covington’s team undoubtedly has seen this difference, but adjusting to it in the cage is a whole different animal.
Do you think a KO is coming in this fight as well? If you do, there are some nice numbers on Usman KO props. You can bet that right here if it tickles your fancy.