Fantasy Matchup: Israel Adesanya vs. Kamaru Usman
There’s a certain point in a champion’s run at the top of any given division where they reach a stage that sees many fans wonder out loud whether they have cleared out their weight-class.
It usually comes around the time where you start seeing a number of rematches that end in a 2 and 0 deficit and a shortage of new, exciting contenders emerging from the ranks.
Now, when it comes to Kamaru Usman and the welterweight division - I don’t think he’s quite there just yet, but out of all of the UFC’s champions right now, he is certainly the closest to getting there - with the exception of Valentina Shevchenko.
But even with some very interesting challenges in front of him in guys who haven’t yet broken into the top-5 - I do think that if he is truly interested in shaking things up - this recent buzz about him moving up one or even two weight classes has certainly gotten the wheels turning in my brain.
Not that I think a move to 205lbs would make sense really - but let’s get back to that.
As the sport’s pound for pound number 1 and with five title defenses under his belt - Usman has already done enough to warrant his inclusion among the greatest fighters of his era.
And I think that while things certainly got out of hand there for a while with cross-divisional super-fights in the wake of Conor McGregor - a well-earned and well-timed super fight is truly a special occasion.
I’m not talking about Conor or Israel Adesanya moving up in weight after just one or even no title defenses - but take the likes of Cris Cyborg vs. Amanda Nunes at 145lbs - that felt earned, it felt special, it was a collision of two well-established champions and divisional number 1’s that instantly brought some pretty heavy vibes - as far as the impact it would have on each woman’s legacy.
And when it comes to some of the more recent efforts at putting on superfights - the likes of Jan Blachowicz vs. Israel Adesanya - and even Henry Cejudo vs. TJ Dillashaw - while both matchups were certainly intriguing - they read more like two excellent fighters from two different weight-classes squaring off - rather than a collision of two massive legacies.
And I think that should be the criteria for these super-fights. Look at Amanda Nunes and Valentina Shevchenko.
Prior to the Julianna Pena defeat, Nunes vs. Shevchenko was easily the biggest fight in women’s MMA that could have made - a perfect pairing of seemingly unbeatable athletes with all the marbles on the table.
Even Jon Jones’ potential showdown with Francis Ngannou - sure Jon isn’t the champ and Francis only has one defense - but Ngannou beat pretty much everyone in the process of rising to where he is now - and Jones’ legacy would ensure that he lived up to his side of the bargain.
And I just think that the word ‘super-fight’ can thrown out with too much haste - where fighters disrupt the natural flow of their own division without truly, truly proving themselves to be the best champion they can be.
But I think that, of all of the champions in the men’s divisions right now, Kamaru Usman is the one that I would personally like to see make that jump.
Things were set in motion somewhat by Usman declaring his interesting in moving up to 205lbs to avoid fighting Israel Adesanya - who shares his Nigerian heritage.
But then Usman’s manager Ali Abdelaziz offered up an interesting perspective on things.
The man, whether you love him or hate him, is oftentimes just as good at promoting his fighters as the promoters themselves - but perhaps his greatest talent of all lies in his ability to secure his athletes the deals and the fights that they deserve.
And I did get the sense that this angle - talking about the idea of Usman fighting Adesanya - it was enough to at least plant the seed in our mind, just days after first hearing Kamaru was interested in moving up in weight.
Abdelaziz basically said that Kamaru and Israel - while indeed connected through their shared Nigerian roots - don’t train together or consider each other to be good friends - something that, to him, makes the barriers that exist between them and a super-fight not overly consequential.
Money talks, and as far as seeing the welterweight and middleweight champions collide - sufficient payment will go a long way in getting these two to sign on the dotted line.
And I do think that there’s something to this.
In a time where more and more we’re seeing the fighter pay discussion brought up - and knowing that both Usman and Adesanya are huge fans of Francis Ngannou - the third African champion under the UFC’s banner right now - you never do know how much of a topic this could become once their title defense against Leon Edwards and Robert Whittaker are through.
We do often see sometimes how early seeds can blossom into full-on media frenzies - and in the case of Adesanya vs. Usman at 185lbs - I’d have to agree with Ali in how he sees the potential for their competitive and financial desires to take the reins if they emerge from their next fight and realise that they’ve pretty much cleared out their divisions - for the most part.
As for a move to 205lbs - I dunno, it’s a bit much. I don’t want to see Usman at a physical disadvantage - potentially losing to a fighter with inferior skills without even seeing how he holds up at middleweight first.
But in terms of Adesanya vs. Usman - I think there’s real competitive value there. Kamaru is by no means a small welterweight - and though I would favour Stylebender to break him down with his length and overall dynamism, you never do know - I would refuse to rule out Usman’s ability to be great - because as we’ve seen time and time again - these great ones can always surprise us.
So with an eye on one of the end-of-year blockbuster pay per views, assuming that both men can defeat their next challenger - do not be surprised if there’s rumblings of a 185lb super fight - because even with their respect for each other being what it is, the earning potential of this one and the sheer magnetism of it as a main-event - I do think it would make it one of the greatest 2 or 3 superfights in MMA history.
And that would be one hell of a way to close out 2022, wouldn’t it?