Welterweight has always felt like the division of champions. I know. That sounds a little too basic. What I mean is that the champs tend to stick around. The champs tend to establish more than just gold around the waist, but rich history. Pat Miletich stuck around as champ. Matt Hughes stuck around as champ. Georges St-Pierre was a GOAT among men. Over the last five years, we’ve had one contender to follow in those footsteps briefly (Tyron Woodley), a pretender (Colby Covington), and someone who profiles like the welterweights of yore in Kamaru Usman.
So what does any of this mean? Could be nothing. Usman seems more than capable of defending his title for a long time. But there are some legit savages in the division. Not only are there blue chip prospects like Leon Edwards and Khamzat Chimaev, but Gilbert Burns and Colby Covington comprise a top heavy base of challengers representing a very specific contrast of styles.
Hot take: Usman vs. Burns won’t set the tone for the future of WW
It’s already set. And it’s an awesome fight. It’s possible the fight stays on the feet, and both men are forced into a tactical brawl just like Usman vs. Covington. That sounds amazing. But this is not an argument about whether or not Usman will stay champ, or whether Burns can be the champ.
What I mean is that I expect Edwards vs. Chimaev and a Covington rematch to dominate the discussion. I have to admit to being a little skeptical of Burns. There are things about his game to absolutely love. He approaches striking the way a brilliant grappler should: quick bursts to avoid prolonged exchanges, and enough velocity to chain forward movement, whether more strikes, and transition takedowns. I don’t like to pull too much insight from his time at lightweight, but it’s hard to imagine old habits not coming back to haunt him, like the way he steps in too close with some of his kicks. Usman vs. Burns just doesn’t feel like GSP vs. Penn. I hope I’m wrong because there are plenty of elements to their game to insulate them from the rest. Speaking of:
If Usman is still champ, keep Colby far far away unless he leaves no doubt he’s next in line
It’s hard to appreciate a good fight when everything else is crumbling around it. Last time we saw Covington in a title fight he was getting knocked out. The last time we saw Covington outside the cage, he was doing his usual full-as-a-tick routine. He called Covington a ‘soy boy’: a term I would have looked it up — even knowing full well it was probably just the unoriginal remake of the word ‘snowflake’ — but luckily I found this Harris Brewis video instead.
Between the not-so-veiled racism, the ridiculous ‘drama’ with Joanna, and all the usual antics that prattle around his orbit, Covington’s vibe just stinks up the place. This isn’t to say Usman is some kind of angel. He isn’t. But it would nice to have a pretense of professionalism — however minimal, or owing to corporate pressure — out of respect for basic decency. I’d also just prefer to see some difficult matchups for him before I’m convinced a Usman rematch would look any different.
Will the winner of Edwards. vs. Chimaev determine the future of welterweight?
So this isn’t a resolution. Just to get a few things out of the way: Chimaev still has a lot to prove. I don’t think he should get a title shot if he beats Edwards. But he’s been extremely impressive on a purely technical level. It’s hard not to watch him fight, and come away anything other than impressed with the unique way his game flows in and out of various fight states.
Then there’s Edwards, who has a patient groove like no other. While there are a few less questions about Edwards, given his experience, we’re still waiting for answers. The question for Edwards will be how well his style translates against welterweight’s grapple-heavy elite. Regardless, welterweight is looking as good as ever.