Usman received much criticism for the way he won the pair’s first bout, but there could be no criticism this time around.
Despite Masvidal having only taken their July 2020 fight on six days’ notice, Usman took a safety-first approach to the contest.
Employing a grappling-heavy attack, ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ was happy to tie Masvidal up for much of that fight – with the most memorable strikes he landed being foot stomps.
It is fair to say that fans were not impressed with the action. Masvidal, though, campaigned for a second crack at the title – this time with a full training camp behind him. UFC president Dana White granted him that opportunity.
Masvidal spent much of the build-up to UFC 261 telling anyone that would listen that he was going to make the adjustments necessary to dethrone Usman.
However, it was Usman himself who showed the greater evolution in his style when it mattered.
The 33-year-old relied heavily on his wrestling as he made his way into UFC title contention. Having become a champion, though, he has continued to improve his striking. He demonstrated these improvements in fine style when he finished Masvidal early in the second round of their rematch.
The slow-motion footage further down this article shows just how devastating the right hand that Usman landed to the head of Masvidal really was. To make it even more impressive, the challenger had not been stopped by knockout in nearly 13 years and was considered one of the most durable fighters in the division.
The crisp shot landed so cleanly that Masvidal was separated from his senses. After the referee called a halt to the fight soon after, it was left to the American’s cornermen to explain to him that he had been knocked out.
Usman’s decision to link-up with renowned striking coach Trevor Wittman last year now looks an inspired one. Wittman counts Justin Gaethje and Rose Namajunas among some of his more famous pupils – and he has clearly had a positive impact on the career of Usman.
The vast majority of the sell-out crowd at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida were vocal supporters of local fighter Masvidal. However, it was tough not to appreciate the clinical nature of Usman’s work.
At the pre-fight press conference earlier this week, Usman spoke about his feeling that he was now beginning to “lap” the competition at 170-pounds, having already beaten most top contenders.
Some speculated this could mean that Usman is already looking towards retirement. On the evidence of what we saw at UFC 261, fans around the world will be hoping this is not the case.