Inside the moments leading to Usman’s win over Covington

MMA news

LAS VEGAS — Kamaru Usman is one of the most physical, skilled wrestlers on the UFC roster. His usual path to victory is a grinding one, filled with clinches, pushing up along the fence, takedowns and top position.

At UFC 245, there was none of that. Usman, the welterweight champion, wanted to make a statement with his fists, and he did exactly that, stopping Colby Covington at 4:10 of the fifth round by TKO on Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena. Usman, furious at Covington’s trash talk that he believed crossed the line, ended up giving his rival a broken jaw.

“I was going in there just trying to take his head off,” Usman said. “This was a bona fide mano a mano fight. He said a lot of things and I wanted to make him pay. I said all week I was gonna punish him for four and a half rounds, and then I was gonna get him out of there. That’s exactly what I did.”

It was a close fight, one that Covington led early on. But Usman retained his title and succeeded in proving his point against Covington, who fully embraced his role as villain leading into the bout with some crude remarks. Here’s a look at some of the key moments from Usman’s impressive victory.

Working the body

Usman admitted he started the fight headhunting. He pridefully wanted to knock Covington out early because of all the trash talk. Once he settled into his game plan and starting throwing punches to the body — one of his best offensive attributes — the fight started changing.

Covington won the first round on all the judges’ scorecards. After Usman landed to the body late in the second and in the third, his adjustment began paying dividends. He won the fourth round on all the cards and, of course, finished in the fifth.

“I just knew he couldn’t take too many more of those,” Usman said.

It was in the third, Usman said, that he hit Covington a couple of times to the gut and could hear his opponent’s agony.

“I started hitting him to the body, and I could feel him kind of, ‘uhh, uhh,'” Usman said. “I’m like, oh, Nellie! I’m coming. … I’m like, ohhh. It’s gonna be a long night. I just kind of put my foot on the gas. I wanted to get him out of there.”

A tale of two eye pokes

Covington had his best moments in the third round past the midway mark. He landed a left head kick that was partially blocked but still got through a bit, followed by a combination. A solid left hand landed, and Covington threw another left head kick. As he did that, Covington’s fingers extended, and they caught Usman in the eye. Usman said the fingers were curled and caught his eyelash, then went into his eye.

Usman, blinded, reacted immediately. Covington came forward looking to capitalize before referee Marc Goddard stepped in to pause the action. The timing was awful for Covington. He had momentum in a round he was losing, a round that ended up being pivotal. And it was lost because of an accident.

In a tweet after the fight, Covington called it a “fake eye poke,” implying that Goddard blew the call and there was no poke at all. To that, UFC president Dana White joked in the postfight news conference that Covington must not have seen the replay.

Right at the end of that round, Usman landed a hard right hand. Covington covered his eye at the bell, asking Goddard to call for an eye poke. Usman said there was none, but that was a moment he knew he had an edge.

“Who’s breaking now?” Usman said he told Covington as the two were separated at the end of the round. “Because I know damn well there wasn’t no eye poke.”

Injured jaw

After the third round, Covington told his coaches in the corner that he believed he broke his jaw. It isn’t clear when it happened, but likely in the third, though Covington’s team told ESPN it could have also been the second. The UFC confirmed via a medical report after the event that Covington has a non-displaced midline mandible fracture.

It’s quite remarkable that Covington was able to compete at a high level with the best welterweight on the planet for more than two rounds with a fracture in his face. There’s no doubt, though, that the moment was a massive turning point in a fight that Covington was winning early.

“For as big as his mouth is and all the stuff that he talks, the guy can fight,” White said. “He’s talented and tough.”

Usman said he didn’t know Covington had a broken jaw and “didn’t care.”

“I was gonna try to hit him until I stopped it,” Usman said.

What’s left in the tank?

Usman might not have known about the injured jaw, but he said in the fourth round he started to realize that maybe Covington’s vaunted cardio wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Perhaps it was all the hard body shots, but Usman said he came away unimpressed with Covington’s ability to be strong for a full five-round fight.

“I got a gas tank,” Usman said. “What are y’all talking about? Once we got in there, after that third round I’m looking across, I’m barely breathing hard. I’m like, where’s his gas tank at? I was actually waiting for him to wrestle. But I knew that he knew that if he wrestled with me he was gonna gas out and I was gonna knock him out a lot quicker than that. Tyron Woodley has better accolades wrestling than he does, and you saw what happened in that fight. And striking with me, that was his best chance. And we saw what happened there.”

Usman said he believes it was in the fifth round where he was literally hopping around, still feeling strong despite the grueling, high-paced bout. It motivated him to go in for the kill.

“I’m hopping around like, I feel fresh,” Usman said. “I’m hopping around and I’m looking across and I’m like, where’s his gas tank? Where’s his gas tank? I haven’t seen this yet. I don’t see it, so you know what? I’m gonna turn up one more level.”

First knockdown, finishing sequence

In the fifth, Usman threw out a jab and then landed a gorgeous, delayed right cross that landed flush on Covington’s jaw. It was the first knockdown of the fight. Usman wobbled Covington with a right seconds earlier, but this one was a beauty and led directly to the finishing sequence — also led by a right hand — soon after.

Usman said he was rushing things earlier in the fight, then waiting for Covington to use his wrestling. When he realized that wouldn’t happen, Usman said he felt more comfortable with his own striking. But that first knockdown did not stem from an all-time type of punch, the champion said.

“If you guys notice, that was the same right hand I hit Demian Maia with,” Usman said. “I didn’t really step into it, not full power. It was just a matter of seeing what he’s doing, kind of slip around and just stick it straight through like a javelin. Boom, I hit him and sat him down. It’s not even my best punch. That’s probably my third- or fourth-best punch.”

One more big right hand after that and some hammerfists on the ground later, and Goddard stepped in to stop the fight. Covington, who had to be transported to the hospital, wrote that Goddard “robbed me tonight with piss poor officiating” on his Instagram. He disputed the stoppage immediately, too.

White said he felt Goddard’s decision was “absolutely positively” the correct call. Usman said Covington was in bad shape at the end.

“He was leaking under there,” Usman said. “He was hurt bad. As a wrestler, when you’re underneath someone, you want to hang on to a leg. He wasn’t even on a leg. That’s why I was landing free shots, right behind the ear I was landing them. Great stoppage by Marc Goddard. That’s why he’s one of the best referees out there. He’s there to protect you even though you’re dumb enough to not protect yourself.”

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