St-Pierre is the greatest welterweight of all time, or at least that’s what we heard over and over for years. It was like his name was actually George St-Pierre Greatest Welterweight of All Time, it was used so often.
Has the time come, though, to permanently retire that phrase?
Perhaps, because Kamaru Usman has a damn good argument to make for himself in that regard.
On Saturday, he had a more difficult-than-expected time with Colby Covington, but he still clearly won the fight and there was no drama when Bruce Buffer read the scores from Madison Square Garden in New York after their welterweight title fight closed UFC 268.
Usman retained his belt by scores of 48-47 twice and 49-46, going to 2-0 against Covington, the best welterweight in the world not named Kamaru Usman. Usman stretched his overall winning streak to 19 in a row and his UFC winning streak to 15 in a row with the victory.
If Usman wins his next bout, he’ll tie Anderson Silva at 16 for longest winning streak in UFC history. He’s still in his prime. He’s still getting better. He looks like a good bet to be able to stretch that UFC winning streak from 16 in a row to as many as 20 in a row.
St-Pierre, now a UFC Hall of Famer, retired with a 26-2 mark after winning 19 of his final 20 bouts. Only that stunning knockout loss to Matt Serra at UFC 68 in 2007 kept him from a 20-fight winning streak.
There was no one St-Pierre should have fought that he didn’t fight.
But even St-Pierre admitted the athletes are better now, they’re training in MMA from the beginning and the divisions are deeper than they were in his day.
What Usman has done in the face of the opposition he’s seen is nothing short of remarkable. He clicks with coach Trevor Wittman, who has taken him to a new level in the short time they’ve been together.
Usman was a college wrestler when he entered MMA, but he’s a bad-ass striker at this point. He walks opponents down, and hits shockingly hard even though it doesn’t look like he’s swinging for the fences. He fights under control and places his punches well.
St-Pierre’s advantage during his prime was his freakish athletic ability. He would box the grapplers and grapple with the wrestlers.
Usman isn’t a boxer. Nor is he a wrestler.
He’s a mixed martial artist, and that’s what sets him apart and he does it in the best era of the sport’s history.
“The fighters of today are better than the ones of yesterday, I believe,” St-Pierre told Yahoo Sports last month. “The ones of tomorrow will be better than the ones of today. That’s how it goes. We can’t measure it, because it’s not a sport you can measure like you can the time of a 100-meter sprinter. Fighting is very subjective. We also talk about, ‘Who would have won between Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali, or a guy like Tyson Fury.'
“I’m under the impression that as time goes by, generally fighters get better.”
And Usman has raised his game time and again and there are no warning signs, no indications that he won’t keep it up several years into the future.
UFC president Dana White has seen enough and has sided with Usman.
“This guy is just the best ever,” White said. “He’s the best welterweight of all time. He is on his way to possible GOAT status.”
Had he fought anyone else, Covington would be the UFC champion now. He showed great resiliency, hit harder than he did last time and actually rocked Usman a bit in the fourth.
Usman has a great chin and terrific recuperative powers in addition to everything else he has.
If this were boxing, where the differences between the weight classes aren’t as great, Usman would be off to try to conquer a new class. He’s lapped the field at welterweight at this point and there’s not a fight out there that will be any closer than 4-1.
But it’s a 15-pound leap from welterweight to middleweight, and you go from fighting a guy like Covington who is 5-11, 170 pounds with a 72-inch reach to competing with guys like Israel Adesanya who is 6-4, 185-pounds with an 80-inch reach.
He’d cede a lot of advantages at middleweight, if he chose to make the move.
But he may choose to set standards like Cal Ripken did for consecutive games played. Usman is a proud and driven athlete who may want to set the bar so high it’s measured in decades, not years, when a guy will come along who is as good as he’s been.
As great as he’s been, even St-Pierre has to play second fiddle.
They don’t make them any better than Kamaru Usman at this point.