There is a palpable tension you can feel every time a championship fight is set to take place inside the Octagon; even sitting at home in Abbotsford, I get butterflies in my stomach because I know how much is at stake, how evenly matched the two combatants are, and that what is about to transpire is almost always a representation of the sport at its highest level, and it makes me feel all tense and nervous and excited in the best ways possible.
This fight was intriguing from the minute it came together, not just because Usman and Burns were long-time training partners and friends, but also because from a stylistic perspective, neither man had an advantage or deficit in any one realm. Burns had a little more pop on the feet, but Usman was seen as a little more technical, and though their preferred disciplines were different, both were terrors on the ground, meaning this one would likely be close, competitive, and come down to small adjustments and capitalizing on whatever opportunities presented themselves.
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Burns pressed forward right out of the gate, hitting Usman with a right hand that disrupted the champion’s equilibrium, requiring Usman to brace himself with two hands on the canvas to avoid toppling to the ground. The challenger was a bundle of energy to start and tried to build off the big blow, but the champion did a quality job of avoiding any real significant follow-ups, regaining his composure, and finding some success of his own late in the frame.
From then on, it was all Usman.
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“The Nigerian Nightmare” is one of those athletes who understands the gravity of the moment and is able to rise to the occasion, saving his best for when the stakes are the highest. After getting staggered in the first, he reset and rallied, and over the next five minutes and change, Usman showed why he is the best welterweight on the planet, ultimately securing the finish just 34 seconds into the third round.
Though it lasted just a touch over two rounds, this one had all the ebbs and flows and excitement and energy we’ve come to expect from marquee championship contests, and certainly deserves a spot on this list.