Fight Island Championship Analysis: Kamaru Usman vs Jorge Masvidal

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Analysis for Usman vs Masvidal at UFC Fight Island is tricky. It feels as if what will decide the fight are things we do not know about. Jorge Masvidal (35-13) made the gamebred move of taking the fight on six days’ notice. Usman is pretty game to accept a short-notice opponent change as well. But who stands to benefit most from a short-notice replacement? What other factors are going to influence this fight?

On paper, this fight looks to be the age-old classic striker vs grappler matchup. In fights such as these, a few questions are worth considering. What tools does the grappler have to close the distance? What can the striker do to keep the distance? Who has the better wrestling, and how is the striker’s grappling defence? Which is the most critical phase?

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Analysis for Usman vs Masvidal

To answer the first question, Kamaru Usman (16-1) will generally use his jab and footwork to press the opponent back to the fence. Usman can anticipate the direction his opponent is moving and angle off to limit the amount of distance they have before crashing into him. His jab works to corral opponents in line with his footwork. Once the opponent has nowhere to move Usman will dive into the clinch or shoot for a takedown.

Once the grappling has started, Usman has lots of tricks to get his man down. He’s got a solid single-leg, but he also has a wealth of trips and returns from the clinch. Usman will use the body lock to control his opponents and eventually dump them on the ground. From there, Usman will either hit his opponents with strikes or work to maintain a dominant position. If his opponents try to get back to their feet, Usman will make sure they carry his weight the entire time. Once they are back to their feet, Usman will try to dump them back down again.

Usman’s game works around the current cage walking MMA meta. For those that are not familiar, cage walking is when you use the cage to help you get to your feet. It involves getting your back against the cage and using it to carry your weight while you get back to your feet.

This process continues with Usman hitting his opponent with punches and knees throughout each phase. 

The goal of Usman is to break his opponents down, piece by piece until he exhausts them. At this point, Usman is free to do what he wants for the rest of the fight.

The Classic Battle of Striker vs Grappler

So now that we know how Usman approaches the grappling, let’s look at Masvidal’s striking. Masvidal is a renaissance MMA fighter, in the sense that he can do everything. This allows him to have an advantage over specialist opponents in some phase of the fight. In this case, it would be on the feet. To answer our second question, Masvidal is capable of keeping distance and using his kicks and strikes to fight at a range. Masvidal has good enough footwork to keep himself off the cage. 

The biggest plus for Masvidal though is his inside boxing. Masvidal has good power and accuracy and can catch opponents clean. This is the most dangerous phase of the fight for Usman because Masvidal can catch him with severe strikes. 

Usman has the wrestling advantage and pedigree, but Masvidal has proven to have serious chops when it comes to grappling defence. While he lost to Demian Maia (28-10), Masvidal was able to hang with Maia throughout the whole fight. 

When analyzing fights, it’s essential to predict what will be the most crucial phase of the fight. That is to say, which of the possible areas that the fight could take place will have the most impact on the outcome. In this case, two phases are important, the outside kickboxing range, and in the pocket boxing range. The outside range is vital because Masvidal will have the opportunity to land strikes if he can keep his distance. Inside boxing is crucial because it’s likely the last phase that favours Masvidal. Masvidal needs to be able to inflict damage on Usman and make him hesitant to come forward. If he can stop the forward pressure from Usman, Masvidal will have a better time pacing himself. He will also have a decent opportunity to deal more damage.

Fights hinge on phases

It’s essential to look at how each person’s opponent will react to their significant phases, specifically how Masvidal reacts to Usman’s grappling game and how Usman would respond to getting hit in the pocket. Masvidal’s plan for getting back to his feet is very much reliant on using the cage to help him get back to his feet. He will often use submissions to help get opponents off of him as well, but his game isn’t anything new for Usman. There’s a chance that this fight looks similar to how Nurmagomedov vs Poirier went down. Masvidal tends to make safer decisions in the fight compared to his teammate Poirer so he may have more success in trying to strip Usman off him. But if Usman starts chaining takedowns, it’s going to be problematic for Masvidal to find a way to win. 

Usman is durable to the extreme. He’s taken flush up-kicks from Raphael dos Anjos and did not bat an eye. One place he has looked vulnerable is in the pocket trading. When fighting Colby Covington (15-2), who isn’t a particularly skilled pocket fighter, Usman got hit with shots that seemed to worry him. It could just be him realizing he’s getting hit and becoming conscious of the damage, or it could be that he struggles to see short shots coming. Both men are going to have difficulty where the advantage of their opponent is the largest. This makes an analysis for Usman vs Masvidal complicated as both fighters have clear paths to victory.

Analysis for Usman vs Masvidal

Now we reach the point where what we don’t know may decide the fight. First is Masvidal’s conditioning. Hopefully, Masvidal has kept in fight shape, but if he has not, then his window for success will be limited. The better conditioned Masvidal is, the more opportunities he will have to catch Usman clean before Usman wears him down. Another factor we don’t know is game-planning. Usman’s previous opponent Gilbert Burns (19-3) was a threat in different phases to Masvidal, and if Usman has not prepared correctly, he may get caught and finished. So there are undoubtedly variables in this that could decide how this match goes. 

Ultimately though, we’ve learnt that both these men are badasses for taking on one of the toughest fighters in their division on six days notice. Also, if you’re promotion is asking you to fight during a pandemic, it’s not a bad idea to hold out for what you’re worth.

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Sam Ancer is a South African writer and MMA fanatic, he has spent several years training Sanshou, as well as Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

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