While there seems to be a narrative that Kamaru Usman may not be fully focused on his upcoming title defense against Leon Edwards, UFC play-by-play voice Jon Anik has been around the welterweight champion long enough where he’s not buying it.
With Usman landing a guest role in the upcoming Black Panther: Wakanda Forever film, wanting to box Canelo Alvarez, and talking about moving up to light heavyweight, there are some folks who feel that Edwards is getting the reigning UFC welterweight champion at exactly the right time.
For Anik, if Usman were to come up short, everything he has been working towards in terms of legendary status in the UFC fades away.
“It’s a fair question, but [he’s] absolutely not [overlooking Leon Edwards],” Anik told MMA Fighting. “Kamaru Usman is the last guy in the roster that’s going to rest on any laurels, and when setting up the pay-per-view ahead of UFC 277 and talking about Amanda Nunes, even if you don’t like the [GOAT] conversation, Kamaru Usman puts a good chunk of his legacy on the line every time he competes — whether he’s fighting Leon Edwards, or Jan Blachowicz, or anybody else. If all of a sudden he wakes up on Sunday morning and he hasn’t tied Anderson Silva’s record, he’s 15-1 in the UFC, and he’s the former welterweight champion, a lot of what he’s building goes away.
“Now, his future in the Hall of Fame, that’s entrenched and nobody can take away big chunks of his legacy, but what Kamaru Usman is chasing is all-time greatness. Going 1-1 against Leon Edwards is certainly not going to help that.”
With close friend Israel Adesanya holding the middleweight title, Usman’s current quest to become a two-division champion would lead him up two weight classes to light heavyweight. While the reveal seems stunning to some, it’s not to Anik, who hopes with a victory on Saturday, “The Nigerian Nightmare” should be granted those types of opportunities.
“I’m not surprised by it all because Max Holloway has told me for years that he wants to fight at middleweight before his career is said and done, and Dominick Cruz has said to me that he wants to compete at 155 pounds so these guys kind of fantasize about moving up and not cutting weight,” Anik explained. “Sometimes I feel like Jan Blachowicz has been sort of positioned as this low-hanging fruit. Israel Adesanya didn’t have any intention at that time to move up to light heavyweight and it seemed to be Eugene Bareman’s idea and that was the impetus for the move, but obviously they thought that was a favorable matchup.
“I don’t know how Kamaru Usman sees Glover Teixeira and Jiri Prochazka compared to Jan Blachowicz, but I don’t think it’s posturing. I think it’s another way to prove his greatness. Obviously there’s an obstacle there with his friend Izzy at 185 pounds, but I would like to see Kamaru Usman afforded any sort of opportunity that is legacy proving, whether it’s against Canelo Alvarez — I know people don’t want to hear that noise — or Jan Blachowicz, and if he’s able to beat Leon Edwards and is able to knock him out or finish him this weekend, yeah, Chimaev could get by Nate Diaz, Belal Muhammad, Gilbert Burns could potentially build his way back, Kamaru is going to want an immediate challenge. I’m not sure there’s an obvious one right now.”
The betting lines favor Usman — who currently sits as the biggest betting favorite in any fight during his current title reign — but there is hope from Edwards fans that he matches up really well stylistically.
“Rocky” is bringing an incredible amount of confidence into his first UFC title shot, as well as a nine-fight win streak. In the eyes of the lead play-by-play voice of the UFC, for Edwards to pull off the upset, he’ll need to pitch a near perfect game — which he feels isn’t out of the realm of possibility despite being out of action for 14 months.
“On the Leon side: has he put in the perfect training camp? Can he have that near-perfect performance? I think that answers to those questions are, maybe, yes,” Anik said. “I think it’s going to take those things [to win]. I don’t think he’s fighting a lesser Kamaru Usman, or a Kamaru Usman that has a wandering eye relative to past title defenses.
“I think you’re going to see the very best of Kamaru Usman, the best of Leon Edwards, and may the better man win.”