Part of that is because — well, Usman had never been officially taken down, knocked down, or defeated in his UFC career through 15 fights, which was the highest winning percentage in the history of the promotion. One loss does not erase his other achievements, and perhaps no one has taught us that more than the consensus welterweight GOAT: Georges St-Pierre.
Georges St-Pierre was humanized only three fights into his UFC career when he was submitted by Matt Hughes in the very first round at UFC 50. He would practically obliterate this stain from his legacy by not only defeating Hughes in the rematch via KO but winning his next six fights after that initial loss.
And it wasn’t much of a stain to begin with. After all, Hughes is a UFC Hall of Famer and one of the greatest welterweights of all time. A loss to a fighter of his stature isn’t much to hang one’s head over, especially if you get retribution.
But the most humanizing moment not only in St-Pierre’s career but arguably in the history of the sport was when St-Pierre lost to Matt Serra via TKO — also in the very first round. Contrast this with Usman’s loss to Edwards, one that took place in the final round of a fight Usman was clearly on his way to winning.
Serra’s upset victory over GSP is considered to be MMA’s version of the Mike Tyson/Buster Douglas moment, with St-Pierre entering that bout as a whopping -1300 favorite, with Serra a +850 underdog. And still, this is a talking point rarely mentioned and often buried by those who argue that the welterweight GOAT debate is an open-and-shut case, mostly because St-Pierre was able to avenge this loss as well one year later.
The common denominator from these two most humanizing moments of St-Pierre’s career isn’t the fact that he lost but that he was able to rebound and march onward to a level of greatness that many argue no other fighter has ever reached.
At UFC 278, Kamaru Usman was knocked down a few pegs in the pound-for-pound rankings when he was stopped via Edwards’ KO. And at the precise moment Usman hit the canvas and referee Herb Dean waved the bout off, legions of fans and pundits also called an end to any welterweight GOAT talks for Usman, with some even going so far as calling the debate “disrespectful” to St-Pierre.
After all, “Usman only had five successful title defenses,” they argue, compared to St-Pierre’s nine. But contrary to what this narrative would tell you, Kamaru Usman is actually not the first fighter in UFC history whose career began when he won the world title.
Proof of this can be found in his divisional record of 15 consecutive victories. Because the question that’s really at hand is: Who is the best welterweight fighter of all time? It isn’t, as some have interpreted and/or manipulated it to be: Who is the greatest welterweight champion of all time?
And though some may reside in a bizarro universe where victories over the likes of Tyron Woodley, Rafael dos Anjos, Sean Strickland, Demian Maia, and the man of the hour, Leon Edwards, may not exist, in reality, they go a long way in bolstering any possible argument supporting Usman as the welterweight GOAT.
If one loss in a fight Usman was winning on every scorecard eliminates him from GOAT contention, that would mean we are demanding from Usman what was never asked or achieved by St-Pierre: perfection.
This is a double standard that is both unfair and unreasonable, as every educated MMA fan knows full well that anyone can get caught or be bested on any given night. But history shows that champions like Stipe Miocic and Georges St-Pierre can afford to be human if they are able to rebound. Thus, Kamaru Usman must be afforded that same opportunity.
We can now see that every fight for Kamaru Usman was treated as a must-win for him to have a case in the GOAT debate against St-Pierre. But the truth is the first must-win fight in his UFC career may be his next one, when he looks to do the same thing St-Pierre did both times he suffered defeat: gain redemption.
So is the book on Usman’s welterweight GOAT journey closed after UFC 278? Oh, no, my friends, it’s far, far from it. We’re just now getting to the good part.
For additional reading on this subject and further analysis on comparisons between Kamaru Usman and Georges St-Pierre, read the editorial, Recognizing The Difference Between GOAT & BOAT.