According to oddsmakers,‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ is set to make history this weekend at UFC 278: Usman vs. Edwards II. If everything goes right for Kamaru Usman, he’ll have made his sixth defence of his Welterweight title, and perhaps more impressively, he’ll have tied Anderson Silva’s record for the longest win streak in UFC history at 16. Though he is favoured to win, Usman certainly doesn’t have an easy fight on the horizon. He’ll be rematching Leon Edwards who Usman defeated seven years ago in his UFC debut. Both fighters have improved drastically since then and Edwards is currently riding a ten fight unbeaten streak since the loss to Usman all the way back in 2015. As is the case with every dominant champion, fans and media members attempt to make comparisons to former greats in their respective weight classes–and Kamaru Usman is not exempt from these comparisons. Naturally, the comparisons pit Usman against the former greats of the 170 pound division, but with his extensive resume the question has transitioned to who really is the greatest Welterweight in the sport’s history–Georges St. Pierre or Usman?
In order to find the answer to the question at hand, there are a number of variables that one has to examine. Probably the most simple metric to measure by is title defences. Usman currently sits at five, with a sixth available in just a few days. St. Pierre on the other hand, has nine defences under his belt, and if you consider each fighter’s total record in title fights, Usman’s is a perfect 6-0, with St. Pierre’s record sitting at 13-2. Obviously the length of a championship reign will greatly affect the number of title fights one can be in, and as it currently stands, ‘GSP’s’ reign is just under 1000 days longer than Usman’s. Of course this is subject to change as Usman is the current champion and is likely looking to hold the belt for as long as possible. If you’re looking only at title defences/victories, you might prefer St. Pierre’s higher quantity of success with just two defeats compared to Usman’s smaller but flawless record.
In terms of each man’s overall record, St. Pierre retired with a career record of 26-2, while Usman’s currently sits at 20-1. St. Pierre’s two career losses both came in title fights, with one coming against Matt Hughes in October of 2004, and the other loss coming against Matt Serra in early 2007. Both losses came by stoppage, but the loss to Serra is the one that holds more weight in an argument against ‘GSP’ being the greatest simply because of the odds entering the fight. Against Hughes, St. Pierre was very young and rather inexperienced, but against Serra he was making the first defence of his title after defeating Hughes and was heavily favoured to win. Ultimately, St. Pierre avenged both losses, but the Serra fight remains one of the biggest upsets in the history of the sport. Usman’s sole loss came in just his second career fight, when he was submitted by Jose Caceres at CFA 11, all the way back in 2013. Since then he’s gone undefeated winning 19 straight overall and 15 straight inside the UFC.
The next thing to analyze would be the opponents each have faced. Some of the names St. Pierre beat were; Matt Hughes twice, BJ Penn, Nick Diaz, Jake Shields, Carlos Condit, Michael Bisping, Josh Koscheck, and Dan Hardy among many others. St. Pierre was not a natural finisher during the late stages of his career, with seven of his last eight fights ending in a decision. The lone finish in the tailend of his career came by submission in his final fight, when he won the Middleweight title against Michael Bisping. For the most part, St. Pierre dominated his opponents, scoring takedowns with ease and destroying them with his top control. He landed a takedown in all of his UFC fights except two, and was rarely ever in danger with the exception of his two losses and one head kick knockdown against Carlos Condit. St. Pierre’s only other hiccup came against Johnny Hendricks who he defeated by split decision. Many fans and pundits alike scored the fight in favour of Hendricks who did everything he could to dethrone the champion. To this day it remains the most controversial fight in ‘GSP’s’ storied career. Usman on the other hand is getting to the same situation ‘GSP’ once did, lapping his division, resulting in rematches being the only thing available to the champion. Usman has defeated former Interim Champion Colby Covington twice, Jorge Masvidal twice, as well as Gilbert Burns, Rafael Dos Anjos, Tyron Woodley, Demian Maia, and Sean Strickland. Like St. Pierre, Usman dominates fights with his wrestling prowess but more recently has found his groove with his striking, brutally knocking out Jorge Masvial as well as Gilbert Burns. He also scored two knockdowns in his most recent bout against Colby Covington last November. Usman’s resume includes four performance bonuses including a fight of the night honour for the insane fight he had with Colby Covington in his first title defence. The fight was an instant classic and is one of the greatest Welterweight showdowns in recent memory.
As it stands right now, Kamaru Usman is knocking on the door of the greatest Welterweight of all time, but St. Pierre’s longevity, success in multiple weight classes, and number of accolades like title victories and defences gives him the slight edge. However, Usman is not far away from being labelled as the ‘GOAT’ of 170 pounds. If he gets past Leon Edwards, he’ll have six title defences and will have tied the record for longest win streak in UFC history, each of which will certainly help his case. As well, Usman has not been shy about stating his desire to jump up not one, but TWO weight classes to take on the Light Heavyweight Champion. If he were to be granted his wish and pull it off, it would likely give him the edge over St. Pierre while at the same time vaulting him into the conversation about who is the greatest fighter of all time, regardless of weight division. There was also a brief period in which fans speculated about a fight between the two fighters, but St. Pierre dismissed the rumours, stating he was not interested in the matchup.
No matter who you like better as a fighter or character, and regardless of who you think is the better all-time Welterweight, both Kamaru Usman and Georges St. Pierre are absolute legends of the sport and should be respected and remembered as such. Their dominance at the highest level has been inspiring and special to watch, as fighters like the two of them do not come around often. As fans we need to cherish Usman while he’s still fighting, before he heads into retirement to join St. Pierre on the Welterweight Mount Rushmore, and perhaps MMA’s as well.