The term ‘GOAT’ has often been thrown about lightly in sports in recent times.
Although it would seem there is an objective correct answer, you’d be hard up to find a group of people who can all agree who the greatest of all time is in their sport of choice. However, MMA fans can agree that Georges St. Pierre at least belongs in the conversation.
He has no unanswered losses in his career, gaining revenge on the two Ls on his record, to Matt Hughes early on in his career for the vacant welterweight championship and a shock defeat at the hands of The Ultimate Fighter winner Matt Serra. He dominated the entire division for over half a decade racking up nine title defenses against greats such as BJ Penn, Nick Diaz and the aforementioned Matt Hughes before his hiatus in 2013 following a win, albeit a controversial one, over Johnny Hendricks.
He later came back for a one and done against then middleweight champ Michael Bisping in 2017, submitting him in the third round to become a two-division champion before vacating the title and riding off into the sunset. His incredible title defense record shows why ‘Rush’ is considered the greatest UFC Welterweight of all time and possibly even the GOAT, but is there someone ready to snatch that moniker from him?
Current champ Kamaru Usman is certainly on the right track. The Nigerian Nightmare has been on a storming run with the belt since defeating Tyron Woodley at UFC 235 with five defences so far. His drowning strength when wrestling and his ever-improving stand-up under the tutelage of striking coach Trevor Wittman has made him the most feared Welterweight since GSP’s era of dominance. It is for these reasons that UFC odds frequently have him down as an odds-on favourite in his fights.
Usman’s record, whilst not as extensive as GSP’s, is certainly impressive. After beating Woodley, who had retained his belt in his four fights up to that point, Usman entered into an intense rivalry with number one contender and former interim champ Colby Covington. The former collegiate wrestler tried his best to get under the skin of Usman in his media appearances but it would ultimately have no effect on the champ. He pieced up ‘Chaos’ for the best part of five rounds, famously breaking his jaw with a picture-perfect straight right in the third. He eventually finished Colby with 50 seconds remaining of round five, earning himself a fight of the night bonus in the process.
He then moved on to long term foe Jorge Masvidal, who he beat by unanimous decision before TKOing Gilbert Burns to take his title defenses to a hattrick. He squared off against two familiar faces in his next two title fights in Masvidal and Covington respectively. His finish of Masvidal in their second bout may just be the finest moment of his career so far. Usman landed one of the most vicious right hands we have ever seen as fight fans, snapping ‘Gamebred’s’ head back, knocking him out cold. It was a testament to just how far he has come as a striker since winning the belt with Masvidal admitting after that he wasn’t aware of the power Usman possessed.
GSP on the other hand beat a ‘who’s who’ of Welterweight contenders during his tenure as 170lb champ. He prevented an entire generation of great fighters such as Josh Koschek, Carlos Condit and Nick Diaz from ever holding undisputed UFC gold. Whilst maybe not possessing the knockout power that Usman boasts, he proved himself time and time again as one of the most complete fighters in the entire sport. Practicing Kyokushin karate from age seven, accented by his iconic walkout gear, ‘Rush’ also practiced boxing, wrestling and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu as a teen. A true Mixed Martial Artist, he established himself as both a deadly striker and feared grappler. It was his elite grappling that shone through the most though and he holds the record for the most control time of any fighter (2hr 42m), top position time (2hr 22m) and takedowns landed (90). His incredible fight IQ allowed him to chop and change his game plan according to his opponent and his longevity made him the grim reaper of his division.
Kamaru Usman is continuing to make his mark at 170lbs and has shown the same level of fight IQ as ‘Rush’ did, mixing up his striking and grappling in his title defenses. However it is important to note that he has only had 3 unique opponents in those fights. There are still bouts to be made, with Khamzat Chimaev and Leon Edwards breathing down the neck of Florida native. Can he surpass GSP? His skillset says yes and his record says he is in the conversation already. But the entire welterweight division has long lived in the shadow of Georges St Pierre. For as much as he has achieved, Kamaru Usman still has a way to go before he can plant his flag at the very top of the mountain.