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Kamaru Usman of Nigeria prepares to fight Colby Covington in their UFC welterweight championship fight during the UFC 268 event at Madison Square Garden on November 06, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
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Where We Stand: Welterweight Division | November 2021

Kamaru Usman's Championship Reign Continued At UFC 268, But The Challengers Are Eagerly Awaiting Their Turn

The guard remained unchanged as Kamaru Usman thwarted Colby Covington once again in a hard-fought headliner at UFC 268 in New York City. With Usman’s firm grasp on the belt remaining, here’s how the top of the welterweight division shakes out.

Champion: Kamaru Usman

(20-1, 9 KOs, 1 Submission)

Last Fight: Unanmious Decision Win vs Colby Covington (11/6/2021)

Next fight: N/A

Outlook: Usman took another step closer to becoming the greatest welterweight to ever step inside the Octagon with his second title defense over Colby Covington in Madison Square Garden. He displayed his measured and improved striking and Fort Knox-like takedown defense despite Covington’s best efforts. Usman has said he is starting to lap the division, but the 170-pounders waiting for their shot have plenty to say. Leon Edwards has taken the long road back to a title shot and potential rematch against Usman, and he could very well be next. Former teammate Vicente Luque is perhaps one more win away from earning a title shot as well. The point is: Usman has plenty of fresh faces to defend his belt against and continue to build his GOAT resume.

1) Colby Covington

(16-3, 4 KOs, 4 Submissions)

Last Fight: Unanimous Decision Loss vs Kamaru Usman (11/6/2021)

Next fight: N/A

Colby Covington Octagon Interview | UFC 268: Usman vs Covington 2
Colby Covington Octagon Interview | UFC 268: Usman vs Covington 2
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Outlook: “Chaos” brought his best efforts to Madison Square Garden but ultimately fell short. It put his two-year odyssey back to a rematch against Usman to an end, for now, and so now his attention shifts to defending his spot for a while. People have long floated a spicy matchup against Jorge Masvidal, which any and all fight fans would accept given their beef. Covington hasn’t fought many of those in and around the current Top 5, so he has options that could put him on an inside track to another chance at gold.

2) Gilbert Burns

(20-4, 6 KOs, 8 Submissions)

Last Fight: Unaniomus Decision Win vs Stephen Thompson (7/11/2021)

Next fight: N/A

Gilbert Burns trains at Sanford MMA in Deerfield Beach, Florida, on June 30, 2021. (Photo by Zac Pacleb)

Gilbert Burns trains at Sanford MMA in Deerfield Beach, Florida, on June 30, 2021. (Photo by Zac Pacleb)

Gilbert Burns trains at Sanford MMA in Deerfield Beach, Florida, on June 30, 2021. (Photo by Zac Pacleb)

Outlook: “Durinho” put together a measured and tactical performance against Stephen Thompson his last time out, and although it wasn’t going to steal any headlines, he did what was necessary to remain at the top of the division. Burns might only need one more statement victory against a fellow contender to get a rematch against Usman, who he rocked in their first fight and perhaps came closer than anyone to unseating the champion. It’s a little complicated for him if Edwards doesn’t want to fight him and instead wait for his (well-earned) chance at the belt, and he probably won’t fight friend and teammate Vicente Luque. However, Burns remains a nightmare matchup for any championship hopeful, which also makes him a necessary roadblock for those who hope to fight for the title.

3) Leon Edwards

(19-3, 6 KOs, 3 Submissions)

Last Fight: Unanimous Decision Win vs Nate Diaz (6/x/2021)

Next fight: N/A

Outlook: Few fighters have had worse luck than Leon Edwards in terms of getting fights in the last few years, but “Rocky” remained steadfast through it all. For about 24 minutes in his last fight, Edwards controlled and dominated Nate Diaz. He survived a last-minute flurry from Stockton’s favorite son, and his unbeaten streak now sits at 10. Although he was briefly tied to a long-awaited matchup with Jorge Masvidal, he has every right to sit and wait for his title shot after an injury forced Masvidal out of the bout. That chance might not come for several months, but title shots are fickle beasts, so it’s hard to imagine Edwards feeling vexed about waiting a little longer.

4) Vicente Luque

(21-7, 11 KOs, 8 Submissions)

Last Fight: Submission Win vs Michael Chiesa (8/7/2021)

Next fight: N/A

Estelares ufc 265 Vicente Luque

Outlook: “The Silent Assassin” stamped “contender” on his name with a second-straight first-round submission against Michael Chiesa at UFC 265. The win was his 10th in his last 11 fights. Flat out, Luque is one of the most entertaining fighters on the roster. He needed judges in just one of his 14 UFC victories, and he is incredibly durable. Luque has never been finished in the Octagon, and his combination of technical sharpness on the feet and the mat makes him an undeniable problem for anyone in the Top 5. He might need one more victory to have a legit campaign for a title shot, but other than Burns, his options are wide open. His two losses are to Leon Edwards and Stephen Thompson, and a rematch against either is of high interest. He has teased a matchup with Nate Diaz, which everyone would watch with glee. Either way, Luque’s time has been coming, and it seems like he is on the cusp of a shot at his ultimate goal.

5) Stephen Thompson

(16-5, 7 KOs, 1 Submission)

Last Fight: Unanimous Decision Loss vs Gilbert Burns (7/11/2021)

Next fight: vs Belal Muhammad (12/18/2021)

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - DECEMBER 19: (R-L) Stephen Thompson punches Geoff Neal in a welterweight fight during the UFC Fight Night

Outlook: It seemed like “Wonderboy” wasn’t too far from earning his third shot at UFC gold when he entered the Octagon against Burns at UFC 264, but with the loss, he has some work to do once again. He is rumored to have a matchup against Belal Muhammad coming before 2021’s end, which could serve him well in terms of solidifying his spot in the Top 5 once again like he did against Geoff Neal and Vicente Luque. Timing-wise, his future might depend on how the next title shot works out and what is done with Masvidal and Covington. Thompson holds a win over Masvidal, and “Gamebred” has expressed his interest in getting that one back. A matchup against Covington could serve him well in terms of allowing Thompson to amend his grappling woes spotlit by Burns, but whether Covington is interested in that matchup is uncertain.

In the Mix: Michael Chiesa, Jorge Masvidal, Khamzat Chimaev

Khamzat Chimaev | Best Moments
Khamzat Chimaev | Best Moments
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Outlook: The hottest riser in the sport is Khamzat Chimaev. Although COVID-19 slowed his hype train for about a year, he earned all that momentum back and then some with another dominant win – this time over Li Jingliang at UFC 267. “Borz” is the looming presence over the entire Top 10. There hasn’t been but two strikes landed against him in four fights, and he continues to shift question marks into exclamation points. It seems like he’s due for another huge step up in competition, and he’s always in play to yo-yo between middleweight and welterweight.