Similar to Khabib Nurmagomedov, Kamaru Usman is a dominant champion who emits somewhat of an aura of invincibility. You might not immortalise him in the way you do with Khabib, but the "Nigerian Nightmare" is good in most phases of MMA and is one of the toughest tests in the sport.
In fact, there’s a very legitimate argument to be made in favour of him being the UFC’s current pound for pound best in the wake of Khabib’s retirement, and as arguably the best welterweight of all-time after the great Georges St-Pierre. Rest assured, it will take a very, very good fighter to beat him in what is currently his fighting prime at the age of 33.
In addition to being one the best around in the sport, Usman possesses an endless gas tank and poses a significant threat in both open space and up against the cage, and both on the feet and from top position. These attributes all contribute towards him holding what is a fairly significant physical and technical advantage over this weekend’s opponent, Gilbert Burns.
Usman has two, maybe even three routes to victory in this fight. The first, and probably the most sensible, is to back Gilbert Burns up against the cage, control him there and batter him in the clinch, as the Nigerian-born has done so to many big names in the sport, such as Jorge Masvidal in his last fight in July. Burns showed some vulnerability in the clinch against Gunnar Nelson, a fighter not known for competency in that area, so it’s difficult to imagine a scenario whereby Usman, an extremely powerful and capable clinch fighter, wouldn’t dominate such an exchange.
Additionally, Burns’ fights with Nelson and Alexey Kunchenko were exemplary of very rudimentary cage craft on the part of the Brazilian, who showed nothing but linear retreats in the face of pressure, so Usman should have no issue backing his man up against the walls of the cage. Since the departure of Khabib, Usman is arguably the best wrestler in the UFC right now and the option of taking Burns down, both in open space and against the cage, and dominating him from the top position in the way did against former champion Tyron Woodley is where this fight could be one or lost.
Burns was taken down multiple times by Nelson who, again, isn’t a considerable wrestling threat. People might be quick to point out the ostensible dangers of that game plan, mostly arising from Burns’ supposed submission threat - largely stemming from his ADCC days - but the truth is that Burns is not that type of grappler; he’s not particularly potent off his back.
The Brazilian is very much an aggressive top player so if he wants to impose that part of his game on Usman he’ll have to be the man initiating the wrestling exchanges to take the fight to that area. The third game plan, and the riskiest, is to simply strike with Burns in open space - the same way he did with Colby Covington. While it wouldn’t be a smart plan, it’s still a game plan that could favour Usman. Burns is faster and is arguably the more ‘natural’ looking striker, but Usman is technically sounder. Usman has a considerable cardio edge, which will be consequential regardless of the game plan he employs, and consciously works the body a lot, which for a fighter like Burns - who’s shown a propensity to slow down in the later stages of a fight - is a considerable threat.