March 5, 2019

UFC 235: Usman Win Changes the Course of the Welterweight Division

By Raphael Garcia

UFC 235 was a compelling card which featured an interesting mix of hype and underdog stories. In the card's co-main event, Kamaru Usman went from underdog to champion, as he dominated Tyron Woodley for twenty-five minutes to take the welterweight crown. This was a big moment for his career, one that also helped to reshuffle the deck a bit in a division consistently considered one of the deepest in the sport. A new titleholder sitting on the throne means that there are a lot of fights worth watching closely for an opportunity to see which challengers emerge.

To start this conversation, one should look no further than the UFC 235 main card bout between Ben Askren and Robbie Lawler. The two former champions provided perhaps the most exciting moment of the night in Lawler's "Burning Hammer"-style slam, as well as the most controversial, the stoppage in favor of Askren. UFC President Dana White suggested that an immediate rematch is forthcoming, but Askren stated simply that he’d like to pass on that bout, instead taking shots at Darren Till. The undefeated former Bellator MMA and ONE champion Askren has the most to gain from Woodley’s defeat. With his ability to trash talk and that perfect record, no one would be surprised if he’s on the short list of contenders.

However, Usman’s first challenge will likely come from none other than Colby Covington. The former Interim Welterweight Champion made the rounds all week antagonizing anyone that would listen with his "People's Champion" gimmick, the culmination of which was the moment when Usman, having just emerged from the cage victorious, confronted Covington, with the two having to be pulled apart by security. Covington didn’t make any fans during this weekend, but the fighter nicknamed "Chaos" seems to have created more than enough to keep himself relevant in the division, even though he hasn’t fought since June. Both Usman and Woodley made it clear that they hate Covington and want to hurt him next, plus White confirmed before the bout that he was next in line for whoever claimed the title. Covington may go in as a massive underdog when he faces Usman, but we’ve seen how often those betting lines wrongly predict who is going to come out on top.

The rest of the championship "mix" could be sorted out later this month. The aforementioned Till, who is facing Jorge Masvidal in the main event of UFC on ESPN+ 5 later this month, was dispatched by Woodley in a title bout his last time out. He is looking to remain in the the title conversation at welterweight even as he flirts with a move to middleweight. Masvidal is further out of the title picture, but a win in this fight would go a long way towards reminding fans of the threat he poses to the champion. In the co-main event, Leon Edwards and Gunnar Nelson will square off, with the winner poised to take a big leap forward in the division.

But this conversation wouldn't be complete without a discussion about Woodley. The now former champion is angling for an immediate rematch, but it's no secret that Woodley hasn’t been a popular champion with the promotion or the fanbase. So it’s hard to see the UFC giving him the immediate runback he seeks. Although he had four title defenses before his loss, being dominated in one-sided fashion by Usman doesn’t inspire a desire in fans to see that rematch anytime soon. Should Woodley be in consideration for a title shot at some point in the near future? Yes, but that bout definitely doesn’t need to be the next fight for Usman – it should come later, perhaps after a rebound fight for Woodley against one of the fighters on the UFC on ESPN+ 5 card.

March has just begun, but by the time the month is over, we should have more clarity regarding the future of the welterweight division. The new era began on Saturday night when Usman walked out of T-Mobile Arena with the UFC Welterweight Championship. And in the weeks to come, we will see several contenders sort things out in the Octagon. It will be interesting to see how the division takes shape over the next 9 to 12 months, and who, once the dust settles, will be sitting atop one of the UFC's premier divisions.

UFC 235
Tyron Woodley vs. Kamaru Usman (UFC Welterweight Championship): Kamaru Usman def. Tyron Woodley via unanimous decision (50-44, 50-44, 50-45).

UFC 235: Jones vs. Smith took place March 2, 2019 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Click HERE for more UFC 235 Post-Fight Analysis

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