Usman batters Covington, retains title at UFC 245

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Kamaru Usman sent a bloodied, bleary Colby Covington spiraling to the ground for the second time. Usman then leaped on him and went to work on Covington’s badly injured jaw, battering his dazed opponent with hammer fists until the referee mercifully intervened.

Although he had to wait until the final minute, Usman settled his very personal feud with his sharply divisive challenger in perhaps the most satisfying way possible.

“This one is not just for me,” Usman said. “This is for the whole entire world right now.”

Usman brutally stopped Covington with 50 seconds left in their bout at UFC 245 yesterday, retaining his UFC welterweight belt with a spectacular finish to their grudge match.

Alexander Volkanovski also took the UFC featherweight title from Max Holloway and became the second Australian champion in the promotion’s history with a tactical unanimous-decision victory, and Amanda Nunes defended her bantamweight title with a grinding unanimous-decision victory over Germaine De Randamie at T-Mobile Arena.

Usman (16-1) closed out an occasionally slow fight with Covington (15-2) in thrilling fashion, knocking down the challenger twice with right hands and then decisively finishing him on the ground. Covington’s apparently broken jaw couldn’t withstand the pressure of Usman, who drew strength from the personal animus he took into the cage.

“He talked a lot going into this, so this was a respect thing,” said Usman, who won his 11th straight fight. “I had a responsibility to go in there and teach him a lesson.”

The Nigeria-born, Texas-raised Usman made good on his vow to derail the career of Covington, whose grating personality and eager embrace of President Donald Trump have made him a polarising, widely reviled figure in mixed martial arts.

Covington recently claimed he is only playing a character in the tradition of a classic wrestling heel. UFC President Dana White and a long list of his onetime teammates — including UFC stars Jon Jones, Jorge Masvidal and Tyron Woodley — all say Covington is just a difficult, unlikable person.

UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman (L) punches Colby Covington in their welterweight title fight during UFC 245 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. PHOTO: AFP

Usman was thrilled to beat up a bully.

“Everyone was like, ‘Oh, Colby is in his head!’” Usman said. “‘He’s going to gas out, fight emotional!’ I’m telling you guys right now, the reason I’m the best in the world is because my mind is stronger than everyone in the division.”

Covington and Usman started with two busy rounds of striking in which Covington appeared to be landing more blows, but Covington poked Usman in the eye during the third. Usman responded by bloodying Covington in an impressive third-round flurry, and Covington subsequently told his corner that he thought his jaw was broken.

Usman took control from there, gradually finishing Covington in his first defence of the belt he took from Woodley earlier this year.

Covington sprinted from the cage after the decision, declining to congratulate Usman.

“I made a lot of mistakes, but I know I hit harder than him,” Usman said.

Volkanovski (21-1) picked apart Holloway (21-5) with leg kicks and movement for five frenetic rounds, controlling the bout with style and persistence.

The 31-year-old challenger born in a tiny coastal town in New South Wales joins New Zealand-born middleweight Robert Whittaker as UFC’s only Aussie champs.

The judges favoured Volkanovski 48-47, 48-47 and 50-45. Holloway struggled to land consistent strikes while dodging Volkanovski’s barrage of leg kicks, but the long-reigning champ still appeared surprised and disappointed by the judges’ verdict in just his second loss since 2013.

“It means the world,” Volkanovski said. “I have two kids at home. Everything is about my family. Spending time away from them kills me, but this is for them.”

Volkanovski became just the fourth featherweight champion in UFC history, joining Jose Aldo, Conor McGregor and Holloway, who had reigned since 2016.

Volkanovski earned his title shot with 17 straight victories, including seven since joining the UFC, capped by a win over Aldo in May.

“Featherweight has always had great, respectful champions who always fight the next contenders in line, and I appreciate that,” Volkanovski said. “There’s a lot of people who have earned their shot and aren’t given it, so I’m going to make sure everyone who earns it, gets it.”