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With the recent retirement of octagon legend Georges St-Pierre (26-2 MMA, 20-2 UFC), there’s been much discussion about the welterweight division he’s ruled for so long. “GSP” is considered by most to be the greatest 170-pound champ in UFC history, but Woodley’s (19-3-1 MMA, 9-2-1 UFC) work as champion has allowed him to at least enter the conversation.
Unfortunately, Woodley will never have the chance to prove his superiority inside the octagon because St-Pierre never participated in a potential passing-of-the-torch moment. Usman believes that’s what UFC 235 presents for him, though, and although it’s not entirely out of Woodley’s doing, it’s meaningful for Usman (14-1 MMA, 9-0 UFC).
“I’m thankful for Tyron,” Usman told MMAjunkie on Friday. “I know it’s not ultimately 100 percent his decision, because if he had his decision I wasn’t his first pick to fight. But, I’m thankful he went through with it and signed the contract because he did give me the opportunity I felt Georges robbed him of. Georges didn’t give him that opportunity and I feel like that’s part of why Tyron deals with the disrespect he deals with as champion. I do believe sometimes he shoots himself in the foot at times for sure, but he deals with a lot more than a lot of the other champions because people feel he didn’t beat the champion of the previous time.”
UFC 235 takes place March 2 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Usman vs. Woodley co-headlines the pay-per-view main card following prelims on ESPN and MMAjunkie.
Through a seven-fight UFC unbeaten streak that includes four title defenses, Woodley has established himself among the most successful welterweight champions of all-time. Woodley has repeatedly labeled himself as the man at the top of the heap when it comes to that category, but Usman said that’s not how it works.
“I think it’s kind of weak sauce,” Usman said. “I remember when he started saying, ‘I’m the greatest welterweight of all-time.’ I always felt kind of cringy about that. You don’t classify yourself the greatest welterweight of all-time. That’s not how this works. You’re made that by the people who watch your fights and the fans. They tell you that you’re the greatest of all-time. You don’t ordain yourself that. That’s like a new fighter coming in and saying, ‘I’m the best fighter in the world.’ You don’t know. That’s not how it works. The world tells you that, your audience tells you that.
“When he said that it was a bit cringe for me, like, why would you say that? That’s not your job to dictate whether you’re the greatest of all-time. For me, I never worry about, ‘Oh, I want to be the greatest.’ As long as I do my job and continue to win these fights, that’s how you break records, that’s how you make milestones and set new records. I’m not worried about that legacy stuff. It comes later once it’s set and done.”
Usman believes he has already laid the groundwork for a legacy of his own. One that could eventually surpass that of Woodley or St-Pierre. “The Nigerian Nightmare” is the only fighter in divisional history to start his UFC career 9-0, and will attempt to push that streak further, but with title wins and defenses listed, as well.
“I definitely want to be an active champion because if you’re not fighting, you’re not making money,” Usman said. “The biggest thing is there’s a huge difference between being the challenger and the champion. That’s what I want. The more I continue to fight as champion the more I have reach and pay and everything goes into it.
“After this fight I have some things I need to get fixed and worked on. I may take a short break, maybe a month. But I want to keep active and keep knocking these fights out as fast as possible because that’s how you prove your legacy.”
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