Kamaru Usman questions how much Max Holloway’s eye pokes altered outcome of Justin Gaethje fight

Kamaru Usman has his teammate’s back.

When Justin Gaethje went down in the final seconds of his “BMF” title fight with Max Holloway this past weekend at UFC 300, it was a shocking moment and one of the most unbelievable finishes in MMA history. Holloway was well on his way to a win on the scorecards, but threw caution to the wind to pick up a thrilling knockout victory.

On his Pound 4 Pound podcast, Usman broke down what went wrong for his longtime training partner, starting with a strategic suggestion that could have changed the complexion of the contest.

“I think the place where things kind of might have went sideways is making the necessary adjustments in the fight,” Usman said. “I think Justin is just such a freaking good guy, which is why he’s your favorite fighter’s favorite fighter. He loves to entertain so much, to where it’s, ‘OK, you paid to see this type of fight. I’m going to give you that type of fight.’ He’s that type of guy. To where, I thought he could have made some adjustments.

“He is a wrestler. This fight’s completely different had Justin changed levels and taken Max down once or twice. And he can do it. He can 100 percent do it. Had he changed levels and took him down once, this fight gives us a different potential outcome. I think maybe just the adjustments in fight.”

Along with the buzzer-beater finish, there was plenty of drama early in the fight, with Holloway badly damaging Gaethje’s nose with a spinning kick at the end of Round 1, and also landing a pair of nasty-looking inadvertent eye pokes.

Usman credited Holloway for his performance, but noted that the fouls had a deleterious effect on Gaethje’s performance.

“We can’t shy away from the fact that this man, yeah, he took that kick to the nose at the end of the first round, just seconds left, if not, zero time left,” Usman said. “He took that kick to the nose, which plays a huge, huge part in potentially moving on in the fight because now you can’t breathe the way you want to breathe in that fight. On top of that, we have to see the two eye pokes.

“They were clear-cut, legit eye pokes. It wasn’t that Max was doing it maliciously or on purpose. They happen. These are the type of things that can alter the outcome of a fight.”

Usman’s podcast co-host Henry Cejudo suggested that in addition to mixing in the occasional takedown, Gaethje should have used more fakes to close the distance. He then asked Usman if a knockout loss like the one suffered at UFC 300 could alter the trajectory of Gaethje’s career.

As long as Gaethje takes his time returning to action, Usman isn’t concerned.

“I don’t think so,” Usman said. “I definitely do think we take some time and we bounce back. Justin’s been here before. Eddie Alvarez. Dustin Poirier. He took the time, he bounced back, he did the necessary things that he needed to do to get back, so I don’t think so. I think it’s based on him and how he wants to continue his career. But no, I don’t think it alters anything.

“As far as at the end of the fight, I take nothing away. That’s Justin Gaethje. That’s a Justin Gaethje move. That’s what the BMF does. That right there, that end of that fight is exactly what we signed up for. That is exactly what that title is about. Am I right or am I wrong? That’s exactly what that title is about. ‘We are BMFs. Let’s meet and the center and let’s go.’ And who would have ever bet that Justin Gaethje loses that type of fight? In the center, we’re swinging, who bets that Justin Gaethje loses? No one.”

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