Kamaru Usman is easily the most unheralded fighter in the UFC. The 33-year-old “Nigerian Nightmare” (17-1) has been quietly racking up wins at an alarming pace. He sits as the welterweight champion, and the last time he lost a fight was in 2013 – the only fight he’s ever lost. Usman has defended his belt twice and has been fighting, and winning, in the UFC since 2015. The Nigerian-American has dispatched some heavy hitters along the way, his last three wins being against some impressive names: Tyron Woodley (19-6-1), whom he took the belt off, and Colby Covington (16-2) and Jorge Masvidal (35-14), whom he successfully defended it against. Where Usman falters in the star department comes down to two categories: one, he is not the flashiest of fighters, his decision victory against a stand-in Masvidal on Fight Island at UFC 251 last July being a perfect example. Former NCAA division II wrestler Usman broke Masvidal down technically, applying constant pressure against the cage, covering escape outlets and dictating the tempo. Whenever Masvidal would try to break from Usman’s game plan and deliver a flurry of punches, hoping to turn the fight into a brawl, Usman would quickly regain control and smother the American. A sexy fight it was not, but it was an impressive show of mixed martial arts and exemplifies how dedicated Usman is to his craft. He doesn’t break fighters, he breaks them down. Hong Kong’s Ramona Pascual moves to Las Vegas chasing UFC dream Masvidal is a perfect example of the UFC’s measuring stick. “Gamebred” is easily more famous than Usman – he has more Instagram followers and star power (which is what got him the shot against Usman at short notice). But Usman is a much better fighter, more well-rounded, much more tactical, and Masvidal was soundly beaten. This is the genesis of the second point: Usman’s fame has faltered because his personality outside the ring is much smaller than the one in it. Purists will scoff at this, saying what you do in the cage is all that matters, but in 2021 in Dana White’s UFC, you have to bring the money as well as the talent. Usman is the UFC’s fifth-ranked pound-for-pound overall fighter, but he is overshadowed by some of the guys in front of him. There is Khabib Nurmagomedov (29-0), whose star power was shot out of a high-powered canon into the stratosphere when he became Conor McGregor’s arch nemesis. McGregor (22-5), you could argue, is as big as the UFC now in terms of overall appeal, a household name in the sporting world, and even outside it with his business endeavours. After that is Jon “Bones” Jones (26-1), who has taken the bad boy route to stardom in the UFC. Jones, once seen as the future of the sport, has yet to prove he can stay out of trouble, and pass drug tests with real consistency. But in many regards, this has also elevated his star power, as he has at times embraced his black sheep image, while at other times trying to dispel it. Israel “The Last Stylebender” Adesanya (20-0) has shown equal amounts of flurry and creativity both in and out of the ring. He dances and trash talks with the best of them, and wins every time. Adesanya’s undefeated streak is only bolstered by the fact that he is great in front of the camera, charming, charismatic and loaded with ego and machismo. Usman, who appeared on the scene after the 21st season of The Ultimate Fighter , did so in a rather quiet way. He was neither the loudest, the most outspoken or the most braggadocios. But he is the best fighter. The competition and rivalry between the two gyms featured in TUF 21 – American Top Team and Blackzilians – overshadowed Usman’s dominance. For many, this is fine, as it was clear the best fighter emerged victorious. Usman wasn’t even on the main card for the pay-per-view finale, with that honour going to Stephen Thompson and Jake Ellenberger. View this post on Instagram A post shared by KAMARU USMAN (@usman84kg) Here in lies the conundrum for Usman heading into his third title defence against Gilbert Burns, whom he was supposed to face at UFC 251. He is likely to beat Burns, but the two are former teammates, friends and have a lot of respect for each other. Unless something remarkable happens, there will be little in terms of headlines for UFC fans to latch onto: “Usman beats former training partner really badly” just doesn’t sell anywhere nearly as much as a fight between two guys who clearly hate each other, which was the case when Usman fought Masvidal. Mind you, Masvidal talks trash with pretty much every fighter and their dog, using a broad stroke to garner attention. Usman’s probable win over Burns will be quickly overshadowed by UFC 259 on March 7 when middleweight champ Adesanya takes on Jan Błachowicz in his light heavyweight debut, which will surely be a crowd-pleaser and create juicy headlines. Usman, for all we know, may be totally fine with remaining as the most underrated fighter in the UFC. But in today’s fight game, your bark has to be as big as your bite, and Usman’s quiet ways, however brutally violent, have left him out of GOAT debates for longer than usual. If he wants to enter more conversations within the UFC world, he may want to add some fireworks to his displays of firepower.