Woodley (19-4-1) had been the UFC’s 170-pound champ since July 2016 and defended the belt four times, but Usman (15-1) got off to a quick start and never let up in his first career title shot. Usman celebrated in the cage with his daughter before his hand was raised in victory.
Ben Askren, Woodley’s close friend and training partner, survived an opening-minute beating and rallied to choke out Robbie Lawler midway through the first round of his own UFC debut.
Light heavyweight champ Jon Jones took on Anthony Smith in the main event of the pay-per-view card at T-Mobile Arena.
The 31-year-old Usman, a Nigerian-born Texan and former NCAA Division II wrestler, broke into the UFC in 2015 on its long-running competition reality show. He won his first eight UFC bouts and battered ex-champ Rafael Dos Anjos last November to earn his shot at Woodley’s belt.
“Can’t nobody handle me,” Usman said. “I’ve been wanting this fight, and I’ll be honest, I might not be the best striker in the world. I might not be the best wrestler in the world. But when it comes to mixing this (stuff) up, I’m the best in the world right now.”
After a close opening round, Usman dominated the second with top control on Woodley, who couldn’t escape or avoid Usman’s elbows.
Usman peppered Woodley with body shots in the first three rounds, and he appeared to be close to finishing Woodley in the fourth with punches.
Usman won 50-44 on two cards and 50-45 on the third.
The 34-year-old Askren’s UFC debut and unbeaten record almost ended abruptly when Lawler picked him up, slammed him down on his head and battered him with punches that left Askren badly bloodied.
“It took me a little while to get my bearings after the slam,” Askren said. “I was mostly surprised at how quickly he got me up and down.”
Askren survived and eventually gained position on Lawler with a bulldog choke. Lawler was furious when referee Herb Dean stopped the bout, insisting he was fine in the choke. Some cageside observers thought Lawler was unconscious, but he sprung out of the stoppage.
“I was bleeding all over the place, so I just squeezed as hard as I could. Everyone is upset with Herb, but he came in and checked on Robbie (in the clinch), and Robbie gave him (no response). As a veteran, that’s on Robbie. That’s not on Herb or me.”
The outspoken Askren (19-0), a former U.S. Olympic wrestler, joined the UFC late last year after a decade fighting in other promotions and sparring with UFC President Dana White on social media. The UFC surprisingly added him to its roster last year, trading former flyweight champion Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson to the One Championship promotion.
“Dana, is that the best you’ve got? Bring it, baby,” Askren said after beating Lawler.
Lawler, the former welterweight champion and crowd-pleasing brawler, was fighting for the first time since December 2017 after tearing a knee ligament in his loss to Dos Anjos.
Former UFC bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt took his third straight loss in the PPV opener, getting stopped by Pedro Munhoz in the final seconds of the first round after their fight turned into an all-out brawl.
Earlier, Brazilian light heavyweight Johnny Walker injured his shoulder while doing a celebratory Worm after stopping Misha Cirkunov with a spectacular flying knee in the opening minute.
Diego Sanchez, the 37-year-old champion of the first season of “The Ultimate Fighter,” earned his second straight victory with a second-round stoppage of Mickey Gall.
By GREG BEACHAM ,Associated Press