On Saturday, Nov. 6, the UFC will return to Madison Square Garden for the first time in two years. UFC 268 is capped off by two title rematches and a host of other exciting bouts that make it one of the premier fight cards of the year.
The main event is a grudge match between bitter rivals Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington, as they meet again for the undisputed UFC welterweight title. Since their first contest in Dec. 2019, neither man has held back on sharing their personal feelings about the other. This rematch is for more than the title. It is about personal bragging rights with Usman hoping that another finish will close Covington’s mouth once and for all. Covington hopes to even the score and back up his trash talk that has, at some points, been cringy, to almost prolific, and everywhere in between.
The co-main event is a rematch of a fight that took place just seven months ago at UFC 261, when Rose Namajunas reclaimed the strawweight belt by stopping Weili Zhang just 78 seconds into the fight. A lot of talk has been made recently about Zhang moving her training camp to the United States for this fight. The move stems from post-fight comments about how the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately affected her training camp, which was based in Beijing.
Zhang is now training with former two-division UFC champion Henry Cejudo in Scottsdale, Ariz. Under the tutelage of Cejudo and company, this version of the former strawweight queen is being touted as “Zhang 2.0″. Namajunas, on the other hand, will be looking to defeat Zhang in back-to-back title fights. This would be the second time Namajunas has won back-to-back championship bouts, after she did so previously against Joanna Jędrzejczyk nearly four years ago.
The “featured bout” of the evening, as UFC commentator Jon Anik likes to say, showcases a lightweight clash that is rightfully giving fans goosebumps in the lead up. Former World Series of Fighting lightweight champion Justin Gaethje is set to meet former Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler. Neither man likes to move backwards, giving this fight all the makings of an elegant car crash that fans will not be able to take their eyes off of. Once it’s over, fans around the world will need to pick their jaws up off the floor. The main card is rounded out by a featherweight clash between Shane Burgos and Billy Quarantillo, and a bantamweight meeting between former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar and Marlon Vera.
The early prelims will air live on UFC Fight Pass and ESPN+ beginning at 6 p.m. ET, followed by the preliminary card on ESPNEWS and ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET. The evening will culminate with the main card on ESPN+ pay-per-view starting at 10 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Andrew Sumian and Matt Petela preview the action and predict the results this week as they go Toe-to-Toe.
The main event is a rematch of one of the best fights of 2019 where Kamaru Usman scored a somewhat controversial fifth-round stoppage; does Colby Covington get his revenge this weekend?
Sumian: If the last several years of UFC welterweight action has taught us anything, it is that Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington have remained the two best welterweights in the world, who are destined to face each other to settle the score. When it comes to pure pace and pressure, it is hard to name a fighter more deserving than Covington. He is an aggressive and exhausting fighter for any top welterweight to face, due to his never ending cardio, persistent wrestling attack, and ability to continuously throw combinations that back his opponents up.
Covington averages 5.69 takedowns per 15 minutes, 3.90 significant strikes per minute, and an above-average 78% takedown defense rate. Backed by an impeccable wrestling pedigree and improved striking, Covington has defeated numerous welterweight contenders throughout his seven-year UFC campaign, including victories over Demian Maia Rafael dos Anjos, and Robbie Lawler. The number-one ranked welterweight contender is coming off a dominant showing against Tyron Woodley back in Sept. 2020, and he will look to enact vengeance on Usman this Saturday night.
Since his UFC debut back in 2015, where he won the The Ultimate Fighter finale, Usman has been the prime example of what a perfect fighter is. The Nigeria native has compiled a perfect 14-0 record, claimed the UFC welterweight championship, and defended his title four times in the last two years. His winning streak includes victories over then aforementioned dos Anjos, Jorge Masvidal and Gilbert Burns, and he has effectively cleaned out the UFC welterweight division of any formidable competition. “The Nigerian Nightmare” has averaged a perfect 100-percent takedown defense rate, 3.22 takedowns per 15 minutes, and 4.66 significant strikes per minute, making him one of the most well balanced, composed and complete UFC champions in recent memory.
Usman’s second-round knockout of Masvidal moved him up the rankings to the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world, and earned him a second “Performance of the Night” bonus in as many fights. Backed by a stellar wrestling game, and striking that continuously evolves, Usman is poised to become one of the most iconic champions in MMA history, if he is able to keep his streak alive against his bitter rival.
This fight is going to be very similar to the pair’s first meeting back in Dec. 2019. Usman and Covington will meet in the center of the Octagon and exchange blows for several rounds. The champion will employ the use of his stinging jab, in an effort to derail Covington’s forward pressure, and look for openings in the challenger’s guard in effort to land a big punch. Usman will still hold a significant striking advantage over Covington, which he will look to utilize similar to their first fight. On other hand, the challenger will look to walk Usman down and throw numerous combinations to back the champion up and negate any power punches thrown his way. This will be a very high-level fight that will feature the best skills of both fighters.
Covington certainly has a path to victory, which likely comes by way of decision, after he is able to walk Usman down and throw continuous combinations for five straight rounds. However, it is simply too difficult to imagine the champion not turning in another impressive title defense. Despite their vastly different personalities, both men have similar skill sets, but Usman is certainly the more powerful puncher which will pay dividends yet again. He will finish Covington in the fourth round via strikes, after the pair put on another memorable showdown and claim another “Fight of the Night” accolade.
Petela: This first fight was nothing short of awesome. Back and forth for over twenty-two minutes until the somewhat premature stoppage that likely didn’t change the overall outcome of the contest. Since then, Usman has looked better and better, defeating Masvidal twice and stopping Burns. Covington has not been as active, fighting only once, when picked up a late stoppage over former champion Woodley. Typically, frequent activity without taking much damage is the perfect resume for a fighter to keep a winning streak going. However, with Usman, this time that is not the case.
Since their first fight, the thing at the forefront of Covington’s mind has been this rematch. The champion, on the other hand, has had to focus on all the top contenders and improving his game in order to beat each and every one of them. Covington has had that time to focus on developing a game plan to change the outcome of this rematch, and he has also had the requisite time to perfect that game plan in training camp. He and his coaches will have drawn up a masterpiece performance, expecting Usman’s every move, and giving the former interim champion the opportunity to stay one step ahead for the duration of the contest. He won’t get revenge in the sense of returning the favor by finishing Usman, but at the end of the five rounds, it will be Covington who gets his hand raised by unanimous decision and the tables will be set for a third, and final fight, in this epic trilogy in the making.
The co-main event is also a rematch; can Rose Namajunas move to 2-0 against Weili Zhang to close out this rivalry?
Petela: Yes. Despite the change in training camps, and the move stateside, Weili Zhang will not reclaim the title this weekend. The change in scenery will certainly benefit Zhang but it won’t be what she needs to even the score with Namajunas. The main benefit Zhang will get from training in Arizona will be improvements in her wrestling game, and while there will be sizable improvements in that skill set, it is unlikely that this showdown becomes a grappling contest. Namajunas is fleet of foot and is always evolving under the guidance of Trevor Wittman. She will be able to avoid any attempts by Zhang to close the distance and get the fight to the canvas. Her precision striking and striking defense will be a step ahead throughout the contest and she will win a definitive, if not lopsided, decision.
This fight will almost mirror Namajunas’ rematch with Joanna Jędrzejczyk. It won’t end quickly and emphatically. “Thug Rose” will show that her first-round knockout was much more than a fluke and that she is the better fighter from start to finish. Expect to see a lot of stance switching from Namajunas and to see her draw Zhang into range by moving backwards with a purpose. Namajunas will likely be the fighter with her back closer to the cage, but not because she is being forced to retreat. She will take steps backwards at both wide and shallow angles in order to keep her head out of danger from the power-punching of Zhang, but, more importantly, to create angles for herself to land flush on Zhang who will grow more and more confused and frustrated as the contest continues. This will be another big win for Namajunas, and her name will have to be mentioned as the best strawweight champion in the promotion’s history. She is far from being finished building her legacy.
Sumian: My colleague’s thorough and precise breakdown of this rematch could not be more true. In addition, this was not a necessary rematch, and it probably should not have happened at his point in time. Zhang certainly compiled an impressive winning streak before facing Namajunas, but a majority of those fights took place outside the UFC. The pair’ last scrap was not necessarily a competitive one. Namajunas looked cool, calm, and composed as she controlled the champion using her swag and flowy movement before pulling off one of the best finishes in women’s strawweight history. Namajunas and Zhang will trade blows for all five rounds, before the champion defends her belt via unanimous decision. She will utilize her movement to prance around the flatter-footed Zhang and convincingly win four out of five rounds. A rematch with Carla Esparza is on deck for the champion after she takes care of business Saturday night.
Alex Pereira, Ian Garry, Chris Curtis, C.J. Vergara, and Bruno Souza — do we need to know these names?
Sumian: The attention in regards to UFC debuts will belong to only one man among the four names listed. After an illustrious run as the Glory Kickboxing middleweight champion, and briefly capturing the light heavyweight champion simultaneously, the notorious Alex Pereira will make his UFC debut and headline the preliminary card against Andreas Michailidis. Pereira is a towering six-foot-four-inch tall middleweight who boasts a whopping 80-inch reach to cap off his impeccable kickboxing experience and frightening knockout power. The Brazilian has been a household name in combat sports for several years and is well known for being the only man to have knocked out current UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya. He takes on Michailidis, who is an established finisher in his own right, after compiling 13-4 professional record. As long as the Pereira we all know and love comes ready to perform, he will utilize his height, reach and superior striking to finish Michailidis inside two rounds. The Greek fighter has been knocked out in all four of his professional losses and will serve as the perfect appetizer for the start of Pereira’s UFC campaign.
Chris Curtis, Ian Garry and C.J Vergara are all riding notable winning streaks in their own right and will need big wins to steal any thunder from the debut of Pereira. Of the three combatants, I expect Garry to have the best chance at achieving victory when he takes on Jordan Williams. Garry is a perfect 7-0 entering the octagon with five finishes under his belt. If he is able to use his reach and height effectively, he should be able to finish Williams who has been susceptible to finishes in his recent losses.
Petela: The UFC matchmakers are giving Pereira a great opportunity to shine in his debut and he will certainly become a household name quickly with the built-in storyline of his previous victory over Adesanya. However, let’s pump the brakes on the inevitable clamoring for a rematch, because Pereira is still relatively green in his MMA career. He has a lot of growing to do in a short amount of time, since he is already 34 years old. Of this crop of newcomers, outside of late replacement Bruno Souza who I will discuss later, he is really the only one who I think warrants any real attention as a fighter who will make a splash inside the promotion.
Who’s the biggest winner at UFC 267?
Petela: Colby Covington. His persona has alienated as many, if not more, fans as it has endeared, but a victory over the top pound-for-pound fighter on the planet will gain him a level of respect that cannot be denied. He will also be able to cash in on a trilogy fight with Kamaru Usman for big money. It seems pretty clear that his schtick was in large part created in order to raise his profile and, therefore, increase his paycheck. While that may or may not have ultimately been a wise decision, his performance against Usman this weekend and the belt will make his high-dollar price tag undeniable.
Sumian: Shane Burgos will be a big winner after he defeats Billy Quarantillo on Saturday. The #14 ranked Burgos is coming off two epic fight of the night performances against Josh Emmett and Edson Barboza. Despite being on the losing side for both, Burgos has inarguably established himself as one of the toughest and most exciting fighters to watch at featherweight. He gets back to his winning ways and scores a huge knockout victory over Quarantillo.
Who’s the biggest loser at UFC 267?
Sumian: Weili Zhang. The former champion will drop back-to-back losses to Namajunas and fall into a similar situation that Joanna Jędrzejczyk did back in 2018. She will need another impressive winning streak to simply be considered for a title shot with contenders Carla Esparza and Marina Rodriguez well ahead of her. A rematch with Jędrzejczyk may be the best option for both, after their epic clash in March 2020 that had many fans clamoring for a rematch sooner rather than later.
Petela: Michael Chandler. He burst into the UFC with a first-round knockout of Dan Hooker, but he will have dropped two straight fights since then by the end of this weekend. It is remarkably similar to what happened to Justin Gaethje when he lost back-to-back fights to Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier with one big difference – Gaethje was 28 years old when he lost those fights, and Chandler is already 35. He doesn’t have the necessary time near his physical prime to turn things around and rebuild his chances to contend for the UFC lightweight title. He will certainly have a few more fun fights left, but a loss this weekend all but puts an end to his hopes for ever having another belt to hang on his mantle.
What one fighter’s UFC career is on the ropes at this event?
Petela: Gian Villante. He has lost three straight, including his two fights since returning to heavyweight. In both of those bouts, he didn’t look like he put on the requisite muscle to bulk up to heavyweight, but rather like he took time away from the gym en route to moving up a weight class. His loss to Maurice Green was particularly disheartening, when he tapped to a strange variation of an arm-triangle choke that didn’t seem to be all that threatening. This should be the end of the road, if he doesn’t pick up a win against Chris Barnett in the latter’s sophomore appearance with the UFC.
Sumian: Edmen Shahbazyan, but not in the conventional “needs a win or will be cut” type of way. The California native made a huge splash in the UFC middleweight division, when he compiled a 4-0 record in his first four promotional bouts. His climb towards the upper half of the division utterly came to a halt when he suffered back-to-back losses to top-ranked middleweights Derek Brunson and Jack Hermansson. The 23-year-old middleweight standout is oozing with potential and will need a solid victory on Saturday to remain relevant in the division.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Sumian: It is impossible not to pick the lightweight clash between Al Iaquinta and Bobby Green. The pair combined for four “Fight of the Night” honors in their past UFC appearances and are extremely tough and durable competitors. The pair will trade powerful shots and show off their unique resilience before going to the judges’ scorecards. This could very well result in a split decision that warrants an eventual rematch.
Petela: Melsik Baghdasaryan vs. Bruno Souza. Souza is an LFA featherweight champion and a student of the legendary Lyoto Machida. He steps in on short notice to replace T.J. Laramie, and this showdown between prospects will be action packed as long as it lasts. Baghdasaryan had a stellar debut and finished Collin Anglin in under two rounds. This clash will be a real litmus test for both fighters and a fan-friendly litmus test at that.
Who takes home the “Performance of the Night” honors?
Petela: Justin Gaethje. This almost seems like too much a guarantee to even put into writing for fear of a jinx. The last two times there were fights that seemed like absolute locks for “Fight of the Year,” they ended up being two of the biggest stinkers in recent memory – Derrick Lewis vs. Francis Ngannou and Paul Daley vs. Michael “Venom” Page. Despite running the risk of jinxing it, the fight between Gaethje and Michael Chandler is a lock for fireworks, and it won’t last more than one round with a first-round knockout for Gaethje putting him next in line for a title shot against the winner of Charles Oliveira and Dustin Poirier.
Sumian: Alex Pereira. He is poised for a breakout performance against an opponent already susceptible to knockouts. The Brazilian will turn in a first-round knockout and quickly be launched into significant match-ups to further promote an eventual rematch with Adesanya, if he successfully climbs the ranks.
Pair this card with…
Sumian: Creed 2. This bout offers a fairly similar storyline to the blockbuster boxing film from 2018. Usman takes on the role of the well-liked champion who is considered the good guy, while Covington takes the mantle of the bad guy who many wish to see lose. What transpires is an epic rivalry that features an incredible build-up and fight to close the second film in what is shaping up to be an entertaining Rock spinoff. This bout will feature the two best welterweights in mixed martial arts today, as they eagerly meet in the Octagon to inflict as much pain as possible on one another. In addition, the remainder of the card features a lineup of fantastic fights that make UFC 268 an all-day affair worth watching from start to finish.
Petela: Nothing goes better with this card than a staple for fight night watch parties, a good old-fashioned slice of pizza. Frankie Edgar is returning after a disastrous result in his last contest, and he will get back to his winning ways with a big victory over Marlon Vera. Thus the pizza. Edgar’s longtime coach Mark Henry owns Pino’s Pizza in Woodbridge, N.J., so call up your favorite local spot and grab a pie to enjoy the show as “The Answer” adds another victory to his legendary resume.
Main Card (ESPN+ pay-per-view, 10:00 p.m ET)
WW Championship: Kamaru Usman vs. Colby Covington
StrawW Championship: Rose Namajunas vs. Weili Zhang
LW: Justin Gaethje vs. Michael Chandler
FW:Shane Burgos vs. Billy Quarantillo
BW: Frankie Edgar vs. Marlon Vera
Preliminary Card (ESPNEWS/ESPN+, 8:00 p.m. ET)
MW: Alex Pereira vs. Andreas Michialidis
LW: Al Iaquinta vs. Bobby Green
MW: Phil Hawes vs. Chris Curtis
MW: Edmen Shahbazyan vs. Nassourdine Imavov
WW: Ian Garry vs. Jordan Williams
Early Preliminary Card (ESPN+, 6:00 p.m. ET)
HW: Gian Villante vs. Chris Barnett
LHW: Aleksa Camur vs. John Allan
FW: Melsik Baghdasaryan vs. Bruno Souza
FlyW: C.J. Vergara vs. Ode’ Osbourne
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