UFC 268 Report: Justin Gaethje defeats Michael Chandler in a three-round war, Kamaru Usman and Rose Namajunas retain titles
By: Eric Marcotte
UFC 268 took place on Saturday night, from Madison Square Garden in New York City. This notably marked the first UFC event to take place in the state of New York since UFC 244 in November of 2019. The card was headlined by a rematch between the UFC Welterweight Champion, Kamaru Usman, and the division’s top-ranked contender, Colby Covington. Usman and Covington have had a heated rivalry for years and fought previously for the welterweight title at UFC 245 in December of 2019. It was a very competitive fight, that Usman ultimately won by TKO in the final minute of the bout. Since then, Usman has won three consecutive fights and is now at the top of the UFC’s Pound for Pound rankings. Covington hasn’t been as active, with only one fight in that time period, where he stopped Tyron Woodley in the fifth round. Regardless of Covington’s inactivity, this was a highly anticipated rematch, with each fighter posing unique stylistic threats to the other. The co-main event featured another title rematch, with the UFC Strawweight Champion, Rose Namajunas, looking to start her second title reign with a defense against the woman she beat for the championship in April, Zhang Weili. Namajunas knocked Zhang out with a head kick early in their April matchup, and while the result was decisive, a lengthier fight between the two talented strawweight’s still raised questions. In another notable fight on this card, former (three-time) Bellator Lightweight Champion, Michael Chandler, faced former UFC Interim Lightweight Champion, Justin Gaethje, in a first-time matchup that guaranteed fireworks.
Jon Anik provided commentary for this card alongside Daniel Cormier and Joe Rogan. Performance bonuses were awarded to Marlon Vera, Alex Pereira, Bobby Green, and Chris Barnett. Fight of the Night bonuses went out to Justin Gaethje and Michael Chandler. The announced attendance for this event was 20,750, with a gate of $9.9 million.
*Ode Osbourne def. C.J. Vergara by unanimous decision (29-28 all)
*Melsik Baghdasaryan def. Bruno Souza by unanimous decision (29-28 all)
*Dustin Jacoby def. John Allan by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
*Chris Barnett def. Gian Villante by TKO at 2:22 of Round 2
*Ian Garry def. Jordan Williams by KO at 4:59 of Round 1
*Nassourdine Imavov def. Edmen Shahbazyan by TKO at 4:42 of Round 2
*Chris Curtis def. Phil Hawes by KO at 4:27 of Round 1
*Bobby Green def. Al Iaquinta by TKO at 2:25 of Round 1
*Alex Pereira def. Andreas Michailidis by KO at 0:18 of Round 2
*Justin Gaethje def. Michael Chandler by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
*Shane Burgos def. Billy Quarantillo by unanimous decision (29-28 all)
*Marlon Vera def. Frankie Edgar by KO at 3:50 of Round 3
*Rose Namajunas def. Zhang Weili by split decision (49-46, 48-47, 47-48) to retain the UFC Strawweight Championship.
*Kamaru Usman def. Colby Covington by unanimous decision (48-47, 48-47, 49-46) to retain the UFC Welterweight Championship
C.J. VERGARA (9-2-1, 127.4) VS ODE OSBOURNE (9-4, 1 NC, 125.2) – FLYWEIGHT
Vergara missed weight by 1.4lbs and was fined 20% of his purse.
Vergara landed a left hook early, which Osbourne responded to with a quick left hand of his own. Osbourn was connecting with some very strong counters as Vergara pressed forward, and was chipping away at the body with front kicks. Osbourne shot for a single leg, which Vergara was able to defend with some help from the cage. Vergara ended the round with a head kick, which was followed by a left hand. 10-9 Osbourne.
Osbourne stopped a takedown attempt from Vergara in the opening minute of round two. Both fighters were throwing some heavy shots, but I thought Osborne was landing at a higher rate here, and he continued to counter strongly whenever Vergara tried to close the distance. As Joe Rogan pointed out on commentary, there were very few kicks from either fighter by this point in the bout, and it was really turning into a boxing match between the two flyweights. When Vergara did decide to go for another head kick, Osbourne was able to grab his leg, and he ended the round with a takedown. 20-18 Osbourne.
Vergara began the third round aggressively, pressing Osbourne into the cage, where he landed a series of knees to the body. Osbourne appeared to be tiring, and the pressure from Vergara was overwhelming him a bit in this third round. Vergara took the fight to the ground, where he began to work from the guard of Osbourne. He landed a few good shots from this position, but could not secure a finish. 29-28 Osbourne.
WINNER: Ode Osbourne by unanimous decision (29-28 all)
I was surprised to see this one go to the scorecards. Neither of these fighters have gone the distance since 2016, and Osbourne was on an eight-fight streak of first-round finishes going into this bout. This one went the full fifteen, however, and both fighters had their endurance tested throughout this hard-hitting bout. Vergara’s was the fresher fighter by the time round three began, but after dropping the first two rounds, it was too little, too late for Vergara. This marked Osbourne’s second fight at flyweight, and he improved to 1-1 in the division with this win.
MELSIK BAGHDASARYAN (6-1, 145.4) VS BRUNO SOUZA (10-1, 148.4) – FEATHERWEIGHT
Souza missed weight by 2.4lbs and was fined 20% of his purse.
Baghdasaryan beat up the lead leg of Souza throughout this opening round. Souza was only able to eat so many heavy leg kicks from Baghdasaryan before he shot for a takedown, however, the attempt was defended, and Baghdasaryan was able to create some separation with a minute remaining in the round. Baghdasaryan’s hands were down at his sides by the end of the round, showing complete disdain for Souza’s power. 10-9 Baghdasaryan.
Baghdasaryan continued to walk Souza down in the second round, landing more strong kicks to Souza’s lead leg. Souza circled the cage to avoid Baghdasaryan’s big shots, and while he was largely successful with this strategy defensively, he wasn’t active with enough of his own offense. This was largely a slow round, but there were some strong exchanges throughout, including an uppercut that Baghdasaryan followed up with a left hook in the final minute. 20-18 Baghdasaryan.
Souza’s coach told him that he was down on the scorecards going into this final round. Joe Rogan compared Baghdasaryan’s karate style to numerous fighters throughout this round, including Lyoto Machida, Stephen Thompson, and Michael Venom Page. This was probably the slowest round of the bout, but once again, I thought Baghdasaryan did enough to take it. 30-27 Baghdasaryan.
WINNER: Melsik Baghdasaryan by unanimous decision (29-28 all)
This fight was basically fifteen minutes of Baghdasaryan walking Souza down, while Souza circled the cage. While Baghdasaryan did a ton of damage early on with his leg kicks, he slowed down considerably as the bout progressed, leading to very little activity by the final round of the fight. Regardless, Baghdasaryan is a very talented striker, and he comfortably handled his short-notice opponent in Bruno Souza here. He is now 2-0 in the UFC.
DUSTIN JACOBY (15-5-1, 203.4) VS JOHN ALLAN (13-6, 1 NC, 205) – LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT
The fighters exchanged leg kicks throughout the first half of round one. Jacoby was the more active fighter, throwing numerous combinations that were typically finished by his straight right hand. Jacoby grew in confidence as the fight progressed, and he began to play to the crowd, taunting Allan between combinations. Allan was swinging heavy in response but wasn’t connecting at the same rate that Jacoby was throughout the round. 10-9 Jacoby.
Allan’s corner told him that Jacoby was tiring, but I did not see any evidence of that going into round two. It was a slower-paced round than the first, but I still thought Jacoby was landing the better shots, although Allan was doing better work in terms of advancing and mounting his own offense, specifically in the second half of the round. Late in the round, Allan got caught by a nasty eye poke, and the doctors were brought in to check on him, but it was determined that he could continue. 20-18 Jacoby.
Allan’s corner told him he was in need of a finish, prompting him to advance in pursuit of a knockout early in the third. Even while moving backward, Jacoby was able to fire off some quick combinations, which kept Allan from getting too aggressive. Once again, I scored the round in favor of Jacoby, largely based on his activity. 30-27 Jacoby.
WINNER: Dustin Jacoby by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
Jacoby took this fight on four days’ notice, and to fight with the activity he did throughout all three rounds given the circumstances, was very impressive, especially for a light heavyweight. Allan was landing some strong shots himself, but nothing that ever deterred Jacoby from advancing, and his activity ultimately earned him each round on the scorecards. Jacoby is now 4-0-1 in his current UFC run.
GIAN VILLANTE (17-13, 260.6) VS CHRIS BARNETT (21-7, 263.8) – HEAVYWEIGHT
Barnett got what was likely the biggest reaction from the crowd to this point as he danced to the octagon. There was very little acidity from Barnett early, and Villante was able to pull ahead with numerous front kicks to the body. About three minutes into the round, Villante landed a left hook, which was probably the most impactful shot of the bout to that point. A slow round. 10-9 Villante.
The commentary team decided to discuss NFT’s instead of this fight, which was understandable. None of them really had any understanding of what an NFT actually is, and I have never related to the commentary team more. Just when it seemed as though this was going to be another five minutes of inactivity, Barnett caught Villante with a spectacular wheel kick, which dropped Villante hard. Barnett jumped on the fallen Villante and threw down ground and pound strikes until the fight was stopped.
WINNER: Chris Barnett by TKO at 2:22 of Round 2
This was a pretty spectacular knockout. The first seven minutes of this one felt like an hour, but all that will be remembered from this fight will be the wheel kick, and rightfully so. Barnett had the crowd in the palm of his hands during his post-fight interview, really showcasing his immense charisma. Barnett is now 1-1 in the UFC. Villante had announced that this would be his retirement bout, and if this is indeed his last fight, he will retire with a professional record of 17-14, highlighted by his stoppage victory over Corey Anderson in April of 2015.
IAN GARRY (7-0, 169.6) VS JORDAN WILLIAMS (9-5, 1 NC, 170.6) – WELTERWEIGHT
Williams was finding a home for his left hand in the opening minute. He began to look for a takedown as he pressed Garry against the cage, but was unsuccessful. Garry connected with a head kick while moving backward, which was his best shot of the round, but it was Williams who had the advantage inactivity as well as damage throughout the majority of the round. With seconds remaining in the first, Williams overcommitted to a pair of left hands, and Garry took a step back, before loading up with a counter right hand that knocked Williams out cold.
WINNER: Ian Garry by KO at 4:59 of Round 1
Williams was looking really good throughout the majority of this round, but he really left himself open to the counter at the end of the round, and Garry capitalized with that perfectly placed right hook. Garry came across as very charismatic in his post-fight interview, getting the crowd behind him by quoting Conor McGregor. This marked Garry’s UFC debut, and I think between the knockout and the post-fight interview, he did a fantastic job of making sure people would remember him for his next appearance.
EDMEN SHAHBAZYAN (11-2, 185.4) VS NASSOURDINE IMAVOV (10-3, 184.6) – MIDDLEWEIGHT
Shahbazyan began the fight with a number of heavy leg kicks. Imavov was feeling the damage to his lead leg, which prompted him to swarm forward with a looping right hand before they began to wrestle against the cage. A short shot from Shahbazyan opened up a cut near the right eye of Imavov, and he proceeded to take him down in the middle of the cage. Imavov threatened a guillotine before escaping to his feet, where he landed a solid right hand. Close round.
Imavov threw a pair of short hooks over the guard of Shahbazyan to begin round two. Shahbazyan went for a single leg, and almost got caught in a choke in the process. While he escaped the submission attempt, he continued to hunt for the takedown and gave Imavov another opportunity to lock in the submission. This time, it looked as though Imavov might finish the fight, but once again, Shahbazyan was able to escape, and he proceeded to jump for a guillotine. He wasn’t able to finish the choke, and Imavov began to work from top position, where he cut Shahbazyan open with an elbow. Imavov moved into the crucifix position, and he threw down countless short elbows until the fight was stopped.
WINNER: Nassourdine Imavov by TKO at 4:42 of Round 2
Shahbazyan started the fight off strongly, but Imavov took over in the second round and did a ton of damage throughout those final couple of minutes. Shahbazyan’s last three fights have been similar in that regard, and that is clearly something that will have to be addressed for the 23-year-old, especially if he’s going to continue facing elite-level middleweights. For Imavov, this may have been his most impressive performance yet, although his finish of Ian Heinisch in his last bout was not far off. Rogan suggested a top-five opponent for Imavov next, but I think he’s probably still a couple of fights away from contendership.
PHIL HAWES (11-2, 185.4) VS CHRIS CURTIS (26-8, 186) – MIDDLEWEIGHT
Hawes applied the pressure early, backing Curtis up with front kicks to the body and straight right hands. About ninety seconds in, one of those straight right hands wobbled Hawes, but he seemed to recover quickly. Curtis had mounted very little offense by the halfway point of this round, and Hawes was really starting to pull away with this one, but Curtis landed a looping left hand and everything changed. Hawes was rocked badly by this shot and tried to escape, but he couldn’t find his balance and fell to the ground, where Curtis knocked him unconscious with a hammerfist.
WINNER: Chris Curtis by KO at 4:27 of Round 1
Wow. Phil Hawes was in complete control of this fight, and even though we were less than a full round in, it felt as though he was on his way to a one-sided victory. Curtis really loaded up on that left hand that rocked Hawes, and despite Hawes doing his best to act as though he was fine, Curtis knew that his opportunity to finish the fight had come. We got another great post-fight interview, where Curtis expressed his gratefulness to be getting interviewed by Joe Rogan in MSG, after knocking out his opponent in his UFC debut.
AL IAQUINTA (14-6-1, 155.8) VS BOBBY GREEN (27-12-1, 155.2) – LIGHTWEIGHT
Green tagged Iaquinta with a left hand to begin the fight. Green was repeatedly catching Iaquinta as he attempted to close the distance, while comfortably avoiding most of Iaquinta’s heavier hooks Green dropped Iaquinta with a right hand, and he followed Iaquinta down to the ground, where he threw down ground and pound shots until the fight was stopped.
WINNER: Bobby Green by TKO at 2:25 of Round 1
In his post-fight interview, Bobby Green called this a flawless victory, and that is probably the best way to describe this performance. Stylistically, this was a great matchup for Green, and he made the most of his advantages here, just lighting up Iaquinta on the feet, before securing the first-round finish (his first finish since 2013). Iaquinta was coming off of a fairly lengthy layoff here, with his last fight coming in November of 2019. Iaquinta’s only win since 2017 has been a unanimous decision victory over Kevin Lee, so it is tough to say where this loss leaves him in the lightweight division. If he is planning to continue his career, a step down in competition may be necessary for his next bout.
ALEX PEREIRA (3-1, 185.8) VS ANDREAS MICHAILIDIS (13-4, 185) – MIDDLEWEIGHT
Michailidis took Pereira down a minute into the fight and worked his way onto Pereira’s back as he attempted to work his way up along the cage. Pereira eventually made it back to his feet but was unable to create separation from the cage. They were separated with a minute remaining in the round, but Michailidis immediately wrapped him back up against the cage. They spent the remainder of the round here, as the crowd voiced their displeasure.
Seconds into round two, Pereira just walked up to Michailidis, jumped into the air, and knocked him unconscious with a flying knee.
WINNER: Alex Pereira by KO at 0:18 of Round 2
The UFC gambled here by putting Pereira in a featured position on this card against an experienced (and well-rounded) MMA fighter, and that gamble paid off completely here. Pereira survived the grappling heavy first round, before picking up a highlight-reel knockout to end the night. Given his accomplishments in kickboxing, as well as his wins over Israel Adesanya, it is a near certainty that Pereira is going to be fast-tracked to the top. It will be interesting to see who the UFC goes with as his second opponent in the promotion because you can guarantee that his next fight will have a lot of eyes on it.
JUSTIN GAETHJE (22-3, 155.6) MICHAEL CHANDLER (22-6, 155.2) – LIGHTWEIGHT
They immediately met in the middle of the cage, and Chandler was swinging for the fences. Gaethje began to attack the lead leg of Chandler while countering Chandler’s big swings with right hooks. They began to trade the heaviest shots imaginable in the pocket before Chandler started to throw vicious leg kicks as well. Both men were winding up, and Chandler rocked Gaethje with a series of right hands. As he went in for the kill, Gaethje began to fire back, and he rocked Chandler as well. This was completely insane. Somehow both fighters recovered, and Gaethje tagged Chandler with a number of uppercuts and right hands as the momentum began to shift in his favor. Chandler started looking for takedowns, but Gaethje defended the attempts. Round of the year. 10-9 Chandler.
Gaethje continued to attack Chandler’s lead leg in the early goings of round two. Chandler began to work his jab in response, but Gaethje started turning on the pressure, backing him up with these right hooks as Chandler moved into the cage. Chandler worked his way back to the center of the cage, but was dropped hard by an uppercut. Gaethje followed him down to finish the fight, but somehow, Chandler was able to recover and made it back to his feet. He landed an uppercut of his own before shooting for a takedown that Gaethje stuffed. Chandler backed Gaethje off with a right hand, however, the leg kicks had added up by this point in the fight, and every time Gaethje threw one, it stopped Chandler in his tracks. Gaethje appeared to have been poked in the eye late in the round, but Mike Beltran was slow to pause the fight, and he ate a huge right hand while he wasn’t defending himself. Regardless, this fight somehow made it to round three. 19-19.
Gaethje began round three with another brutal leg kick. Chandler connected with a powerful right hand, which Gaethje responded to with another uppercut. Chandler really started to dig into the body, and Gaethje was feeling those, so Gaethje began to respond with full force hooks, which prompted Chandler to shoot. Chandler picked Gaethje up into the air on his double-leg attempt, and Gaethje practically flipped on his way down to land on top and land some hard right hands. They returned to the feet, and Chandler started to really overwhelm Gaethje with combinations to the head and body before Gaethje hurt Chandler with a huge right hand. Despite the big shot, Chandler was still in this, and he taunted Gaethje, urging him to come forwards. This fight went the distance, and Gaethje and Chandler hugged in the center of the cage to end what may have been the fight of the year. 29-28 Gaethje.
WINNER: Justin Gaethje by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
“We were born in the wrong times, let me tell you. Me and him should have been fighting to the death in the Colosseum”. That’s roughly what Justin Gaethje had to say, just moments after the decision was read. This was a spectacular fight, that will likely top many people’s fight of the year lists. Both men looked as though they were on the verge of being finished multiple times throughout this fight (especially Chandler), but somehow this fight went the distance. There was so much that happened throughout these fifteen minutes, that I am positive that I left off multiple notable moments in my recap here, so if you have not seen this fight, I implore you to go out of your way to watch this one. In his post-fight interview, Gaethje made it clear that he wants the winner of Oliveira/Poirier next, and I think he’ll probably get what he’s looking for. For Chandler, this may mark two consecutive losses, but I really don’t think he lost anything here tonight. To go the distance in a complete war against Justin Gaethje is no easy fight, and in fact, this was the first Justin Gaethje fight to go the distance in the UFC. There are really no shortage of fun fights for Chandler in the talent stacked lightweight division, but the first name that came to mind for me was Rafael dos Anjos for Chandler’s next bout.
SHANE BURGOS (13-3, 145.6) VS BILLY QUARANTILLO (16-3, 145.4) – FEATHERWEIGHT
Quarantillo threw a looping right hand to begin the fight and followed it up with a number of uppercuts. After a brief period of wrestling against the cage, Burgos landed a heavy right hook, as well as a strong low kick. Quarantillo was working his jab, and he busted up the nose of Burgos by the halfway mark of the round. Burgos was throwing the heavier shots here, but Quarantillo’s constant activity made for a very close round. In the final minute, Burgos dropped Quarantillo to a knee with a right hand and connected with a powerful left to the body late, ending the round strongly. 10-9 Burgos.
Quarantillo pressured forward with his constant jab in round two, giving Burgos no room to work. Burgos was able to trip him with a leg kick, and they wrestled against the cage for some time. Burgos began to take control of the pace of the action after they separated, landing leg kicks and strong hooks. In the final minute, they began to trade right hands, and Burgos rocked Quarantillo with one of his better ones. Quarantillo was rocked, but he urged Burgos to come forward, and ate a ton of shots in the final seconds of the round for his trouble. He was able to hang on until the end of the round, and I had Shane Burgos up 20-18 going into the final round.
The leg kicks from Burgos had added up by the third round, and it looked as though Quarantillo was having difficulties walking on it. Burgos recognized that, as he continued to attack that leg, forcing Quarantillo to shoot in an attempt to bring the fight to the ground. Burgos defended the attempts but was unable to create much separation until the final minute. They traded heavy shots until time expired, with Burgos defending another late takedown attempt. 30-27 Burgos.
WINNER: Shane Burgos by unanimous decision (29-28 all)
After the fight, Jon Anik stated that unofficially, over 740 strikes were thrown in this fight. While that may seem like an absurd number for a three-round fight, the pace of this bout was absolutely ridiculous. Even when he was hurt, it felt as though Quarantillo was constantly firing back, and these guys really didn’t take a break throughout these fifteen minutes. After his last two bouts where he took an immense amount of damage, this was a much-needed win for Shane Burgos, who defended his spot in the rankings against a very game Billy Quarantillo here.
FRANKIE EDGAR (24-9-1, 135.6) VS MARLON VERA (17-7-1, 135) – BANTAMWEIGHT
Vera defended an early takedown attempt from Edgar. Frankie landed a number of quick combinations, tagging Vera with hard rights on the end of them. Edgar was able to take Vera down two minutes into the round, where he began to work from his guard. Frankie postured up and landed a number of hard elbows, which prompted Vera to start throwing elbows from up from the bottom. Vera connected with some hard up-kicks at one point but was unable to escape from under Edgar.
Vera was quick to take the center of the cage to begin round two. They traded in the pocket, and Edgar seemed to be getting the better of these exchanges with his quick hooks. Vera attempted to knee Edgar in the body, but Frankie grabbed the knee and took Vera back to the ground. This time, Vera was able to scramble to his feet, where he was able to land some knees to the head that were giving Edgar a lot of problems. In the final seconds of the round, Vera connected with an elbow that hurt Edgar, and they stared each other down to end the round.
Edgar went for another takedown that Vera defended before they exchanged right hands. Vera was landing some good front kicks to the body and was really putting the pressure on Frankie in this third round. Vera slipped coming forward at one point, and Edgar was almost able to take his back, but Vera shrugged him off. With just over a minute remaining in the round, Vera connected with a front kick to the face, and it knocked Edgar out, sending him falling face-first to the canvas.
WINNER: Marlon Vera by KO at 3:50 of Round 3
Edgar was upset with the stoppage, but I definitely think the right call was made here. Vera set up the finish beautifully by throwing that front kick to the body numerous times throughout the fight before he started aiming for the head instead. It was a competitive fight, but I felt as though Vera was pulling away with it, even before the finish. Vera has been fighting some big names as of late, including the likes of Jose Aldo and Sean O’Malley, and it seems clear to me that the UFC is behind this guy. He will likely move into the top ten of the division following this win, and I could see him fighting the winner of Dominick Cruz and Pedro Munhoz in his next bout, especially if it’s Cruz who gets the win.
ROSE NAMAJUNAS (10-4, 115) VS ZHANG WEILI (21-2, 115) – UFC STRAWWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP
This was a rematch from their last fight in April, that Namajunas won by first-round knockout to take Zhang’s UFC Strawweight Championship.
Namajunas and Zhang touched gloves to begin the fight. They exchanged leg kicks, before trading straight right hands. Namajunas seemed to have a bit more power behind her shots and was doing a good job of catching Zhang at the end of her combinations. Zhang proceeded to take Namajunas down, where she began to work from her guard. Zhang postured up and landed a few right hands, but Namajunas was able to scramble to her feet. Zhang was throwing kicks to the head and body but was missing whenever she loaded up with powerful right hands. Namajunas knocked Zhang off balance with a front kick to the face in the final seconds, but Zhang did not appear to be rocked. Close round. 10-9 Zhang.
Zhang connected with another low kick to start round two. Namajunas was coming very close with her head kick attempts but was just missing. They had some dangerous exchanges in the pocket, where Zhang appeared to be landing the stronger blows. A left hand from Zhang stumbled Namajunas, but she recovered quickly. Namajunas’s lead leg was taking a beating, and as she attempted a head kick, Zhang was able to take Namajunas back down, where she landed a couple of heavy ground and pound shots before Namajunas escaped to her feet. With thirty seconds remaining in the round, Namajunas secured a takedown of her own. 20-18 Zhang.
Both fighters were having some trouble finding their range in round three, especially Zhang. Zhang was still finding success with her kicks to the legs and body, but they were not landing at a high rate here. Zhang slipped after kicking Namajunas in the leg at one point, and Namajunas was able to land a solid right hand as Zhang picked herself up. Zhang connected with a powerful left hook in the final minute, before shooting for a takedown, and Zhang ended the round in top position. 30-27 Zhang.
Namajunas connected with a pair of beautiful right hands early in round four, and when Zhang tripped her to the ground, she threw up a number of up kicks, forcing Zhang to let her back up. On her next takedown attempt, however, Zhang immediately transitioned to the back of Namajunas. Namajunas turned out of a choke attempt from Zhang, and took top position, where she began to work from Zhang’s guard. Namajunas was unable to much from top position, but she maintained that position until the end of the round. 39-37 Zhang on my scorecard.
Namajunas timed a takedown perfectly as Zhang swung with a right hand, and once again, she worked from the guard of Zhang. Namajunas was landing much better ground and pound shots in this round but was walking into a few up kicks from Zhang as well. This was a strong round from Namajunas, and this was ultimately a very close fight. 48-47 Zhang.
WINNER: Rose Namajunas by split decision (49-46, 48-47, 47-48) to retain the UFC Strawweight Championship.
I scored the fight for Zhang, but this was a very close fight. The 49-46 scorecard for Namajunas was puzzling, but I didn’t take any issue with Namajunas getting her arm raised here. I assume it was the first round that decided the bout, but you never really know, especially with one judge seeing four rounds of this one for the champion. Regardless, this was a huge win for Namajunas, who has improved to 4-0 in rematches, with the majority of those fights being against the top fighters in the history of the strawweight division. Now with two wins over Zhang (as well as two wins over Joanna Jedrzejczyk), there are three logical next opponents for the champion. The first, and the most likely option would be Carla Esparza, who is on a five-fight win streak and holds a win over Namajunas from back in 2014, where they two fought to determine the division’s first champion. The second option would be Jessica Andrade, who is 1-1 against Namajunas and seems to be at the end of her brief stint at flyweight. The third and final option here is Marina Rodriguez, who has recently reach contendership status, but she is probably the least likely fighter of the three to be matched up against Namajunas next. No matter who is next in line for the title shot, the strawweight division is always exciting, and there is no shortage of intriguing matchups for Namajunas coming out of this.
KAMARU USMAN (19-1, 169) VS COLBY COVINGTON (18-5, 169.4) – UFC WELTERWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP
Usman and Covington fought in December of 2019, a fight that Usman won by TKO in the fifth round.
Unsurprisingly, they did not touch gloves at the start of this fight. Both fighters had a sizeable portion of the crowd behind them. Usman ducked under a big swing from Covington early and defended a takedown attempt in an impressive fashion. Covington found a home for a straight left hand before they traded hooks in the pocket. Usman took Covington down briefly, but Covington was able to immediately scramble to his feet. Both men connected with some heavy swings towards the end of the round, and a clash of heads cut Covington open on the right side of his face. 10-9 Usman on my scorecard.
Usman blocked a head kick and landed a left hook to begin round two. Covington attempted another takedown, to no success. Usman dug into the body a couple of times, before he got cracked by a right hand from Covington. Covington changed levels on a single leg attempt, but Usman’s takedown defense held up, and the fight remained on the feet. Usman threw a front kick to the body before they traded hooks in the pocket. Late in the round, Usman dropped Covington with a left hand, and as Covington attempted to pick himself up, Usman dropped him with another one. Covington was able to hang on until the end of the round, but he was hurt badly here. 20-17 Usman.
Covington appeared to have recovered by the start of round three. He caught Usman with a left hand before they exchanged jabs. Covington began to press forward around the halfway point of the round before he unsuccessfully attempted another takedown. While Usman continued to land good body kicks, Covington’s pressure resulted in his best moment of the fight to this point, where he landed a number of sharp right hands as he blitzed forward. Covington ended the round with a partial takedown. 29-27 Usman.
Covington cracked Usman with a left hand and a sharp jab in the opening minute of round four, and he seemed to be gaining confidence on the feet. They traded heavy right hands before Usman pressed forward with a combination of his own. Usman’s body shots were very solid, and he was landing them just often enough to keep Covington thinking about them. They had a few wild exchanges in the second half of the round, exchanges that I thought Covington got the better of. A very close round, but Usman stumbled after Covington’s last shot, which was a great sign for the challenger. 38-37 Usman on my scorecard.
Both fighters landed heavy shots in the opening minute of the final round, but it was the uppercuts from Covington that seemed to be doing the most damage. Usman stuffed a pair of takedown attempts, and this was anyone’s round with one minute remaining. Usman caught Covington with an eye poke, which paused the action with thirty seconds left on the clock. Neither man landed anything of significance late, and the fight went the distance. The fighters shook hands at the end of the bout, to the delight of the audience. 48-46 Usman.
WINNER: Kamaru Usman by unanimous decision (48-47, 48-47, 49-46) to retain the UFC Welterweight Championship
While this wasn’t the slugfest their first bout was, this was another highly competitive fight between these two fighters, and it was an entertaining one, full of big moments and dramatic shifts in momentum. I thought Covington was out of this fight after he was dropped twice at the end of the second round, but to his credit, he rebounded strongly, and the final three rounds were the most competitive ones of the entire fight. With this win, Usman is now 2-0 against Covington, and as competitive as the fights were, there is a good chance this will mark their final meeting. Usman has truly had an incredible run in the UFC, and with a record of 15-0 in the promotion, there aren’t many new opponents on the horizon for him. If Leon Edwards defeats Jorge Masvidal, he should be next in line for a title shot, but he already has a loss on his record to Usman, and it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if the UFC went in another direction. Vincente Luque is on an impressive streak of wins, and the commentary team was discussing the prospect of Khamzat Chimaev jumping to the front of the line as well. As for Covington, two losses to the champion puts him in a tough position in the division, but he actually hasn’t faced a single fighter currently ranked at welterweight with the exception of Usman, so there is absolutely no shortage of intriguing first-time matchups for Covington. I think Gilbert Burns would be a great next fight for Covington, but regardless of the outcome of Jorge Masvidal’s fight against Leon Edwards, Covington/Masvidal would be the perfect matchup to make from a business standpoint.