UFC 268: Usman vs. Covington 2

The UFC is heading back to The Big Apple with a 14 fight card featuring two championship rematches as Kamaru Usman defends his UFC welterweight title against hated rival Colby Covington, while Rose Namajunas defends her UFC strawweight title against Weili Zhang.

The action gets started with early prelims on ESPN+ at 6pm EST, then more prelims on ESPN at 8pm EST followed by the main card on ESPN+ PPV at 10pm EST.

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Kamaru Usman (-320) vs. Colby Covington (+250)

In the main event, UFC welterweight champion Kamaru Usman will defend his title in a rematch against hated rival Colby Covington. These two met at UFC 244 in December 2019 with Usman retaining his title with a fifth round stoppage due to punches.

Since defeating Covington, Usman has defended his title three times. In his first defense, he defeated Jorge Masvidal by unanimous decision. Then he knocked out Gilbert Burns in the third round and Masvidal in the second round in their rematch. Covington has only fought, dominating Tyron Woodley for five rounds before a rib injury to Woodley called a stoppage to the fight in the fifth round.

In their first encounter, Usman and Covington engaged in a close striking match over five rounds. Both attacked the body with kicks, while Usman was a little sharper and more powerful with his boxing. Covington pushed an incredible pace, but Usman was a cardio machine as well. Usman broke Covington’s jaw in the third round, but the fight was up for grabs heading to the fifth round. Usman was on his way to a win before the finish, but I still believe it was an early stoppage.

Usman and Covington are very similar fighters and that’s what makes their fights so intriguing. They are both strong wrestlers that push an incredible pace. Usman has developed more as a striker since the first fight, especially his power as we’ve seen in his knockouts of Burns and Masvidal. Neither guy attempted to wrestle the first time around, but if I had to guess I would expect Covington to be the one more likely to wrestle this time around and try to test Usman’s cardio.

If anyone can beat Usman, it’s Covington and I’m going with him by decision to upset the champ.

PREDICTION: Covington by decision

Weili Zhang (-120) vs. Rose Namajunas (+100)

Our co-main event features another rematch as UFC women’s strawweight champion Rose Namajunas defends her title against former champion Weili Zhang. These two met earlier this year at UFC 261 with Namajunas knocking out Zhang with a headkick just 78 seconds into the first round to win the strawweight title for a second time.

I picked Zhang to win the first fight and one well-placed headkick isn’t enough to make me pick Namajunas this time around. Both Namajunas and Zhang are high paced strikers, but I give the power edge to Zhang. Namajunas is a better grappler, but she isn’t much of a wrestler so I expect this fight to be contested primarily on the feet.

Just for comparisons sake, Namajunas and Zhang have both faced Joanna Jedrzejczyk in a five round fight with Zhang landing 165 significant strikes to Namajunas’ 105 strikes. I know you can’t rely on MMA math, but if this fight plays out for the full five rounds, you’d have to project Zhang to outland Namajunas by a decent margin and land the more convincing strikes. My pick will be Zhang by decision.

PREDICTION: Zhang by decision

Marlon Vera (-160) vs. Frankie Edgar (+140)

Marlon Vera is 2-2 in his last four fights and coming off a unanimous decision victory over Davey Grant. Vera is 11-6 in the UFC with nine finishes, five by knockout. All six losses have come by unanimous decision.

Frankie Edgar has lost four of his last six fights and was knocked out in just 28 seconds earlier this year by Cory Sandhagen. Edgar has been brutally knocked out in three of his last six fights. He’s 1-1 since dropping to bantamweight, but his split decision over Pedro Munhoz is quite debatable.

The big question mark in this fight will be Edgar’s durability. He’s a better wrestler than Vera, pushes a strong pace and Vera is a notoriously slow starter. Vera rarely wins the first round, but he comes on strong late and either finishes his opponent or goes to a close decision. If Vera doesn’t hurt Edgar early, he’s almost certain to lose the first round so he’d need to finish Edgar in the second or third round or win the last two rounds. He might be able to finish Edgar, but I don’t see him winning a decision with Edgar’s solid cardio. The pick is Edgar by decision.

PREDICTION: Edgar by decision

Shane Burgos (-200) vs. Billy Quarantillo (+170)

After winning six of his first seven fights in the UFC, Shane Burgos has lost back to back fights and most recently was knocked out in the third round by Edson Barboza. Burgos has finished three of his six wins, twice by knockout in the third round. Conversely, two of his three losses in the UFC are by third round knockout.

Burgos is a high volume striker with very solid takedown defense. As active he is on the feet, he’s incredibly porous on the feet and has absorbed 225 strikes in his last two fights.

Billy Quarantillo has won four of five fights since joining the UFC, most recently he finished Gabriel Benitez in the third round with ground and pound. Three of his five wins have been finishes, two by knockout.

Quarantillo is not the most technical striker, but he pushes a good pace and has great cardio. He has good grappling skill, but is only an average wrestler. He excels when he can overwhelm weaker grapplers or opponents with poor cardio, neither of which Burgos is.

Burgos and Quarantillo are both defensively porous strikers, but Burgos is more technical and will have a five inch reach advantage over Quarantillo. Burgos’ durability is a concern so Quarantillo could hurt him, but it’s more likely Burgos lands more strikes and outlasts Quarantillo for a decision victory.

PREDICTION: Burgos by decision

Justin Gaethje (-210) vs. Michael Chandler (+175)

Kicking off the main card is a very violent fight in the lightweight division between former title challengers Justin Gaethje and Michael Chandler. Gaethje is coming off a second round submission loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov, while Chandler was knocked out in the second round by Charles Oliveira.

Gaethje is 5-3 in the UFC with five knockouts. He’s been finished in all three losses, twice by knockout. Gaethje has 18 career knockouts in his 22 wins.

Chandler knocked out Dan Hooker in the first round in his UFC debut and almost had Oliveira finished in the first round. Chandler was a former Bellator lightweight champion and has a 22-6 overall record. He has 17 wins by finish, 10 by knockout and was knocked out in four of his six losses.

Both Gaethje and Chandler have stated coming into this fight that neither man intends to take a step back. They are both aggressive and powerful strikers with good wrestling skills. Gaethje almost never uses his wrestling, while Chandler will attempt powerful double legs or suplexes. On the feet, Gaethje will stalk his opponents and throws heavy leg kicks, while Chandler is mainly looking to land his big right hand.

Gaethje has the better cardio and he’s more durable than Chandler. Chandler carries big power early, but Gaethje was finished in the third round by Eddie Alvarez and in the 4th round by Dustin Poirier in absolute wars. Maybe Chandler can finish him early, but I’m not banking on that and I don’t see Chandler getting a late finish. On the flipside, Gaethje pushes a strong pace and carries his power later into fights. He’ll stop Chandler sometime in the second round.

PREDICTION: Gaethje by second round knockout

Alex Pereira (-260) vs. Andreas Michailidis (+210)

In the featured prelim of the night, Brazilian kickboxer Alex Pereira will make his UFC debut against Andreas Michailidis. Pereira is a former GLORY kickboxer, who knocked out Israel Adesanya in Adesanya’s final kickboxing bout. Pereira is just 3-1 in his MMA career.

Michailidis had a controversial start to his UFC career. Michailidis was caught with some Travis Browne style elbows as the first round came to a close against Modestas Bukauskas. Michailidis was hurt and as the cage door was opened, he fell through and the fight was called off between rounds. He bounced back with a unanimous decision victory over KB Bhullar. Michailidis is 13-4 overall with 11 finishes, 6 by knockout. All four of his losses are by knockout.

Michailidis is a more complete mixed martial artist than Pereira, but this is very careful matchmaking by the UFC. Michailidis is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, but he’s primarily a striker and not much of a wrestler. Maybe he comes out looking to take Pereira down, but if he doesn’t Pereira is far too technical and powerful for him and is going to light him up early.

PREDICTION: Pereira by first round knockout

Bobby Green (-180) vs. Al Iaquinta (+155)

Bobby Green was the “COVID King” last year, winning his first three fights during the pandemic. Since then, he has dropped consecutive close unanimous decisions to Thiago Moises and Rafael Fiziev.

Green has good striking, especially his boxing, and he’s a decent wrestler. He pushes a good pace, but he lacks finishing ability and he clowns around too much during fights. This has cost him decision wins in his career on more than one occasion.

Al Iaquinta has lost three of his last four fights and hasn’t fought in over two years. Iaquinta won eight of his first ten fights in the UFC and lucked himself into a UFC lightweight title shot against Khabib Nurmagomedov. In his nine UFC wins, Iaquinta has won five decisions and has four knockouts.

Iaquinta is mainly a boxer and has decent wrestling. He trains with the Serra-Longo camp so you know his grappling is solid as well. He definitely has knockout power, probably more than Green, but Green is also far more durable than the likes of Joe Lauzon and Diego Sanchez.

Bobby Green fights are always close and I don’t expect anything different here. Iaquinta has a power edge, but Green is durable and fights at a higher pace. The layoff for Iaquinta concerns me as I’m not sure how dedictated he is to fighting with his outside interest in real estate. Give me Green by decision in a close one.

PREDICTION: Green by decision

Phil Hawes (-310) vs. Chris Curtis (+245)

Phil Hawes was scheduled to fight Deron Winn in early October, but Winn had to withdraw due to health issues on the day of weigh-ins and to everyone’s surprise Chris Curtis stepped up and made weight. However, Hawes refused to take the short notice opponent.

Since getting knocked out in the second round by Julian Marquez on the Contender Series, Hawes has won seven straight fights, including three in the UFC. Most recently, he grinded out a unanimous decision over Kyle Daukaus. He’s 11-2 overall with nine finishes, seven by knockout.

Curtis has an interesting story to his career. He’s a long time veteran of the sport and finally got his big opportunity to compete for the million dollar prize in PFL during their 2019 season. Curtis lost a decision to Magomed Magomedkerimov and decided to hang up his gloves. Only Magomedkerimov was injured and unable to compete in the second tournament fight of the night. Curtis was deemed the alternate and with another crack at million dollars, faced Ray Cooper III later that night and was knocked out in the second round. Curtis’ retirement was short lived and since then has rattled off five straight wins, four by knockout. Curtis is 26-8 overall with 15 finishes, 12 by knockout. Six of his eight losses have come by decision.

I am still not sold on Hawes, but he will have a size and strength advantage over Curtis in this fight, who has spent most of his career at welterweight. Hawes is powerful early and has strong wrestling, but I still don’t trust his cardio. He should have some early success controlling Curtis in the clinch or on the ground, but the longer the fight goes, the more I like Curtis’ chances. He has far better cardio and he’s a proven finisher late in fights. I think he scores a big upset and finishes Hawes late in the fight.

PREDICTION: Curtis by third round knockout

Nassourdine Imavov (-125) vs. Edmen Shahbazyan (+105)

Nassourdine Imavov has won two of three fights since joining the UFC, most recently stopping Ian Heinisch in the second round with strikes. He defeated Jordan Williams in his UFC debut and then lost a majority decision to Phil Hawes. Imavov is 10-3 overall with eight finishes.

Imavov is Dagestani, but he trains in France and is more of a striker than a wrestler. He has good striking skills and fights at a solid pace, but his biggest flaw would be his defensive wrestling as we saw against Hawes.

Edmen Shahbazyan was a hot middleweight prospect starting his UFC run off 4-0 with three first round finishes. Since then he has been exposed in back to back fights by Derek Brunson and Jack Hermansson. He’s 11-2 overall with ten finishes, nine by knockout. Ten of his thirteen fights have ended in the first round.

Shahbazyan is a dangerous striker and wrestler early, but he has serious cardio concerns that came to light in a split decision win over Darren Stewart and in his losses to Brunson and Hermansson. If he doesn’t finish the fight early, he’s unlikely to win the fight at all.

I like Imavov a lot in this matchup. As long as he can withstand the early aggression of Shahbazyan, he’ll be the fresher fighter in the second and third rounds with a good possibility to finish the fight.

PREDICTION: Imavov by third round knockout

Ian Garry (-400) vs. Jordan Williams (+300)

Ian Garry is an undefeated welterweight prospect from Ireland that trains at Sanford MMA. He’s 7-0 and won the Cage Warriors welterweight title in his last fight. Garry has five finishes, four by knockout.

Garry is just 23 years old and a very bright prospect. He’s a good striker with a varied arsenal and a strong grappler as well. He hasn’t shown any real glaring weaknesses so far either.

It took three appearances on the Contender Series for Jordan Williams to make it to the UFC and he did it in emphatic fashion with a first round knockout of Gregory Rodrigues. Williams lost his UFC debut to Nassourdine Imavov by unanimous decision and then made the drop to welterweight, but was submitted in the first round by Mickey Gall. Williams is a Type 1 diabetic and had trouble cutting weight so he was always an undersized middleweight. With the help of the UFC Performance Institute and stem cell treatments, Williams is now able to compete at welterweight.

Williams is an aggressive striker, but he’s also defensively porous. He has a wrestling background, but he’s been taken down in both of his UFC fights and seems to lack physicality.

This looks like another case of solid matchmaking for a blue chip prospect in Garry. Williams gets hit far too much and Garry eventually is going to catch him with something big and put him away.

PREDICTION: Garry by first round knockout

Gian Villante (-130) vs. Chris Barnett (+110)

Chris Barnett versus Gian Villante is going to be an absolute slopfest in the heavyweight division. Barnett was submitted in the second round by Ben Rothwell in his UFC debut. He’s 21-7 overall with 16 wins by knockout. In his seven losses, he’s been stopped four times, three by knockout.

Barnett is more skilled than his physique would let on. He has decent striking skills, but he does have poor cardio and he’s short for a heavyweight.

Villante is 0-2 at heavyweight in the UFC and has lost four of his last five fights overall. He’s 7-10 overall in the UFC. Four of his wins have come by knockout, while six of those losses have come by decision. He’s a former college football player that had a lot of potential in MMA, but just never lived up to it.

Villante has already stated he plans to retire after this fight so that’s a huge red flag for me. Maybe he comes out and tries to put on a good performance, but if he encounters any adversity what’s to say he actually tries to fight through it. Barnett, on the other hand, should be extremely motivated after a disappointing UFC debut. There aren’t many heavyweights in the UFC Barnett is going to beat, but I’ll pick him over a fighter in Villante, who already has one foot out the door before he even steps foot inside the Octagon Saturday.

PREDICTION: Barnett by decision

Dustin Jacoby (-400) vs. John Allan (+300)

Originally supposed to be Aleksa Camur versus John Allan, Dustin Jacoby has stepped up on about a week’s notice to replace an injured Camur. Jacoby is unbeaten in four fights returning to the UFC. He’s knocked out Justin Ledet and Darren Stewart in the first round, defeated Maxim Grishin by unanimous decision and went to a split draw with Ion Cutelaba.

Jacoby is a solid kickboxer with decent defensive wrestling. He trains at elevation in Colorado which should improve his cardio, but it fluctuates from fight to fight. Taking a fight on short notice, it could be a concern here.

Allan is officially winless since joining the UFC in two fights. His unanimous decision victory over Mike Rodriguez in his UFC debut was overturned to a no contest and then he lost a split decision to Roman Dolidze. Allan is 13-6 overall with 12 finishes, 9 by knockout.

Allan comes from a Muay Thai background, but he’s actually been more successful wrestling in the UFC. He landed five takedowns against Rodriguez, but let’s not forget that Rodriguez has absolutely horrendous defensive wrestling.

Allan might have success early taking Jacoby down, who’s given up 11 takedowns in his last two fights, but I don’t know if he’ll be able to hold Jacoby down for long. If Jacoby’s cardio is solid, he should outstrike Allan with a possibility of finishing him.

PREDICTION: Jacoby by decision

Melsik Baghdasaryan (-335) vs. Bruno Souza (+260)

Melsik Baghdasaryan was originally set to face TJ Laramie, but after Laramie had to withdraw due to a bacterial infection, he’ll now face UFC debutante Bruno Souza. Baghdasaryan won a unanimous decision over Dennis Buzukja on the Contender Series to earn his UFC contract and then knocked out Collin Anglin in the second round in his UFC debut. He is 6-1 overall with five knockouts.

Baghdasaryan is a strong kickboxer and looks like he could be a very solid prospect. He’s a proven finisher, but he’s also faced less than stellar competition. His grappling would be his biggest weakness, but that shouldn’t be a factor in this fight.

Souza is 10-1 overall with six decisions and two submissions. He’s on a ten fight winning streak and captured the LFA featherweight championship before joining the UFC. Souza is a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, but he prefers to strike from a Karate stance. He hasn’t finished many fights on the regional scene so that’s a concern for me.

Baghdasaryan is an aggressive striker, while Souza is your typical Karate style fighter who wants to sit back and outpoint you from range. Baghdasaryan will eventually start to land the more effective strikes, with a high probability of a knockout.

PREDICTION: Baghdasaryan by second round knockout

Ode Osbourne (-180) vs. CJ Vergara (+155)

Our first fight of the night is in the flyweight division between Ode Osbourne and UFC newcomer CJ Vergara. Osbourne is coming off a first round knockout loss to Manel Kape in his debut at flyweight. Osbourne is 1-2 in the UFC and 9-4 overall. Eight of his nine wins have come inside the distance, five by submission. He’s been finished in three of his four losses, twice by submission. Ten of his 13 fights have ended in the first round.

Vergara earned his UFC contract on the Contender Series just two months, stopping Bruno Korea with a knee to the body just 41 seconds into the first round. Vergara is 9-2-1 overall with six wins by knockout and three by decision.

Osbourne clearly holds all the advantages in this fight over Vergrara, except one and that is cardio. Osbourne is more athletic and a better striker and grappler than Vergara and he’ll have a five inch reach advantage. It’s just a huge question mark how effectively he can fight past the first round. Vergara just seems far too hittable to test out that theory.

PREDICTION: Osbourne by first round knockout

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