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UFC 268: Usman vs. Covington 2 staff picks and predictions

Check out the Bloody Elbow staff’s picks and predictions for UFC 268.

Kamaru Usman after winning the UFC welterweight title vs. Tyron Woodley at UFC 235.
Kamaru Usman after winning the UFC welterweight title vs. Tyron Woodley at UFC 235.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC

The Bloody Elbow staff has made its picks for Saturday’s UFC 268 mega card in New York City, and we’re leaning towards Kamaru Usman to once again defend his welterweight title successfully against Colby Covington. As for the co-main event, we’re going with women’s strawweight champion Rose Namajunas to once again get the better of Zhang Weili. We are unanimous on Justin Gaethje defeating Michael Chandler in the main card opener. To see the latest betting lines for these fights, head over to DraftKings SportsBook.

Note: Predictions are entered throughout the week and collected the day before the event. Explanations behind each pick are not required and some writers opt not to do so for their own reasons. For example, if Phil Mackenzie entered all of his predictions on Wednesday without adding in any explanations, he has no idea if he’s going to be the only one siding with one fighter for any given fight.

Kamaru Usman vs. Colby Covington

Anton Tabuena: Did we really need to see this rematch? We just saw a pretty pointless Masvidal rematch that he didn’t really earn, and now we’re going back to another one. Anyway, picking Usman’s fights always have a worry for me because of his injuries, but he has actually looked sharper and craftier on the feet these days. I think Covington will still struggle with taking him down and controlling him, and will try to just pressure and use that same high output offense to try and tire and overwhelm him. But I doubt that works as he will still keep taking big shots from Usman, who is by far the more technical and powerful striker. Kamaru Usman by TKO.

Mookie Alexander: You may hate Colby Covington all you want, but I think it’s abundantly clear that he’s the toughest stylistic matchup for Usman at present in the welterweight division. Maybe Chimaev will get there but I’ll need to see a couple more wins before I’m convinced. What Covington lacks in power he makes up for in volume and a willingness to exchange with a more powerful, more technical striker in Usman. There were absolutely some quality offensive moments for Colby and Usman isn’t exactly impossible to hit. They both seemingly agreed their wrestling would cancel each other out in their last fight, but I have to think one of them is going to try for a takedown or engage in some clinching against the fence. If it’s just a repeat of the first fight then Usman is probably going to knock Covington out more quickly than he did the last time. Ultimately I think even if Covington tries to give Usman different looks than just kickboxing with him, it’s hard for me to see him avoiding Usman’s super powerful right hand, or that vastly improved jab, or the body work that noticeably tired him the last time. Kamaru Usman by TKO, round 4.

Phil Mackenzie: Covington, for all his blabbering, seems to have lost a little of his confidence. Staying on the shelf and only coming off for a layup, chasing a fight with a lightweight (Poirier). That being said, there are lots of reasons to expect Covington to compete: for all Usman’s striking improvements they haven’t been against big combination punchers, and every time Covington slung more than one punch or chained a kick in their last fight he generally landed. Usman is big, durable, powerful and accurate, but a defensive genius he is not. There are not any reasons to really expect Covington to win though. Usman is bigger, goes to the body more, hits far harder, and should it come down to it has a major edge in TDD. Kamaru Usman by unanimous decision

Zane Simon: This is one of those fights where it’s much easier to argue for how the challenger competes with the champ than it is to see how they really honestly potentially win. Not only is Usman bigger and stronger, but he’s also the more dominating wrestler and the more technical striker. As others have noted above, Covington is a remarkably consistent volume puncher—something he used to wobble Usman several times in their last bout. But, he’s never been a real knockout threat, even when he can dominate standing. And even more importantly, Usman actually even lands in slightly more volume than Covington, and he does it with much more accuracy. As with their first fight, if Covington plans on going and putting a pace on Usman, he’s going to find himself doing more work to less success. And even if it’s only barely less, that’s still a path just to competing in each round, and not to winning them. Could be another razor-close, back-and-forth contest, but I’ve got to pick Kamaru Usman. And for the hell of it I think he gets it done early this time. Kamaru Usman via KO, round 2.

Staff picking Usman: Phil, Mookie, Zane, Stephie, Victor, Anton
Staff picking Covington: Dayne

Rose Namajunas vs. Zhang Weili

Anton Tabuena: It’s really hard and unwise to take much from the first fight, and this is still very hard to predict. With their contrasting styles, it could all boil down to who gets to dictate the pace and distance. Zhang really shouldn’t play Namajunas’ game and cater to her strengths by just trying to land one shot each from the outside. She’s the better, more explosive athlete, and she should stay in her face, open up with high volume and pace, and make it her type of fight. If Weili can pressure well and keep firing back with those powerful combinations she’s been known for (and leg kicks too), she can wear down Namajunas. It’ll be hard to suck Namajunas into a dog fight, but that’s where she can overwhelm her with volume and physicality. If she just allows Namajunas to dictate the pace and distance, it will be a significantly harder — but still winnable — fight. It’ll be interesting to see what adjustments they can make too as the fight progresses. Tough to predict, so I’m really looking forward to this, but I’m going with Weili Zhang by TKO.

Mookie Alexander: The dynamic of this fight probably hasn’t changed much? The longer this fight goes the less likely Namajunas is going to be able to handle Zhang’s constant flow of damaging offense. Then there’s just the possibility that Namajunas dusts Zhang again and that’s a wrap in about a few minutes. Feels like a real gamble for me to side with the latter considering I picked Zhang the first time and I still believe it’s more likely Zhang just breaks Namajunas down, but I’ll take that risk. Rose Namajunas by submission, round 2.

Phil Mackenzie: I again find myself taking the contrarian pick on this one. The first time I think people underrated the combined possibility of Rose winning a decision or dusting Weili out of the gate, and so they faded her a bit. This time I feel like the dynamics have shifted too far the other way: Zhang landed about 6 leg kicks in the single minute of their last fight, and while Rose has been surprisingly able to keep going in long fights (with Jedrzejczyk) she’s not the most physically or mentally tough fighter in the world. I think this one is, as last time, still a genuine coin flip and it puzzles me to see anyone pick it with confidence. Zhang Weili by TKO, round 4.

Zane Simon: I don’t want to make much, if anything, out of their first fight. While it was a display of two very macro-level points for both women (notably that Zhang has always made herself available to be hit as she enters the pocket, and that Namajunas is one of strawweight’s most surprising and effective strikers), it didn’t add much of anything to the broader narrative of what this fight looks like if Namajunas doesn’t get a KO right away. Much like her first bout against Joanna Jedrzejczyk proved, just because she ran away with the first fight, doesn’t mean she’s gonna run away with the second. And if I’m broadly mistrustful of Namajunas getting another quick finish here, then I have to fall back on my original analysis, and that’s that Namajunas has regularly been a fighter that fades late, and really dislikes a gritty battle of attrition. And that that’s the kind of fight where Zhang thrives and that she absolutely has the physicality and consistency to push. May be a nailbiter, especially if Namajunas starts out strong in the first couple rounds, but I’ll take Zhang Weili by decision.

Staff picking Namajunas: Dayne, Mookie, Stephie, Victor
Staff picking Zhang: Phil, Zane, Anton

Shane Burgos vs. Billy Quarantillo

Mookie Alexander: Quarantillo fights at such a ridiculous pace but Burgos can not only match that, he’s the best striker that Billy has fought to date and he’s a better grappler than given credit for. The one concern I have is Burgos’ durability taking a hit after that war with Edson Barboza and a knockout that looked like his brain was on tape delay. If that’s going to impact him then Quarantillo might be able to pull off the W, but I think Burgos is going to get a much-needed victory here. Shane Burgos by unanimous decision.

Zane Simon: Every time I think about this fight I get less and less sure that Shane Burgos wins it. He has the size advantage, he has the striking skill advantage, he has all the athletic advantages in his corner. But, that’s never been something that’s stopped Burgos from having a perilously close fight with someone. Mostly, he just loves to scrap, to the point that he often pays no mind to his own defense. Whether it’s striking in the pocket or defending takedowns, Burgos rarely has an urgency to get out of the way of something, lest he lose the chance to hurt someone. That said, he’s still a very hard fighter to keep on the mats, and he does have a big reach advantage, and he is a much cleaner puncher. I’ll take Shane Burgos via decision. But if he gives up lots of control time, even just against the fence with Quarantillo draped on him, he could work himself into a very close fight.

Staff picking Burgos: Dayne, Mookie, Zane, Victor, Anton
Staff picking Quarantillo: Phil, Stephie

Frankie Edgar vs. Marlon Vera

Anton Tabuena: At 40, I’m just not convinced Edgar has much left in the tank, as his notoriously tough chin seems to be degrading. Four losses in six fights, and three have been by brutal first round knockout. There’s also all those years of taking damage from far bigger opponents. Vera is a bit of a step down in competition to those that blasted him, but I still think he has the skills to keep touching him. Chito Vera by TKO.

Mookie Alexander: This is really a litmus test to see whether or not Frankie Edgar is really close to done. I don’t think he is. While Cory Sandhagen nuked him, he got a five-round win over Pedro Munhoz (even if I disagreed with the decision) and Vera’s tendency to put himself in harm’s way can result in him dropping rounds to someone who’s pretty damn good at getting rounds in his favor. Edgar has the wrestling to get Vera down and he’s so savvy on the mat that a submission off of his back seems impossible for Vera to get against Frankie. I dunno. Vera could also just as easily piece up Edgar with his striking and Frankie’s chin will disintegrate before our eyes. I back Edgar to get one more quality win. Frankie Edgar by unanimous decision.

Zane Simon: Sooner or later the wheels will totally fall of Edgar. He’s already at a point where he gets hurt early in almost every fight. And lighter weight classes are especially unkind to aging and losing speed. Still, Edgar’s top quality wrestling game and consistent boxing have kept him well afloat atop the bantamweight division. Could Vera be the next fighter to put Edgar away? He has the technique for it, and he’s great at staying in fights, even after getting beat up badly, and at rallying late for finishes. But, Edgar has always been a fighter you don’t want to give even a little momentum to. Especially not if that momentum comes in the form of takedowns. If Edgar can get Vera down in round 1 and start establishing his wrestling game, can Vera steal back the momentum of the fight? If he drops two rounds, can he KO Edgar late? Pedro Munhoz couldn’t. I’ll take Frankie Edgar via decision. Someday he’ll be truly done as an elite competitor, but I’m not convinced that day is today.

Staff picking Edgar: Phil, Mookie, Zane
Staff picking Vera: Dayne, Victor, Stephie, Anton

Justin Gaethje vs. Michael Chandler

Anton Tabuena: This should be fun however long it lasts. While both have the power to turn the tide at any point, along with the willingness to trade, I think stylewise, this is Gaethje’s fight to lose. He’s longer, much more technical, and will probably land some really hard leg kicks and combos that will force Chandler to reconsider using that wrestling. Chandler will try to explode into everything and try to brawl, and while that can work, it’s hard not to pick the more skilled striker on this type of battle. Justin Gaethje by KO.

Mookie Alexander: Gaethje is way better at taking damage and surviving bad spots than Michael Chandler. Enough said. Justin Gaethje by TKO, round 2.

Zane Simon: Both men are brutally powerful strikers, both men have been KO’d before. But for Gaethje, his KO losses come from great consistency in the face of adversity. Opponents who were able to match his pace and aggression for round after round after round and keep coming up with solutions. And in response to those losses, Gaethje seems to have really cleaned up the face-first style of power kickboxing that marked so much of his early success. He’s also a good enough defensive wrestler that I don’t think Chandler can lean on that as an exit strategy if the fight starts to slip away from him. Should be an absolute banger from beginning to end, but I have to take Gaethje via KO, round 2.

Staff picking Gaethje: Phil, Dayne, Mookie, Zane, Stephie, Victor, Anton
Staff picking Chandler:

Alex Pereira vs. Andreas Michailidis

Mookie Alexander: Gonna be a real Greek tragedy for Michailidis. Alex Pereira by KO (left hook), round 1.

Zane Simon: I’m fully prepared for the Pereira train to get derailed at any station in the UFC. His MMA skills seem terribly raw and his most recent win didn’t give me much feeling like he’s just going to go out and dominate many fighters, even standing. That said, Michailidis isn’t polished anywhere. He’s a wild brawler standing, a pretty one-note double leg wrestler, and no kind of dominating grappler. If he’s going to try and wade in on Pereira with big wild shots to make the rest of his offense happen, that seems like a prime way to eat a few massive left hooks. Alex Pereira via KO round 1.

Staff picking Pereira: Phil, Mookie, Zane, Stephie, Victor, Anton
Staff picking Michailidis: Dayne

Al Iaquinta vs. Bobby Green

Anton Tabuena: Not sure if I would’ve had the same pick a few years ago, but Iaquinta has not only lost three of his last four fights — to some real killers — but he also hasn’t fought since 2019. Green has competed six times since Iaquinta last fought, and it’s really hard to pick what seems to be a part-time fighter now that’s been on a long layoff. Bobby Green by Decision.

Mookie Alexander: It’s hard to get a read on what Iaquinta has left in the tank. It’s pretty easy to see that Bobby Green is looking better than ever before, and even if this fight was made several years ago I’d give Green a good shot at winning it. Excellent takedown defense, a terrific chin, smooth(er) boxing combinations, and usually the only thing that prevents him from performing better is his tendency to celebrate his own defense. Iaquinta is really good everywhere but he’s at an athletic disadvantage and he’s been gone for quite awhile. The smart pick is Bobby Green by unanimous decision.

Zane Simon: Not that long ago I would have made a pretty confident pick for Al Iaquinta here. He’s style of aggressive pocket wrestle boxing may not be automatic poison to Green’s slick counterpunching style, but Iaquinta’s sticktoitiveness and aggression would likely have been enough to steal rounds from someone like Green who has a terrible habit of letting fights he should win slide away due to his inability to control the momentum of the bout. But, Green has been looking slicker and more mindful of the necessities of winning rounds than ever before lately. And despite all his mileage, he seems like he’s just as durable as ever. On the flip side, Iaquinta has struggled hard lately to find his way into fights where he gets stymied at range in any way shape or form. And he’s vocalized past struggles with injuries and maintaining his passion for the sport. At this point, I just gotta go with Green. He has the talent to win this fight, but it’ll be interesting to see if he can put together a consistent enough game to beat the judges. Bobby Green by decision.

Staff picking Iaquinta:
Staff picking Green: Phil, Dayne, Mookie, Zane, Stephie, Victor, Anton

Phil Hawes vs. Chris Curtis

Zane Simon: As a longtime Phil Hawes believer, I feel really strange coming in to this bout fading him. He’s taken steps forward in collecting his confidence and sticking to his guns lately, but those have been steps against fighters who themselves don’t have the experience or composure to retake momentum late in fights. Chris Curtis will almost absolutely let Hawes control him early. But if Hawes can’t KO him, Curtis is also the kind of rock solid veteran that has made a career out of rallying late against tired opponents. Has Hawes really overcome his issues in the cage. He still seems to get hurt badly once every fight. I’ll take a flyer on the underdog here. Chris Curtis via TKO, round 3.

Staff picking Hawes: Phil, Dayne, Mookie, Stephie, Anton
Staff picking Curtis: Zane

Edmen Shahbazyan vs. Nassourdine Imavov

Zane Simon: I’m still not that comfortable with the way Imavov fights. He tends to stay at the end of range without much defense, depending on his length and speed to keep him out of harm’s way. He can be hit hard when in retreat, and has often had to depend on being able to force a takedown to stop pressure when his opponent doesn’t get backed off easily. His fight against Heinisch was a great turning point, but for his part, Heinisch also looked totally miserable in that bout. For Shahbazyan, his problems are much more about maintaining his composure rather than any singular major flaw. He always starts hot, but if his opponent can drag him into a tough, gritty battle, especially on the mat, he tends to run out of ideas and get predictable. Still, I think a fast start can serve him well here, especially against Imavov’s defense. Edmen Shahbazyan via TKO, round 1.

Staff picking Shahbazyan: Phil, Mookie, Zane, Anton
Staff picking Imavov: Dayne, Stephie

Ian Garry vs. Jordan Williams

Zane Simon: After all the talk about Williams staying away from weight cutting due to his type 1 diabetes, I’m always going to have reservations about his ability to maintain fitness at 170 lbs. Maybe he’s made all the adjustments and it’s all fine, but I’ll need to see it first. Add to it that most of his game is built around creating constant, wild, 50-50 brawls and there just aren’t that many fights I’d pick him to win in the UFC right now. Garry has some worrying tendencies, mostly around backing out of the pocket with his hands down and rushing into dangerous grappling positions on the mat, but he’s a generally very well composed and skilled, violent offensive fighter. And at 6’ 3” he’s also huge for the division. Ian Garry via TKO, round 2.

Staff picking Garry: Mookie, Dayne, Zane , Stephie, Anton
Staff picking Williams:

Gian Villante vs. Chris Barnett

Anton Tabuena: Athletic former super-heavyweight vs a vet who ate his way up to heavyweight? Huggy Bear is the smart pick here. Chris Barnett by TKO.

Mookie Alexander: Will Gian Villante really retire after this fight? I don’t know, but if he does… here’s to this being the most Gian Villante fight of all-time. Chris Barnett by unanimous decision.

Zane Simon: I’ll take the OG roly poly heavyweight against the guy trying it on as a late career gimmick. Chris Barnett via decision.

Staff picking Villante: Phil
Staff picking Barnett: Dayne, Zane, Stephie, Anton, Mookie

Dustin Jacoby vs. John Allan

Zane Simon: Feels like a shockingly brutal style matchup for Allan, and something of a layup for Jacoby. Dustin Jacoby via KO, round 1.

Staff picking Jacoby: Dayne, Mookie, Zane, Stephie, Anton
Staff picking Allan:

Melsik Baghdasaryan vs. Bruno Souza

Zane Simon: I love how composed Souza stays late in fights, but don’t love how badly he tends to get hurt early in fights. And given the violence Baghdasaryan brings straight out of the gate, getting clipped up in the first round seems like a real problem. Melsik Baghdasaryan via KO, round 1.

Staff picking Baghdasaryan: Mookie, Dayne, Zane, Stephie, Anton
Staff picking Souza:

CJ Vergara vs. Ode Osbourne

Zane Simon: Fun clash of styles. Osbourne tends to be a very high-aggression, live by the sword, die by the sword fighter. Vergara is a consistent (perhaps to a fault) pressuring counter puncher. If Osbourne can’t finish Vergara early, then he very easily could find himself on the wrong end of heavy leather later in the bout. But given Vergara’s willingness to wade into range looking for counters early, I really think Osbourne can hurt him bad out of the gate. Ode Osbourne via club-n-sub, round 1.

Staff picking Vergara:
Staff picking Osbourne: Mookie, Dayne, Zane, Stephie, Anton

Poll

Who wins?

This poll is closed

  • 38%
    Usman and Namajunas
    (385 votes)
  • 39%
    Usman and Zhang
    (394 votes)
  • 11%
    Covington and Namajunas
    (119 votes)
  • 10%
    Covington and Zhang
    (106 votes)
1004 votes total Vote Now