UFC 268 delivered the goods.
The promotion’s return to New York City started with three decisions. Winning fighters then tore off six straight finishes — all of which came in the first or second round. As for the ESPN+ streaming pay-per-view portion of the event, only one of those fights ended in a finish, but none of the four-fights that went the distance — including the two title fights at the top of the card — was a letdown.
There’s a lot to unpack regarding UFC 268, so without further ado, let’s look at the winners and losers from the event, which took place at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night.
Kamaru Usman: Kamaru Usman retained his UFC welterweight title, kept his UFC record perfect and kept his takedown defense rate at 100 percent in a win over Colby Covington at UFC 268.
Usman had shown marked improvement in his last few trips to the octagon. I’m not sure if we saw as much growth in his fighting skills at UFC 268 as we did in his wins over Jorge Masvidal and Gilbert Burns, but I think we saw an increase in his comfort level and confidence in the octagon on Saturday night.
The 34-year-old is an outstanding fighter and I still think his best fight is in front of him.
Rose Namajunas vs. Weili Zhang: This was a very good fight. I think Rose Namajunas showed she is the better technical fighter, but Weili Zhang used her power and movement — at least in the early rounds — to give Namajunas fits. As the fight wore on, Zhang’s pace slowed, as did her output of leg kicks, and that allowed Namajunas to even the score and then pull ahead. Zhang showed some growth in her takedown game, but Namajunas countered that with her focus and ability to stay in the correct mindset throughout the 25-minute bout.
Unless one of these women changes weight divisions, I would expect at least one more matchup between them and that’s something to look forward to.
Marlon Vera: Marlon Vera seemed to accept bottom position during the early going of his fight opposite Frankie Edgar. He was active off his back, throwing elbows and upkicks, but he was still on his back and being controlled by Edgar. When Edgar could not control Vera in the second round, the fight turned in Vera’s favor. He had more pop on his strikes, he controlled the range and he set the pace. Vera then scored an impressive front kick knockout.
Vera has been with the UFC for seven years. He has quietly climbed the rankings over that time. He entered Saturday as the No. 13 ranked bantamweight. I expect him to move up the rankings a few notches after finishing Edgar, who began the contest as the No. 8 ranked 135-pounder.
Shane Burgos vs. Billy Quarantillo: Had this fight not been on the same card as Justin Gaethje vs. Michael Chandler, this fight would be one fans would have been talking about as a “Fight of the Night” contender. Instead, the crowd in attendance was largely quiet in the aftermath of the pay-per-view opener. We can rightfully describe the matchup between Burgos and Quarantillo as a war of attrition. With his decision win, Burgos ended a two-fight losing skid.
For those who gave this fight short shrift after the Gaethje vs. Chandler scrap, give this one a second look. It won’t disappoint.
Justin Gaethje vs. Michael Chandler: This one lived up to the billing, actually, it might have exceeded the hype that surrounded it. Both men came out looking to land with power and finish the fight. Both men nearly did that, but neither could, which goes a long way toward showing just how tough these two competitors are.
This was one of those fights that need to be seen to be believed and both men deserve applause for what they left inside the octagon on Saturday night.
Gaethje deserves the next lightweight title fight and Chandler deserves to stay in the top-five of the division.
Alex Pereira: Alex Pereira struggled in the first round of his matchup against Andreas Michailidis as Michailidis smartly decided he did not want to tangle with Pereira on the feet. Michailidis did not get the chance to work his ground game in the second round as Pereira blasted him with a flying knee that abruptly ended the fight.
There’s no doubt that Pereira is going to be a problem for anyone who tries him in a striking battle.
Bobby Green: Bobby Green overwhelmed Al Iaquinta. Green never allowed Iaquinta to get comfortable or find an opening. Green’s striking was fast, powerful and accurate. The impressive first-round knockout win ended a two-fight losing skid for Green.
Chris Curtis: Chris Curtis might have been the happiest man in New York City on Saturday night. The 34-year-old Curtis made his UFC debut at UFC 268. He made his UFC debut in 2009 and racked up 35 fights before he faced Phil Hawes on Saturday and man did he make some noise in his first fight under the UFC banner. Curtis struggled with the pressure of Hawes in the early going of the matchup, but when he found his opening, he made it count, staggering Hawes with a nasty left that Hawes could not recover from.
Nassourdine Imavov: Nassourdine Imavov was impressive in beating Edmen Shahbazyan. He was just better everywhere than Shahbazyan, who was the No. 11 ranked middleweight entering the contest. Imavov was dominant in the win. He called for a top-five opponent for his next outing. I’m not sure if the 25-year-old is ready for that quality of opponent, but I’m not against finding out.
Ian Garry: Entering UFC 268, the hype level on Ian Garry was high. Did he deliver in his fight against Jordan Williams? Yes and no. Garry, who was a -400 favorite over his opponent, got tagged repeatedly in the early going by Williams, who showed him zero respect. Williams’ ability to tough Garry with ease is a little concerning. What can’t be questioned was the finish. Williams left himself wide open for a counter, and Garry took advantage of that opportunity and scored an impressive knockout.
I think it’s way too early to declare Garry “The Future” of anything, but he showed poise and patience in his UFC debut and that’s a good start.
Chris Barnett: Chris Barnett sent Gian Villante into retirement with a spinning wheel kick knockout. Judging from the reaction from the commentary team, the fans in the arena and those commenting on social media, Villante wasn’t the only one surprised by the method of finish. The knockout blow was incredible, as was Barnett pumping Villante’s tires to the New York crowd after his win.
Dustin Jacoby: Dustin Jacoby took the fight against John Allan on short notice and he got lucky in that Allan decided to fight a kickboxing bout. Jacoby took advantage of that and outworked Allan for the win. Jacoby is now unbeaten in five fights since he returned to the UFC in 202.
Trevor Wittman: Trevor Wittman is one of the best coaches in the game. He went 3-0 on Saturday night, with Usman and Namajunas retaining titles and Gaethje possibly punching his ticket to a lightweight title fight. I don’t know if Wittman will be coach of the year for 2021, but he deserves consideration.
UFC and fans: This was a long card, but it delivered a lot of excitement and memorable fights. The past two weeks (UFC 267 and UFC 268) have shown the promotion at its best.
Colby Covington: Colby Covington is one of the best welterweights competing today. He, once again, gave Kamaru Usman a tough matchup. The thing I wonder about is if Covington’s slower pace in the opening stanza cost him the fight. He was far more reserved in this bout than in the first matchup with Usman, and I have to think that worked against him in several ways.
With this loss, I expect Covington will be more active in taking fights than he has been and I expect him to stay near the top of the division as well. The man is an excellent fighter and a tough competitor.
Frankie Edgar: No one has spent more time inside the octagon than Frankie Edgar. I don’t think it’s out of line to say that time is catching up to or has caught up to the 40-year-old bantamweight. Edgar was effective in the early going of his bout against Marlon Vera, but as the fight wore on, Edgar’s movements slowed and became predictable. With that, Vera was able to swing things his way and get the knockout win.
I know Edgar, who is now on a 1-3 run, said he has no plans on retirement, but facts are facts and Edgar’s three career knockout losses have all come in the past three years. That’s not a good sign.
Phil Hawes: Phil Hawes was looking good until he wasn’t and when he wasn’t, he really wasn’t. Hawes looked very good with his striking until Curtis tagged him with a hard left and everything went wrong after that.
Edmen Shahbazyan: I’m fairly certain Edmen Shahbazyan will fall out of the official UFC middleweight rankings after his loss to Nassourdine Imavov at UFC 268. I also won’t be surprised if the UFC cuts ties with the 23-year-old after his third straight setback.
Shahbazyan was a promising young 185-pounder in 2019. Today, it looks like the UFC and/or his team expected too much from him after he opened his career on an 11-0 run. Shahbazyan needs to take a step back, reset and maybe think about going with a new team. He has talent, but I think he’s been mishandled. The good thing for him is he has time on his side.
John Allan: John Allan had a 71 percent takedown accuracy going into his light heavyweight bout against former Glory kickboxing title challenger Dustin Jacoby. However, he decided to participate in a kickboxing contest, which was not wise.
Jon Anik: Jon Anik declared the fight between Dustin Jacoby and John Allan was close because the strike totals were close. This is a narrative the commentators must get away from. Strike totals are meaningless in scoring, and this type of talk is damaging to new fans and any fan who trusts the UFC commentary team to responsibly reflect the scoring criteria.
UFC: The UFC broadcast celebrated the fact that UFC 268 took place at Madison Square Garden. However, if you watched the card on ESPN+ you couldn’t tell the difference between this event and any other event. The UFC’s homogenous production doesn’t allow any type of personality of the area or arena to sneak into the broadcasts. The UFC thinks this is a good thing. It’s not.
CJ Vergara vs Ode’ Osbourne: The first fight of the night started out slow, but picked up in the third round when CJ Vergara threw caution to the wind and pressured Ode’ Osbourne. Vergara, who made his UFC debut at UFC 268, might kick himself in the butt after this fight as he had some success in the third stanza after not really pushing himself during the first 10 minutes. I expect he’ll look better in his next outing. The experience of this fight will pay off for him.