It seems like the hatchet is finally buried on one of the more heated rivalries in UFC history as Kamaru Usman secured a competitive unanimous decision over Colby Covington at UFC 268. Usman came out strong, definitively securing the first two rounds as Covington appeared to be offering too much respect to Usman. The controversial Covington found himself after that, making competitive arguments he won the last three rounds. However, only the fourth appeared to be his for sure and the judges agreed, allowing Usman to take enough scorecards. Perhaps most encouraging, Covington appeared to initiate a peace at the end of the contest, further confirming his controversial act is just that... an act.
It’s hard to argue against Usman being the P4P best at this juncture. While Covington has delivered a pair of close contests, every other fight in Usman’s UFC career has been a blowout. I would argue we’re finally going to see the champion getting a new opponent next as he’s been dealing with rematches in his last few contests, but it would be hard to deny Leon Edwards if he beats Jorge Masvidal next month. At least it’s been several years since we’ve seen that fight.... As for Covington, he won’t be in the title picture anymore, but there’s still plenty of marketable fights for him out there. Keep in mind, there’s still the score he and Masvidal seem to have to settle.
The co-main event, a strawweight title fight between Rose Namajunas and Weili Zhang, was about as closely contested as a fight can get. Zhang put her improved wrestling on display, grounding Namajunas several times over the first three rounds, appearing to take the early lead in the fight. However, Zhang also expanded a lot of energy in the process, allowing Namajunas to ground her for long periods in the fourth and fifth rounds and definitively take those rounds. The enough judges believed Namajunas took at least one of the first three rounds on the back of her cleaner strikes on the back that the American held onto her belt, likely closing the door on this international rivalry.
With Namajunas now possessing two wins over Zhang, it only seems appropriate she defends her belt against Carla Esparza next. After all, Esparza has won five in a row against quality competition and possesses a win over the champion in her back pocket. It’s hard to believe Namajunas wouldn’t want to get that one back. As for Zhang... well, I guess she can be a gatekeeper to the title. That’s the danger of running back rematches so damn quick. If there’s two losses on one side, it effectively eliminates the two-time loser from the title picture so long as the winner holds onto the belt. Maybe she can run it back with Joanna Jedrzejczyk. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t be into that fight....
As for the rest of the fights....
- It seems like we’ve been waiting for Marlon Vera to deliver a breakthrough win for several years, only for him to come up short. The Ecuadorian finally delivered, knocking out a chinny Frankie Edgar late in their back-and-forth battle. While there was a strong case to be made for Vera to win the fight had it gone to the judges based on his higher impact strikes, Vera opted not to take any chances with his brutal front kick. In the process, it seemed to confirm what many already suspected: Edgar’s days as a top-flight fighter are over.
- The UFC knew damn well what they were doing when they booked Shane Burgos and Billy Quarantillo for the main card. Both men left everything in the cage, fighting neck and neck with the smallest of moments separating Burgos from Quarantillo in the end. Burgos may have gotten his hand raised in the end, but Quarantillo boosted his stock plenty in the loss.
- I appeared to be in the minority of those who were pissed the UFC didn’t schedule Justin Gaethje and Michael Chandler for five rounds. That’s about the only thing fans could be pissed off about as those two delivered an instant classic over all three rounds. Gaethje earned the nod due to his more sustained attack, but the momentum of the contest went back and forth, both landing shots that would fell any other mere mortal. If you haven’t seen this fight, do everything in your power to see it NOW. If you have already seen it, find a way to see it again.
- Alex Pereira was given a prime position on the card for someone making their UFC debut. The champion kickboxer proved he was worthy of the hype. After Andreas Michailidis stifled him in the opening round in the clinch and on the ground, Pereira decided to go big or go home. A flying knee just seconds into the second round put an end to Pereira’s work for the night. It will be interesting to see just how far Pereira’s kickboxing prowess can take him.
- It took a fight at Madison Square Garden for Al Iaquinta to put a pause on his realtor gig to come back to the UFC. He probably wishes he kept his office job. Green scored his first stoppage victory eight years to the day, using pinpoint precision to knock Iaquinta silly halfway through the opening frame. While Green deserves credit for his impressive performance, fighting isn’t a gig to partake in part-time. Iaquinta learned that the hard way.
- Phil Hawes looked like a million bucks... until he didn’t. It just took one perfect punch from Chris Curtis after Hawes dominated the first four minutes of their fight to turn the tide and secure a stoppage. I’d still put my money on Hawes to find more UFC success going forward, but Curtis securing a win in that manner in his UFC debut 12 years into his professional career is the type of stuff movies are made of.
- Perhaps the most underrated prospect to enter the UFC since the COVID pandemic hit the world, Nassourdine Imavov put on a surgical performance against Edmen Shahbazyan. There was nothing flashy about his performance – which is probably why he’s underrated – but he picked his punches wisely and forced Shahbazyan to deplete his gas tank to escape some submissions before trapping him in a crucifix eating elbows. Expect Imavov to continue to wrongly be overlooked.
- If you’re not familiar with Ian Garry’s name yet, you will be shortly. The hyped Irishman endured a rough round against a spirited Jordan Williams before Garry landed a perfect counter right to down Williams right before the end of the round. Garry has embraced comparisons to another Irishman who dominates MMA headlines. With performances like that, he’ll be deserving of them.
- While everyone who has followed MMA over the years has ripped on Gian Villante one way or another, it was hard not to root for Chris Weidman’s sidekick to end his MMA career with a win. While he ended up on the wrong end of a highlight reel KO – a spinning wheel kick to the head from a heavyweight! — the classy Chris Barnett still made sure Villante had his moment, encouraging the crowd to give him as much love as they could. Classy moment by Barnett, ensuring he’ll always be one of the ultimate good guys in the sport.
- Can we get a step up in competition for Dustin Jacoby? Since returning to the UFC late last year, he has yet to suffer a loss in five fights, comfortably outpointing a tough John Allan despite taking the fight on short notice. Allan isn’t a world beater, but he didn’t go away either despite claiming his teeth were jacked. Look for Jacoby to get a ranked opponent the next time he steps in the Octagon.
- It’s never wise to spend most of your time circling the cage while offering little offense if you’re looking to create fans. And yet, that’s exactly what Bruno Souza did for the first two rounds, essentially handing the fight to the more aggressive Melsik Baghdasaryan. Souza did engage more in the final round, but it was too late for him by then if he couldn’t find a finish. Souza couldn’t, handing Baghdasaryan the win.
- If you’re ever looking for a division to never let you down, turn to flyweight. Ode Osbourne and CJ Vergara put on an entertaining scrap, Osbourne utilizing his superior speed and technique to build a lead over the first two rounds. As Osbourne gassed, Vergara made a valiant effort to put him away, but couldn’t ultimately do it, leading to a decision in Osbourne’s favor.