Just a week after a very solid UFC 267 card, a non-PPV show because of the time difference with its location in Abu Dhabi, the Ultimate Fighting Championship returns to pay-per-view this Saturday with a stacked card for UFC 268 at Madison Square Garden. A side note, this weekend is also the Canelo Alvarez/Caleb Plant bout so it will be interesting to see if the boxing event affects the buy rate of the MMA card. Another worthwhile note is that pair of shows is why the All Elite Wrestling Full Gear pay-per-view was moved to next weekend to avoid the direct competition for the PPV dollars.
The main event will be Kamaru Usman vs. Colby Covington for the Welterweight championship, a rematch of their late-2019 bout that saw Usman win via TKO in the fifth round, fracturing Covington’s jaw in the process. Usman, the current 170 LBS champion, was much busier since their original clash, defending his belt three times, including twice against Jorge Masvidal, and Gilbert Burns between those pair of fights. This past April, Usman showed his punching power with a brutal KO of Masvidal, improving his overall record to 19-1, while maintaining an undefeated streak in the UFC. On the flip side, Colby fought just once, a TKO stoppage because of a rib injury to Tyron Woodley over a year ago. Outside of the selling point of the grudge rematch, does a win over Woodley more than a year ago really justify a title shot? Furthermore, You have to wonder if ring rust will play a role in this five-round bout?
Of course, Colby has kept himself relevant by attempting to be a less marketable version of Chael Sonnen, using trash talk to generate a buzz around his fights and thus a better payday. Covington’s pro-Trump shtick and other lowbrow attempts to be controversial, including insults toward Matt Hughes, who narrowing escaped with his life after being hit by a train when his truck crossed onto the tracks, are less effective than the smack that Chael talked about his particular opponent’s skill level. That said, make no mistake about it, Colby brings make more substance to the table than Sonnen, even if Covington’s trash talk lacks Chael’s sizzle. With a record of 16-2, Colby has beat solid competition throughout his UFC tenure. With his decorated amateur wrestling background and half of his career victories by decision, Colby can grind out wins by controlling the pace of the fight, but he can punch as well.
That said, the champion, who has an equal amount of decision and KOs wins on his record, is probably the more well-rounded athlete on paper, particularly because of his dangerous punching power. Usman has really good grappling skills and I would expect his take down defense to neutralize his opponent’s attempt to wrestle, at least in the early rounds.
As far as how the actual fight goes, I think it will be very similar to their original contest, it will probably be a fight that goes into the later rounds and the result will depend on who can cause damage toward the conclusion of it. I will pick Usman to get a decision win to retain the title since his punching power will probably be the difference in the fight.
The co-main event is another championship rematch of Rose Namajunas vs. Zhang Weili for the Straw weight title. “Thug” Rose won the title this past April when she landed a head kick on her opponent to get the referee stoppage in the first round, winning the belt for the second time in her career. Weili, a buzz saw of a competitor, only had one blemish on her pro record previously and looks to avenge the loss to recapture the 115 LBS title. Prior to the loss to Namajunas, Weili won a razor-close split decision against Joanna Jędrzejczyk in a absolute classic bout last year. In truth, at least on paper,Zhang looks to be the more well-rounded fighter, but “Thug” Rose proved to be very durable throughout her career, despite some defeats on her record. There’s no doubt about it, a focused Rose Namajunas is as dangerous as any fighter in the women’s division. These two athletes share some of the same opponents so this should be a relatively evenly-matched contest, considering their previous success against common opponents.
That being said, their original bout was a small sample size, and since Weili has the speed advantage, I would guess that the initial match-up was more of a situation when Zhang just got tagged with a kick, something that can happen to anyone in MMA, than an indication that Rose will automatically dominate the rematch. As far as the speed advantage goes, I think that will be the key for Zhang if she’s going to be successful in the rematch, if she can land punches and avoid striking exchanges since Namajunas has punching power. I have to pick Weili, simply because I think the narrative of this match-up was skewed because off the first round win before, and I would guess that she will land punches to score enough points to win a decision on the score cards. However, this should be a close fight and might be the fight of the night at the conclusion of the pay-per-view.
Michael Chandler will attempt to rebound from a championship fight defeat when he squares off against tough contender, Justin Gaethje. For years, Chandler was probably the best fighter not under UFC contract and it appeared he would live up to the hype when he KO’ed Dan Hooker in the first round of his UFC debut early last year, but was beat by Charles Oliveira at UFC 262 in May. Chandler is known for his wrestling background and can use grappling to land strikes, and at 35, could theoretically still have a few years left in his prime, but he wouldn’t be the first high-profile free agent signing that didn’t translate to success inside the octagon. Gaethje, despite the ability to use technique, is a brawler that will look to land the KO and he’s probably the most dangerous striker in the 155 LBS division after the retirement of former champion, Khabib Nurmagomedov, who defeated him last year. I will pick Chandler to get the win using grappling, but it should be interesting to see what happens because despite being only his third fight in the UFC, Chandler could be considered a flop if he loses again after the title shot.
The other two fights on the under card, including a bout that features Frankie Egdar, are mostly a toss up for the winners, but this could be a pivotal card for the UFC because of the major stage of Madison Square Garden on pay-per-view.
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.
Until next week
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