Just call it UFC 268: Deja Vu.
It feels like the rematch between Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington could have happened a year ago, but 23 months after their first fight that Usman won via TKO in the final minute, the welterweight rivals meet in Saturday’s main event at Madison Square Garden in New York City with a world title and possibly ultimate bragging rights on the line.
Usman and Covington haven’t been sitting on their laurels in the time in between. With highlight-reel wins against Jorge Masvidal and Gilbert Burns, Usman continues to build on a resume that now stands among the best ever in MMA. On the Covington side, he finally settled his score with Tyron Woodley and thoroughly dominated him to stay at the forefront of the contenders’ conversation.
A win for Usman will put a stamp on this feud for good, but should Covington pull off the upset, we’ll have ourselves a trilogy sooner rather than later.
The co-main event also sees a rematch of stars, this one just seven months after the first encounter ended in under two minutes. Rose Namajunas has already had to beat Joanna Jedrzejczyk twice to prove to skeptics that she deserved the title of champion and it looks like she has more proving to do.
Zhang won 21 straight fights before Namajunas stopped her with a head kick. It’s doubtful she’s put away as quickly again and if fans are lucky she’ll drag Namajunas into the kind of battle that made Zhang’s meeting with Jedrzejczyk an all-time great contest. And just like the headliners, we will see Zhang and Namajunas fight again if the title changes hands.
In other main card action, Frankie Edgar meets Marlon Vera in a pivotal bantamweight bout, fan favorite featherweights Shane Burgos and Billy Quarantillo face off, and Justin Gaethje and Michael Chandler open the pay-per-view with a fight that has major implications for the lightweight title picture.
What: UFC 268
Where: Madison Square Garden in New York City
When: Saturday, Nov. 6. The five-fight early prelims begin on ESPN+ at 6 p.m. ET, followed by the four-fight prelims on ESPN+ and ESPNEWS at 8 p.m. ET. The five-fight main card begins at 10 p.m. ET and is available exclusively on ESPN+ pay-per-view.
Kamaru Usman (1) vs. Colby Covington (2)
Is it going to be Kamaru Usman 15-0 or Colby Covington 2.0?
It’s been almost two years since their first fight and while we’ve seen plenty of growth from the reigning champion, we’ve only seen “Chaos” compete once and it was in a lopsided performance against a fading Tyron Woodley. There’s no way to know how improved Covington is and in what areas, if at all, but he’s guaranteed to be a stiff test after giving Usman everything he could handle in their first meeting.
One thing Covington won’t be is outworked. He’s proven that in all of his recent wins and in his near-25-minute clash with Usman. Like his mouth, Covington’s engine never stops running. Add in whatever skills he’s picked up since the first fight and you have a formula for success that theoretically should be enough to make him UFC champion.
Still, I lean towards Usman retaining because we know for a fact that he’s improved greatly over the past two years and that he has more punching power. I think Covington has a ceiling and that we’ve seen the best of him (which is very good!) in the cage, while Usman’s peak is higher and he’s possibly still getting better. His recent knockouts are strong indicators that his striking has reached an elite level, which is where his wrestling already was.
Covington has tricks up his sleeve to give Usman problems (he should mix in more wrestling with his usual high-volume attack this time around) but it’s nothing that Usman hasn’t seen before. This isn’t just Usman’s chance to vanquish his pesky rival once and for all, it will be another showcase for arguably the best welterweight we’ve ever seen.
Usman by knockout.
Rose Namajunas (1) vs. Zhang Weili (2)
We saw so little action in the first Rose Namajunas-Zhang Weili meeting that it’s difficult to explain why or if the second go-around will be any different. Namajunas was the better fighter at UFC 261, of that there is no question, but everything we’d seen of Zhang before that loss strongly suggests that the odds of her getting one-shot KO’d like that again are slim.
Zhang went five back-and-forth rounds with Joanna Jedrzejczyk, so we know she has a chin. That said, few women have the finishing ability of Namajunas, the owner of the most finishes (5) in UFC strawweight history. It’s entirely possible that Namajunas puts Zhang away again, I’m just assuming that Zhang will have shored up her defense and that her 78 seconds in the cage with Namajunas is enough data for her to at least watch for that head kick this time.
What’s tricky about picking this one is that because this is an immediate rematch and the first fight was so short, you can probably feel confident going with whoever you thought would win the first one. Should one perfect strike change your whole outlook on a matchup? I’m not sure.
I was one of those picking Zhang and I actually am flipping to Namajunas for this pick, not just because of how she handled the first fight, but because it’s well overdue that she get more credit for her mental toughness and consistency. Sure, maybe she’s just “catching” her opponents, but she seems to do that a whole lot and I think she catches another on Saturday.
Frankie Edgar (T10) vs. Marlon Vera
Marlon Vera could be the opponent that gets Frankie Edgar back on track. Or the one that pushes him out of the contenders’ circle for good.
Edgar turned 40 just two weeks ago and as the man who has logged the most octagon time ever, you have to imagine that as competitive as he still is he’s getting close to the end of his storied career. If you’re the betting sort, it’s difficult to shake the image of Edgar getting decimated by Cory Sandhagen’s jumping knee or taken off of his feet by Brian Ortega’s rocket uppercut. Given the close nod that he won over Pedro Munhoz, one could argue that Edgar has not had a convincing win since beating Cub Swanson back in 2018.
With that in mind, “Chito” is unquestionably dangerous as he’s a proven finisher capable of throwing bombs and choking opponents out on the ground. He also has an endless supply of confidence, so having a legend like Edgar standing across from him is only going to make him step up his game. If anything, he’ll probably aim to take Edgar’s head off and top what Sandhagen, Ortega, and The Korean Zombie did to the former lightweight champion.
I wouldn’t put Vera’s finishing ability on the same level as those aforementioned names, so I do like Edgar to make it to the cards here and win a tactical battle. If he can take Vera’s best shots, his technical acumen should carry him through and I doubt Vera can win a chess match with one of the best to ever do it.
Edgar by decision. He lives to fight another day.
Shane Burgos vs. Billy Quarantillo
The easy thing to do here would be to peg this one as the Fight of the Night favorite, flip a coin, and be done with it. But if we must.
From the opening bell, this should be a scrap with Shane Burgos hunting for a fast finish. “Hurricane” cuts a ridiculous pace, one that Billy Quarantillo can keep up with, and we are going to get some fun exchanges for as long as this one lasts. I like Burgos more on the feet due to his reach and power advantage, though Quarantillo has pop in his hands as well.
For added fun, it would be cool to see Burgos and Quarantillo mix it up on the ground. Burgos has been known to sprinkle in takedowns, while Quarantillo stays busy on the bottom and will be a threat to score a submission from his back. It will be a cat-and-mouse game in the grappling department as both fighters will have to be careful with their aggression, regardless of who’s working from top position.
This should stay on the feet for the most part though and if that’s the case, then Burgos gets the nod by knockout.
Justin Gaethje (3) vs. Michael Chandler (6)
Will this be a barnburner as expected when it was first announced or will Michael Chandler have to turn this into a grind to beat Justin Gaethje?
The best path for Chandler is to follow the Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier game plans, which is to say you do not attempt to go head-first into a war with Gaethje. There is simply no one at 155 pounds that can win a bomb-for-bomb war with “The Highlight.” Chandler has the skills to get in and out, the question is does he have the mentality? He’s not as good as Alvarez or Poirier when it comes to formulating a strategy and sticking to it.
I’m also not convinced that he can force this to be a wrestling match. Despite what his loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov might have shown, Gaethje is an excellent wrestler especially in terms of defense. Chandler is not Nurmagomedov and it’s more likely that he expends a ton of energy working to take Gaethje down than actually initiating any effective offense off of shots or clinches.
Chandler certainly could steal a round if he’s able to score a takedown, but eventually he’s going to have to stand and trade with Gaethje and I just can’t envision a scenario where that ends well for him.
Gaethje by knockout in the second round.
Bruno Souza def. Melsik Baghdasaryan