NEW YORK CITY — Add Madison Square Garden to the list of Kamaru Usman’s conquests.
Usman (20–1) defended the welterweight championship at MSG and extended his win streak to 19, effectively ending Colby Covington’s run in the title picture. Usman could not finish Covington (16–3), but on a night of outstanding fights, he did more than enough to earn an unanimous decision victory in the main event of UFC 268.
Rose Namajunas also successfully defended her strawweight title in an incredibly competitive fight against Zhang Weili. This was a split decision, and it was far from a certainty that Namajunas (11–4) would retain. Weili (21–3) stuck to a smart, aggressive game plan, focusing on takedowns and doing damage on the mat. But the ever resourceful Namajunas was able to take that same blueprint and execute it just slightly better, which was on full display in the final round. Namajunas kept Weili on her back for the final four minutes of the fight, a pivotal stretch in a bout that otherwise had precious few stretches of dominance.
In the opening bout, Justin Gaethje defeated Michael Chandler by unanimous decision. This fight exceeded the hype, as the two traded shots for almost 15 minutes. Chandler (22–7) was spitting blood by the middle of the second round, while Gaethje (23–3) was spectacular in the way his chin held up against some tremendously stiff blows. Gaethje controlled the second and third rounds, and the victory allowed him to solidify his number-two ranking in an extremely crowded lightweight division. Both fighters were transported to the hospital immediately following the fight, and this was an amazing way to mark UFC’s return to MSG.
Shane Burgos and Billy Quarantillo followed Gaethje-Chandler, a terrible spot after 15 minutes of pure excitement and electricity. But that was another outstanding bout. The two combined for more than 700 strikes thrown, setting a featherweight record in the process for most significant strikes in a fight. Burgos (14–3) picked up a key win and put an end to his two-fight losing streak by defeating Quarantillo (16–4) by unanimous decision.
The card was full of action, which continued in the bantamweight bout when Marlon Vera dropped Frankie Edgar with a vicious front kick. The fight appeared headed to a judges’ decision, but Vera (18-7-1) subtly set up the third-round knockout with a variety of kicks to the body before ending the night for Edgar (24-10-1). That marks two wins in a row for Vera, as well as two losses in a row for Edgar, and the fourteenth-ranked Vera is sure to jump in the rankings after laying out Edgar, who was ranked eighth.
Alex Pereira also made a statement on the prelims. Landing an explosive flying knee, Pereira (4–1) won his UFC debut in remarkable fashion, defeating Andreas Michailidis (13–5). During his kickboxing career, Pereira defeated Israel Adesanya on two separate occasions, leading to instant speculation that he will soon be challenging Adesanya for the middleweight title.
UFC 268 delivered on its hype. The opening bout was outstanding, every fight was entertaining, and both Usman and Namajunas reminded the world why they are the undisputed champions.
WELTERWEIGHT TITLE BOUT: KAMARU USMAN (c) VS. COLBY COVINGTON — 1:00 AM ET
Kamaru Usman defeated Colby Covington by unanimous decision, extending his UFC win streak to 15.
Usman (20–1) could not find the finish, but he landed a considerable amount of damage on Covington (16–3).
Overall, the numbers favored Usman. He landed more significant strikes (76 to 53) and the only takedown of the fight. It started out in Usman’s favor, too. Covington went for a takedown at the minute-twenty mark of the first round, but Usman was more than prepared to handle it. Usman responded with a takedown with one-forty remaining in the round. One of Usman’s shots cut open Covington’s cheekbone, and Usman then seized control of the bout in the waning moments of the second round. He tagged Covington with a left hand to the chin and then hit with a flurry of shots to end the round. As it turned out, these were the only two knockdowns of the fight, and it served as a defining moment of the fight.
Striking with Usman was a strategy that proved ineffective throughout the first two rounds for Covington, though he landed a couple of shots in the third. That led to a takedown right before the end of the round, the first real momentum of the night for Covington. The fourth opened with more standup. Covington again landed some blows, but Usman was content to trade with him. The crowd lit up as the two fighters trash talked at the end of the fourth, and there was every reason to believe it was tied, two rounds a piece, entering the fifth and final round.
Usman’s volume appeared to be an advantage in the first two minutes of the fifth, but Covington stayed with him. With 30 seconds left in the fight, the fight was paused when Usman accidentally eye-poked Covington. Neither fighter could take advantage of the ensuing final 30 seconds, sending the decision to the judges, and the crowd was surprised to see the two fighters embrace after the fight.
With the victory, Usman’s reign as champ continues. After running it back with Jorge Masvidal and now Covington, we can expect new challengers, even perhaps Khamzat Chimaev, in the title picture to challenge Usman.
WOMEN’S STRAWWEIGHT TITLE BOUT: ROSE NAMAJUNAS (c) VS. ZHANG WEILI – 12:04 AM ET
It was not easy, but Rose Namajunas is still the reigning women’s strawweight champion.
Namajunas (11–4) defeated Zhang Weili by split decision. The bout was incredibly competitive, with Namajunas especially dominant in the fifth, preventing Weili (21–3) from winning another round.
An aggressive Weili took Namajunas out of her rhythm with an early takedown. But the champ remained calculated, tagging Weili with a couple strikes as the first round ended. Weili stayed composed in the second round, again bringing Namajunas to the mat with another takedown, but Namajunas finished the round with a takedown and strike to the face of her own. Weili had another strong takedown at the end of the third round, capitalizing on a stretch that had primarily belonged to Namajunas.
Weili forced another takedown in the fourth round, but Namajunas reversed position. Namajunas did not allow Weili to get back to her feet, which brought the two fighters to the fifth round. Just over a minute into the fifth, Namajunas’ takedown brought Weili to the mat. For nearly four minutes, Namajunas kept Weili on the mat, landing blows and swaying the fight.
The gap separating these two fighters is razor thin. But the edge belonged to Namajunas, who remains undefeated at Madison Square Garden. This marked her first appearance at MSG since 2017, the night she first won the strawweight title and knocked off the previously undefeated Joanna Jędrzejczyk. She adds to the highlight reel at UFC 268, earning her second victory against Weili.
BANTAMWEIGHT BOUT: FRANKIE EDGAR VS. MARLON VERA — 11:26 PM ET
Watching a 40-year-old Frankie Edgar get a win at Madison Square Garden would have been a great moment, but it was ultimately one that Marlon Vera did not allow to happen.
Three minutes and fifty seconds into the third round, Vera (18-7-1) knocked out Edgar (24-10-1) with a vicious front kick. This had appeared even entering the final round, but Vera refused to allow this to go to the judges. He set up the kick with kicks to the body, then made an emphatic statement with the knockout blow.
A win against the eighth-ranked Edgar is an important victory for the thirteenth-ranked Vera, who has now won two in a row.
FEATHERWEIGHT BOUT: SHANE BURGOS VS. BILLY QUARANTILLO – 10:53 PM ET
Shane Burgos defeated Billy Quarantillo by unanimous decision, picking up a win he desperately needed. Burgos (14–3) and Quarantillo (16–4) had the unenviable task of following Gaethje-Chandler, but the fight was still incredibly good. They combined for more than 700 strikes thrown, even setting a featherweight record for most significant strikes in a fight. With the win, the fourteenth-ranked Burgos ended his two-fight losing streak. He gained much needed momentum with the win, and finally showcased some of his best work in the cage against an extremely tough opponent in Quarantillo. On any other night, this had the potential to be a candidate for fight of the night … though that will not be the case tonight.
LIGHTWEIGHT BOUT: JUSTIN GAETHJE VS. MICHAEL CHANDLER — 10:21 PM ET
That is how you open a card.
Justin Gaethje defeated Michael Chandler by unanimous decision, holding on to his number-two ranking in a crowded lightweight division.
The fifth-ranked Chandler (22–7) fought valiantly, but he has now lost two of his three bouts in UFC.
Gaethje occasionally worked in his calf kick, but similar to Chandler’s wrestling, it was never a major factor. This was all about standup, and the two absolutely hammered one another.
Gaethje (23–3) and Chandler traded shots in the opening round, with both landing haymakers. Chandler had a slight edge in the first round, but the punishment took its toll. In the second round, Gaethje landed a knockdown strike nearly two minutes into the second round. A bloodied Chandler fought his way back to his feet, but Gaethje controlled the majority of the round. Spitting blood, Chandler barely held on, somehow absorbing a number of brutal shots. Before the end of the round, Chandler accidentally poked Gaethje in the eye, then landed a shot as the referee was calling for a timeout.
The two briefly went to the mat in the third round, then promptly returned trading shots. Gaethje had the edge in the second and third rounds, putting him in position for the win.
That was one of UFC’s best fights, and sets an impossible high standard to follow for the rest of the card.
Notes Before UFC 268
Kamaru Usman has the chance tonight to prove he is the best in the world.
And there is no place better to do it than at The Mecca.
Madison Square Garden, the site of UFC 268, is where Usman seeks to end the Colby Covington era of chaos in UFC. Usman will further assert himself as the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world with a convincing title defense of his welterweight belt. For Covington, who has already tasted defeat once to Usman (and whose rhetoric is running dry), he desperately needs this win to remain relevant atop the welterweight division.
Another champion ready to elevate herself to the next tier of stardom is Rose Namajunas. The strawweight champion runs it back with Zhang Weili in her first title defense since knocking out Weili in only 78 seconds this past April. Namajunas believes she has no peer in the division, a notion she will make even harder to argue if she lays out Weili for a second time. Like Covington in the main event, this will also be Weili’s farewell to the title picture if she cannot produce a win.
The UFC 268 main card opens with a headliner in any other building, as Justin Gaethje and Michael Chandler each look to bounce back off devastating losses and reassert themselves in the lightweight title picture. Frankie Edgar also returns to New York against the always dangerous Marlon Vera in bantamweight action, and featherweights Shane Burgos and Billy Quarantillo add further sizzle to a stacked card.
More MMA Coverage:
• Breaking Down Rose Namajunas’s Career-Changing Kick
• Catching Up With Henry Cejudo on UFC 268, Retirement and More
• Dana White: 'Kamaru Usman Is Pound-for-Pound Best Fighter in the World'
• Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington Are Ready for Their Sequel at UFC 268