Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) offers its second stacked card in as many weeks this Saturday (Nov. 6, 2021) evening when two title rematches headline the promotion’s return to Madison Square Garden in New York City.
UFC 268’s ESPN+-streamed pay-per-view (PPV) main event sees Welterweight champion, Kamaru Usman, look to keep his destructive streak going against long-time rival, Colby Covington, while two-time Strawweight queenpin, Rose Namajunas, attempts to make the first defense of her current reign against her predecessor, Zhang Weili. The PPV will also feature a Bantamweight crossroads match between the struggling Frankie Edgar and surging Marlon Vera, a near-guaranteed “Fight of the Year” candidate between Shane Burgos and Billy Quarantillo, and a fiery Lightweight opener between Justin Gaethje and Michael Chandler that could propel the winner back into title contention.
Our usual main card guy had an unfortunate run-in with Michael Myers this past weekend, so this duty falls to me once again. As always, you can check out our “Prelims” undercard analysis here and here, our odds breakdown here, and Andrew Richardson’s expert examinations here.
Let’s get cracking ...
170 lbs.: UFC Welterweight champion Kamaru Usman (19-1) vs. Colby Covington (16-2)
The million-dollar question for every rematch is “what’s changed?” The first match was long and decisive enough to suggest that if those two stepped into the cage again as their previous selves, we’d end up with a similar outcome much more often than not.
On the Covington side, it’s hard to make a definitive judgment. That’s because all he’s done in the interim is maul what’s left of Tyron Woodley, which everybody with a lick of sense expected him to. Usman, meanwhile, has visibly improved his striking to the point where he can actually bring the massive power we’d long glimpsed to bear.
More relevant, though, are the circumstances under which he scored those knockouts. Both Gilbert Burns and Jorge Masvidal put heavy pressure on Usman, who not only withstood the early onslaughts, but made the adjustments necessary to take over and ultimately finish the fights with authority. We already knew he could match Covington’s pace and shut down his wrestling, but now it seems like Covington can’t even replicate the success he had on the feet the first time out.
To win this fight, Covington will have to consistently out-work Usman, while avoiding the same sorts of punches that broke his face last time, which Usman’s become much more adept at landing. While I can definitely see Covington doing some good work in the first round while Usman settles in, it’s only a matter of time before Usman starts finding the mark with his thudding jab and murderous right cross. Expect an even more definitive ending as Usman blasts him into oblivion before the championship rounds.
Prediction: Usman def. Covington via second round technical knockout
115 lbs.: UFC Strawweight champion Rose Namajunas (10-4) vs. Zhang Weili (21-2)
We didn’t get quite as much data on these two. Their April meeting lasted all of 78 seconds before Zhang misread a high kick as a low kick and paid dearly for it (watch it). We’re flying just as blind as we were the first time around, but hey, sometimes you have to extrapolate.
The name of the game here is distance. Zhang is an absolute monster in the pocket, and Namajunas’ rematch with Jessica Andrade showed that “Thug” isn’t immune to pressure. At the same time, Namajunas definitely looks the more capable of the two at range, especially since she’s more willing to throw one-and-done strikes instead of settling in to trade combinations. So long as both women are fresh, I favor Namajunas’ movement and kicking skill to control the tempo on the feet.
The question, then, is how long Namajunas can keep that up. Though she can go five hard rounds (as we saw in another rematch against Joanna Jedrzejczyk) Andrade found increasing success walking her down as both of their fights progressed. Zhang is nothing if not willing to walk through fire, suggesting that if Namajunas can’t find another quick kill shot, things could very quickly go south.
Still, even if she ends up in survival mode for the last bits of the fight and lacks the wrestling to bring her lethal Brazilian jiu-jitsu to bear in this match up, Namajunas has impressed me enough to earn my faith. She banks the first three rounds and turns aside a late surge to retain the title.
Prediction: Namajunas def. Zhang via unanimous decision
135 lbs.: Frankie Edgar (24-9-1) vs. Marlon Vera (19-7-1)
More than one decade after his historic upset of BJ Penn, he beat a top-10 contender in Pedro Munhoz who seemed tailor-made to take apart “The Answer.” Everything about his career — from his work ethic to his technical advancement to his willingness to fight killer after killer — is laudable.
But, nothing lasts forever.
He turned 40 last month and looks to finally be feeling the aftereffects of innumerable significant strikes to the head, having suffered first-round knockout losses in three of his last six fights. Getting dropped early is not, in an of itself, particularly strange for Edgar. From Gray Maynard to Benson Henderson to even a substandard slugger like Jeremy Stephens, plenty of folks have managed to put him on his ass.
That looks to be the rub against Vera, who boasts some sneaky power to go along with his killer ground game. It seems inevitable that the aging Edgar will run into a kick or knee or punch that’ll have him chicken dancing like the old days, and Vera’s got more than enough killer instinct to finish the job.
A prime Edgar would have survived the onslaught and run circles around “Chito” for the rest of the fight. I just can’t trust the current incarnation to complete that first step, especially not after that train wreck against Cory Sandhagen. He’s still got the skills to win if he can get out of the first, but odds are that Vera clips him in the first few minutes and refuses to let the opportunity slip away.
Prediction: Vera via first round technical knockout
145 lbs.: Shane Burgos (13-3) vs. Billy Quarantillo (16-3)
If Burgos is still able to fire on all cylinders, this is his fight to lose. Quarantillo is nobody’s idea of a striking magician; on the contrary, he relies on his insane pace to wear down opponents to the point where his heavy swings can actually connect consistently. Burgos has more than proven his ability to fight for 15 hard minutes and is a considerably more potent boxer, meaning he can keep punishing Quarantillo’s technical lapses for far longer than many of his divisional peers.
That’s one heck of an “if,” though.
The punches he absorbed against Josh Emmett were some of the heaviest I have ever seen fail to produce a knockout, and that bizarre delayed reaction when Edson Barboza cracked him was more than a little worrying. This is a man who’s absorbed 376 significant strikes in his last four fights, and that’s including the paltry 22 Makwan Amirkhani sent his way.
That said, Burgos looked plenty sound against Barboza before the finish and was more than holding his own at times, so I’m willing to be a little optimistic. I’ll admit that this could be wishful thinking; I do love watching Burgos operate and hope dearly that his unique brand of gun-slinging hasn’t been bashed clean out of his skull by this point. Just keep that in mind as I proclaim that his superior boxing craft and heavier hands carry him to a victory in a “Fight of the Night”-type war.
Prediction: Burgos def. Quarantillo by unanimous decision
155 lbs.: Justin Gaethje (22-3) vs. Michael Chandler (22-6)
Way back in January, I specifically named Justin Gaethje and Charles Oliveira as two of the biggest obstacles standing between Michael Chandler and UFC glory. I was proven right on one count and fully expect to be vindicated once again come tomorrow evening.
Admittedly, Chandler probably could have destroyed the version of Gaethje who first stepped foot in the Octagon. “Iron’s” brutal finish of Dan Hooker showed that not even concrete chins are immune to the sledgehammers he throws. The patient, calculating version of “The Highlight” who beat Tony Ferguson’s career out of him in a single night is another story. Chandler’s explosive offense relies on opponents being too cowed by his power to exploit his overly linear advance, and if anyone’s willing to stand his ground and throw back, it’s Gaethje. He’s sharp and powerful enough to mercilessly exploit the openings Chandler leaves, and I can’t imagine that Chandler’s low power stance will respond well to the division’s nastiest low kicks.
Gaethje has simply evolved past the point where a straightforward slugger like Chandler can beat him with raw horsepower. With the takedown defense to keep it on the feet and the striking skill to smash Chandler’s oft-checked chin, expect him to make an inarguable claim for a shot at gold.
Prediction: Gaethje def. Chandler via first round technical knockout
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 268 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPNEWS/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.
To check out the latest and greatest UFC 268: “Usman vs. Covington 2” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.