Coming off a stacked Abu Dhabi Showdown Week card at UFC 267: Blachowicz vs Teixeira, we head to the world's most famous arena in New York for two epic title fight rematches, a lightweight banger, and a UFC 268: Usman vs Covington 2 card which is promised to deliver from bottom to top. Let's break it down.
KAMARU USMAN VS COLBY COVINGTON
After their initial meeting earned Fight of the Night honors at UFC 245, welterweight champion Kamaru Usman and top contender Colby Covington run it back for a second time in the main event of this weekend’s return to Madison Square Garden.
Nine months after claiming the title from Tyron Woodley, Usman made his first title defense against Covington, battling hard before finally pulling away in the fifth round to secure the victory. Since then, “The Nigerian Nightmare” has been a dominant force, grinding out Jorge Masvidal on UFC Fight Island before collecting stoppage wins over Gilbert Burns and Masvidal earlier this year.
Covington has competed just once since their initial encounter, earning a fifth-round stoppage win over Woodley last fall where he dominated the fight from start to finish. Prior to his loss to Usman, the verbose and venomous contender had rattled off seven consecutive victories, using his wrestling and pace to take opponents into deep waters and drown them.
Their first meeting was the toughest fight of each man’s respective UFC career, with the duo running even through the first four rounds before Usman pulled away late. At the time, they were stylistic mirrors of one another, so it will be interesting to see how things have changed nearly two years later, with Usman having worked extensively with Trevor Wittman and improved his striking, while Covington relocated from American Top Team to MMA Masters.
The first fight was an instant classic — will the sequel live up to that standard?
ROSE NAMAJUNAS VS ZHANG WEILI
It’s a strawweight title rematch in the co-main event as Rose Namajunas seeks the first successful title defense of her second run atop the 115-pound weight class in a second consecutive showdown with former champ Zhang Weili.
Namajunas claimed the title for a second time with a dynamic first-round knockout victory in April, cracking Zhang with a beautiful left head kick just over a minute into the fight to secure the victory. This is familiar territory for the two-time champion, as “Thug Rose” fought Joanna Jedrzejczyk in an immediate rematch after dethroning the long-reigning Polish standout with a first-round knockout win at UFC 217 in the same building where she faces Zhang on Saturday.
The loss in April snapped Zhang’s impressive 21-fight winning streak and sent the former champion searching for answers. She was clearly rattled by things Namajunas said in the build up to their first meeting and the frosty reception she received in Jacksonville, and then got caught in the cage with a perfectly placed, non-telegraphed high kick. She shifted the final stages of her training camp to Arizona to work with the Fight Ready crew, and will look to follow Namajunas’ lead by becoming the second two-time champion by unseating her on Saturday.
Despite being a rematch, this feels like a brand-new fight, as their April encounter lasted just 78 seconds, leaving many questions about how the two match up inside the Octagon unanswered. Namajunas appears to be in a better position to thrive as champion this time around, while Zhang has looked hell-bent on reclaiming the title, so we should get another memorable meeting from these two standouts on Saturday night, regardless of how long it lasts or how it plays out.
JUSTIN GAETHJE VS MICHAEL CHANDLER
Justin Gaethje and Michael Chandler settle their simmering rivalry inside the Octagon on Saturday at MSG, as the lightweight standouts do battle to determine who is the No. 1 contender in the division.
Gaethje returns for the first time since being submitted in his championship clash with Khabib Nurmagomedov last October on UFC Fight Island. The human wrecking ball had won four straight before that, including claiming the interim lightweight title with a breathtaking effort opposite Tony Ferguson, and remains one of the elite talents in the loaded 155-pound weight division heading into his showdown with Chandler on Saturday.
Chandler kicked off his UFC tenure in impressive fashion, scoring a first-round knockout win over Dan Hooker in Abu Dhabi at the start of the year before battling Charles Oliveira for the vacant lightweight strap in May. After a quick start where he appeared poised to claim the title, the Brazilian rallied and Chandler was stopped just 19 seconds into the second round. Now, the UFC freshman looks to close out his rookie campaign by toppling Gaethje and securing a second championship opportunity.
These two have been jawing at each other since the fight was booked and have similar styles and approaches inside the cage, which should result in an absolute barnburner this weekend in New York City.
SHANE BURGOS VS BILLY QUARANTILLO
Featherweights with “Empire State” roots clash early on the main card as “Hurricane” Shane Burgos looks to snap a two-fight skid in a showdown with ascending Contender Series graduate Billy Quarantillo.
A Team Tiger Schulmann representative, Burgos has been on the wrong side of the results in back-to-back Fight of the Night-winning battles, dropping a close decision to Josh Emmett in June 2020 before getting stopped early in the third round of a fun scrap with Edson Barboza in May. With sharp hands and unquestioned toughness, the 30-year-old from the Bronx has established himself as a fan favorite and Top 15 fixture in the 145-pound weight class while posting a 6-3 record through his first nine trips into the Octagon.
“Billy Q” went 5-1 after appearing on Season 22 of The Ultimate Fighter as a member of Team Faber to earn a look on Dana White’s Contender Series, where he stopped current UFC featherweight Kamuela Kirk early in the third round. Since then, the Western New York product has gone 4-1 inside the Octagon, entering Saturday night’s affair off a third-round stoppage win over Gabriel Benitez that earned the duo Fight of the Night honors in July.
Both Burgos and Quarantillo are all-action fighters with a penchant for engaging in entertaining, back-and-forth fights, so even on a card as loaded as this one, it has a real distinct Fight of the Night feel to it.
FRANKIE EDGAR VS MARLON VERA
The action on the main card kicks off in the bantamweight division as UFC legend Frankie Edgar squares off with emerging Ecuadorian standout Marlon “Chito” Vera in the first bout of Saturday’s pay-per-view.
The 40-year-old Edgar made the successful transition to the 135-pound weight class last summer with a hard-fought, split-decision win over Pedro Muhnoz, but was knocked out by Cory Sandhagen just 28 seconds into his second bantamweight appearance earlier this year. The former lightweight champ is 2-4 over his last six outings, and 4-5 over his last nine dating back to UFC 200, having fought a daunting slate across two divisions.
Vera has been on the cusp of establishing himself as a contender for a couple years now, having stumbled each time he’s had a chance to take that next step forward. After handing Sean O’Malley the lone loss of his career, the 28-year-old made an error early in the third round of his clash with Jose Aldo and couldn’t recover, dropping a decision to the Brazilian veteran before rebounding with a good win over Davey Grant last time out.
This is a critical fight for each man, as the way it plays out should paint a clearer picture of where each stands in the division and what to reasonably expect from them going forward. Can Edgar bounce back yet again and prove he still has plenty left to offer or will Vera finally get the big win that puts him in the thick of the chase in the 135-pound ranks?
ALEX PEREIRA VS ANDREAS MICHAILIDIS
The final bout of the prelims will be contested in the middleweight division, where former world champion kickboxer Alex Pereira makes his promotional debut opposite Greek veteran Andreas Michailidis.
The first two-weight world champion under the Glory Kickboxing banner, Pereira transitions to the biggest stage in the sport with a 3-1 MMA record, a three-fight winning streak, and a pair of kickboxing wins over UFC middleweight champ Israel Adesanya. The 34-year-old returned to MMA last November with a first-round stoppage win under the LFA banner and will have all eyes on him as he makes the walk at Madison Square Garden this weekend.
After registering his first UFC victory last time out, Michailidis has a chance to upset the apple cart this weekend by spoiling Pereira’s debut. The 33-year-old has significantly more experience inside the cage, and has won four of his last five outings, earning finishes in three of those contests.
This should be a quality entrance exam for Pereira and an opportunity for Michailidis to introduce himself to a wider audience by welcoming the incoming kickboxing standout to the Octagon for the first time.
AL IAQUINTA VS BOBBY GREEN
Veteran lightweights clash in The Garden this weekend as local favorite Al Iaquinta squares off with Bobby Green.
Fighting for the first time in a little over two years — and competing at MSG for the first time in his career — Iaquinta enters off back-to-back decision losses to Dan Hooker and Donald Cerrone, and sporting a 1-3 record over his last four dating back to his last-minute championship clash with Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 223. The former TUF finalist and Serra-Longo Fight Team staple is tough as nails and game as they come, so it will be interesting to see what he brings to the table on Saturday after two years on the sidelines.
While Iaquinta has only fought four times in the last four years, Green has put in eight appearances, posting a 4-4 mark while logging the maximum 15 minutes each time out. The 35-year-old had won three straight prior to dropping consecutive decisions to Thiago Moises and Rafael Fiziev and will look to avoid the second three-fight slide of his career when he steps into the Octagon this weekend.
PHIL HAWES VS CHRIS CURTIS
The second of three entertaining middleweight clashes scheduled for Saturday’s televised prelims sees emerging contender Phil Hawes take on promotional newcomer Chris Curtis.
It has taken Hawes a little time to find his footing after arriving in the sport as a hyped prospect, but the 32-year-old is now firing on all cylinders, entering on a seven-fight winning streak and standing at the cusp of the Top 15. “Megatron” posted three wins in as many starts during his rookie campaign in the UFC and looks to kick off his sophomore season by extending his winning streak to eight with a victory over Curtis this weekend.
An MMA vagabond who started his pro career in 2009, Curtis finally touches down in the UFC on a five-fight winning streak, looking to make the most of this opportunity. He looked impressive in his Contender Series win a few seasons back, but didn’t get a contract, but has really locked in this year, earning four victories and three finishes already in 2021.
EDMEN SHAHBAZYAN VS NASSOURDINE IMAVOV
Promising young middleweights meet at Madison Square Garden this weekend as Edmen Shahbazyan looks to get back in the win column against ascending prospect Nassourdine Imavov.
The biggest win of Shahbazyan’s career took place in NYC two years ago when he knocked out veteran Hawaiian Brad Tavares in the first round, propelling himself to 4-0 in the UFC and 11-0 overall. Since then, the 23-year-old “Golden Boy” has landed on the wrong side of the results in back-to-back outings, getting finished by Derek Brunson last summer and decisioned by Jack Hermansson earlier this year.
Imavov made his UFC debut just over a year ago, outworking Jordan Williams before battling Hawes to a majority decision loss in his second appearance inside the Octagon. The 25-year-old followed up that effort in February with a second-round stoppage win over Ian Heinisch in July, pushing his record to 10-3 and putting him on the radar as one to watch in the 185-pound ranks.
IAN GARRY VS JORDAN WILLIAMS
Unbeaten welterweight prospect Ian Garry makes his UFC debut on Saturday, squaring off with Contender Series alum Jordan Williams.
The most highly regarded and promising Irish fighter to step into the Octagon since Conor McGregor, the 23-year-old Garry is 7-0 as a professional and coming off a pair of victories earlier this year, most recently claiming the Cage Warriors welterweight strap in June. Once he was signed by the UFC, the tall, rangy, and power newcomer relocated to South Florida to train with the crew at Sanford MMA, which only increases the intrigue surrounding his debut on Saturday evening.
Williams is a tough veteran with solid power that has struggled to find success in the Octagon through his first two starts. After needing three tries to finally earn his UFC contract on the Contender Series, the 31-year-old Factory X Muay Thai representative will look to replicate fellow DWCS alum Jamie Pickett’s recent feat of following two setbacks with a UFC victory in his third attempt when he steps in with Garry this weekend.
The hype surrounding Garry in North America hasn’t reached a fever pitch as of yet, but he’s an outstanding prospect and a dynamic effort at UFC 268 could propel him into the fast lane towards contention, while Williams will look to stifle his progress up the divisional ranks before it even starts.
GIAN VILLANTE VS CHRIS BARNETT
Long Island native Gian Villante makes his MSG debut looking to snap a three-fight slide when he steps in with hardcore favorite Chris “Beastboy” Barnett.
After logging his first 15 UFC appearances at light heavyweight, Villante moved up to heavyweight last year, but couldn’t break back into the win column, suffering consecutive losses to Maurice Greene and Jake Collier. The lovable Hofstra alum, who is four fights to the good for his career, but three fights south of even inside the Octagon, will surely be propelled by the partisan crowd and will look to collect his first win in three years when he steps in this weekend.
A regional fixture for the better part of a decade, Barnett made his promotional debut earlier this year, suffering a second-round submission loss to Ben Rothwell in May. More athletic and dynamic than his stature and size suggest, the 35-year-old taekwondo stylist is 21-7 overall and more than capable of extending Villante’s losing skid on Saturday.
MELSIK BAGHDASARYAN VS BRUNO SOUZA
Contender Series alum Melsik Baghdasaryan looks for his second UFC victory of 2021 as he takes on streaking LFA champ Bruno Souza in this intriguing short-notice matchup.
A long-time kickboxer, Baghdasaryan began his full transition into MMA in 2019, winning six straight, including a unanimous decision win over Dennis Buzukja last fall at the UFC APEX. While he didn’t earn a contract that night, “The Gun” was called to the Octagon nonetheless and showed why at the end of July, putting it on Collin Anglin for just under seven minutes to earn a second-round stoppage victory.
Since losing his debut in the summer of 2016, the 25-year-old Souza has rattled off 10 straight victories, half of them coming inside the LFA cage, where the Machida Karate representative claimed the vacant featherweight title last time out. Souza holds split decision wins over UFC fighter Kamuela Kirk and Fortis MMA prospect Elijah Johns, and despite being tapped on short notice, “The Tiger” should be ready for whatever Baghdasaryan has to offer on Saturday night.
DUSTIN JACOBY VS JOHN ALLAN
After having a two-fight cup of coffee in the UFC early in his professional career, Jacoby turned his focus to kickboxing, excelling under the Glory banner for a number of years. He earned his way back to the Octagon with a win on Dana White's Contender Series last summer, and has since amassed a 3-0-1 record, most recently securing a first-round stoppage win over Darren Stewart in August.
Two fights into his UFC tenure, Allan remains without a victory. His debut win over Mike Rodriguez was overturned after the Brazilian tested positive for a banned substance, and he dropped a split decision to Roman Dolidze in his return late last year.
Jacoby has looked great since coming back to the UFC, and extending his overall unbeaten streak to seven would make him an even more intriguing figure in the light heavyweight ranks. While Allan has struggled, upending Jacoby at MSG would be a quick way for the Brazilian to shift his momentum and get things moving in the right direction heading into 2022.
CJ VERGARA VS ODE’ OSBOURNE
It’s a battle of Dana White’s Contender Series graduates in the flyweight division to get the night started as CJ Vergara squares off with Ode’ Osbourne.
The second fighter to earn a contract on Season 5 and step into the Octagon, Vergara made quick work of the favored and far more established Bruno Korea in September, running through the Ultimate Fighter alum in 41 seconds. Trained by “The Secret Weapon” Pete Spratt, the 30-year-old Vergara has earned five straight victories, all by stoppage, and arrives in the UFC as an intriguing addition to the 125-pound weight class.
Osbourne has yet to make it out of the first round through three UFC appearances, landing on the wrong side of the rapid finish in two of those contests. After taking out Jerome Rivera in his flyweight debut in February, Osbourne was stopped by Manel Kape last time out, catching a flying knee to the dome as he looked to change levels late in their August encounter.
With the amount of finishes lining their respective resumes, do not be surprised if this one ends early and gets the night off to an explosive start on Saturday.
Don't miss a single strike of UFC 268: Usman vs Covington 2, live from Madison Square Garden in New York City on ESPN+ on November 6, 2021. Prelims begin at 6pm ET/3pm PT, main card starts at 10pm ET/7pm PT.