Welterweight champion Kamaru Usman defends his UFC title towards Colby Covington, in a rematch of their great 2019 battle, which Usman received by fifth-round TKO. The bout on Saturday headlines a packed UFC 268 card that additionally consists of one other title rematch, a must-see light-weight battle and a possibility for a number of fighters to get again into the win column.
Usman is as soon as once more the favourite, however how a lot of a menace is Covington to Usman’s 18-fight unbeaten streak? Is he the most important problem remaining for Usman within the welterweight division?
Within the co-main occasion, Rose Namajunas defends the strawweight title she took from Zhang Weili with a first-round KO at UFC 261 in April. Zhang has already been part of some unbelievable UFC fights, towards Namajunas and Joanna Jedrzejczyk, and constructed up an incredible profile for herself. However because the face of UFC in China, might the UFC’s plans of growth in that nation be impacted by one other loss for Zhang?
Past the 2 title fights, there’s additionally a light-weight matchup between prime light-weight contenders Justin Gaethje and Michael Chandler, which might steal the present earlier than the title fights even enter the Octagon.
Additionally on this deep card, Alex Pereira makes his UFC debut. Whereas Pereira has solely 4 fights in MMA, he is 34 and a veteran in kickboxing with 33 victories in 40 fights, together with two wins towards present UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya. What can we count on from Pereira when he faces Andreas Michailidis in a middleweight bout?
The depth continues down the UFC 268 card, as Shane Burgos, Frankie Edgar, Al Iaquinta and Edmen Shahbazyan all function in undercard bouts, as every appears to rebound from a loss — so which fighter amongst them has one of the best likelihood to get again into the successful circle.
Our panel of Marc Raimondi, Brett Okamoto, Jeff Wagenheim and Carlos Contreras Legaspi tackle these matters and share their ideas.
Is Colby Covington Usman’s most troublesome opponent left at welterweight?
Okamoto: I’ll give Covington credit score right here and say, “completely.” Now, I’ll add this reply might simply become incorrect. Once I have a look at these welterweight rankings, a giant identify that pops out at me is Stephen Thompson. Stylistically, he could be a horrible matchup for Usman. He is a protracted, unorthodox, unpredictable striker who could be very arduous to take down, and he hasn’t proven a bent to fold underneath quantity. That might be a very robust battle for Usman.
Khamzat Chimaev might be a tricky matchup, too. It is too early to know for positive after all, however I’m on the Chimaev bandwagon. Might this man find yourself being a pound-for-pound nice, a number of division champion? It feels prefer it’s in his vary of outcomes, yeah.
However to miss Covington right here, I simply do not assume I can do it. He has given Usman his hardest take a look at up to now by far. I at all times thought stylistically this was a tricky matchup for Covington, as a result of all the pieces he does effectively, Usman does nearly as effectively, or higher. His path to victory requires an ideal battle. However we noticed a particularly aggressive battle two years in the past that might have gone both means between these two, and Covington has solely fought as soon as since and has modified camps, so there is a thriller consider what he’ll deliver to this one.
And for these causes, I’ll say that sure, that is the hardest problem Usman might be dealing with on Saturday in his division.
Will one other loss from Zhang Weili affect the UFC’s progress in China?
Raimondi: Doubtlessly, sure. And that is without doubt one of the issues that has probably weighed on her this 12 months, understanding that she is the face of the UFC in China. It is fascinating that she determined to depart her residence nation for coaching camp and transfer over to Combat Prepared in Scottsdale, Arizona. She’s not essentially the massive fish in that pond with the likes of former UFC double champ Henry Cejudo (who’s teaching her) and former UFC flyweight champion Deiveson Figueiredo additionally there proper now.
How a lot a Zhang loss would diminish the UFC in China is far more durable to quantify. It actually would not be a demise knell. With or with out Zhang as a champion, the UFC has large plans in China. UFC COO Lawrence Epstein instructed me over the summer season that execs envision the promotion’s recognition in China rivaling that of the UFC’s recognition in america in a number of years.
Having a homegrown hero like Zhang would solely be a boon because the UFC tries to develop exponentially in one of many richest nations on this planet. However an even bigger concern proper now could be the pandemic. The UFC has not been in a position to run reveals in China since 2019, and that has had extra of an affect proper now than no matter occurs with Zhang.
There may be additionally plenty of confidence that the UFC Efficiency Institute will develop new Chinese language expertise that may combine into the UFC within the coming years. So Zhang and the likes of Li Jingliang and Yan Xiaonan could have some reinforcements sooner or later.
Within the meantime, if Zhang can win again the UFC ladies’s strawweight title, that will assist the UFC’s efforts in China. However even when Rose Namajunas retains Saturday, the UFC will nonetheless really feel superb about the place it’s in China, and even higher about the place it might be in 5 to 10 years.
Is Justin Gaethje vs. Michael Chandler one of the best battle on the cardboard?
Wagenheim: It is often all about championship fights for me. These are the contests that resolve who’s one of the best on this planet, and that is what everybody from fighter to fan is into this sport for, proper? When there’s an particularly worthy challenger to the throne, that ramps up the intrigue. And UFC 268 has two such high-stakes showdowns. Each Colby Covington and Zhang Weili have what it takes to beat the champs. What a robust 1-2 combo.
However for those who have been to inform me I used to be allowed to observe only one battle on Saturday evening, effectively, first I might get on my knees and beg for at the least three or 4 extra. I imply, title bouts apart, there is a Frankie Edgar battle on faucet, and I by no means miss a type of. If given no leeway, although, and compelled to decide on only one battle, I would go together with Justin Gaethje vs. Michael Chandler.
In a sport constructed upon intoxicating thrills, Gaethje takes that buzz to a better degree. His nickname, “The Spotlight,” is each pinpoint correct and a bit misleading — as a result of the highlights of his fights are sometimes everything of these fights, not simply sporadic moments on a video clip. And when Gaethje collides with Chandler — one other all-action, no-reverse-gear light-weight drive of nature — it guarantees to be a tricky act to observe. Even for a few champions and their distinctive challengers.
What can we count on from Alex Pereira’s UFC debut?
Raimondi: That is flying underneath the radar as a result of UFC 268 is such a deep card with two wonderful title fights. However Pereira’s signing was a major one for the UFC. The Brazilian striker owns two victories over Israel Adesanya in kickboxing, the place Pereira is a former two-division Glory champion. He’s legitimately one of many prime pound-for-pound kickboxers on this planet proper now, but giving MMA his full focus. Pereira had an unbelievable, highlight-reel knockout win in LFA in November 2020. After that, he fought twice in Glory, going 1-1. The UFC will probably be his combat-sports precedence now.
Pereira’s opponent is Andreas Michailidis, a veteran of MMA with a UFC victory underneath his belt in his final bout and championships in smaller promotions. This may not be a simple battle; few are within the UFC. Pereira is a -260 favourite, per Caesars Sportsbook, so he’s anticipated to win. But it surely’s arduous to understand how issues will shake out when fighters from different fight sports activities transition to MMA. Pereira has solely 4 professional MMA fights and he misplaced his debut again in 2015.
Some elite kickboxers turn out to be Adesanya, the UFC middleweight champion and the most effective fighters on this planet pound-for-pound. Others like Gokhan Saki give MMA a attempt within the UFC, however it does not work out. Saki re-signed with Glory lately and is completed with combined martial arts. Which can Pereira be? Probably nearer to Adesanya. It will be fascinating to search out out and see how is sport evolves on this comparatively international atmosphere — and it is taking place on the massive stage of the UFC. Pereira has been coaching with new UFC mild heavyweight champion Glover Teixeira, so you realize he’ll at the least be well-prepared. If Pereira one way or the other climbs the ladder, a title battle with Adesanya down the street could be a promotional dream.
Which fighter could have one of the best bounce-back battle: Shane Burgos, Frankie Edgar, Al Iaquinta or Edmen Shahbazyan?
Legaspi: Shane Burgos could be coming off a loss towards Edson Barboza at UFC 262 in Might, however that was the most effective fights of the 12 months. So, I’ll go together with Burgos over Billy Quarantillo because the more than likely bounce-back consequence for UFC 268. The matchmaking on this one appears to be excellent and it is flying underneath the radar with so many excessive profile fights on the principle card.
Burgos has the right associate in Quarantillo for an additional back-and-forth battle. Each of them are coming off of fight-of-the-night performances. Billy Q went to battle with a really technical southpaw in Gabriel Benitez, and since his TKO victory towards Kamuela Kirk to safe his UFC contract, Quarantillo has confirmed to be entertaining in each Octagon look.
I imagine Burgos has confronted higher opposition and that may assist him to win the battle. However I can simply see an important battle that results in bonus checks in each of the fighters’ pockets.
Iaquinta will really feel the love combating so near residence, however his lengthy absence might be a problem. Frankie Edgar will probably be dealing with a younger, aggressive Marlon Vera that in all probability realized the lesson after displaying an excessive amount of respect for Jose Aldo. “Chito” Vera appears like a well-rounded menace within the bantamweight division and will not be a simple win for the previous light-weight champion.