UFC 268 predictions and analysis
The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to Madison Square Garden in New York City on Saturday, November 6, 2021, with its second loaded event in as many weeks, featuring two title rematches.
The main event of UFC 268’s ESPN+-streamed pay-per-view (PPV) event features Welterweight champion Kamaru Usman defending his title against long-time adversary Colby Covington, while two-time Strawweight queenpin Rose Namajunas defends her reign against her predecessor, Zhang Weili. A Bantamweight crossroads fight between Frankie Edgar and 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 will also be featured on the PPV.
Because our normal major card guy had an unpleasant run-in with Michael Myers over the weekend, I’m once again in charge of this task. As always, you can read our “Prelims” undercard analysis here and here, as well as our odds breakdown and Andrew Richardson’s expert assessments.
UFC Welterweight champion Kamaru Usman (19-1) takes on Colby Covington at 170 pounds (16-2)
“What’s changed?” is the million-dollar question for every rematch. The first match was long and decisive enough to suggest that if those two entered the cage as their previous selves, we’d see a similar result far more frequently than not.
On the Covington side, it’s difficult to reach a firm conclusion. That’s because all he’s done in the meanwhile is maul what’s left of Tyron Woodley, as everyone with a smidgeon of reason expected. Meanwhile, Usman’s striking has clearly progressed to the point where he can now deliver the huge power we’ve seen in the past.
What’s more important are the circumstances in which he got those knockouts. Gilbert Burns and Jorge Masvidal both put a lot of pressure on Usman, but he not only stood up to it, but he also made the adjustments he needed to take control and win the bouts with authority. We already knew he could keep up with Covington’s tempo and shut down his wrestling, but it now appears that Covington can’t even repeat his first-round success on the feet.
To win this fight, Covington will have to continually outwork Usman while avoiding the same shots that shattered his face the last time, which Usman has gotten much better at landing. Until I can see Covington doing some solid work in the first round while Usman settles in, it’ll only be a matter of time before Usman’s thudding jab and lethal right cross start finding the mark. Expect an even more conclusive conclusion when Usman blows him out of existence 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)
On these two, we didn’t get nearly as much information. Zhang suffered dearly for misreading a high kick as a low kick during their April meeting, which lasted all of 78 seconds (watch it). We’re just as blind as we were the previous time, but hey, you have to extrapolate occasionally.
Distance is the name of the game here. Zhang is a pocket monster, and Namajunas’ rematch with Jessica Andrade demonstrated that the “Thug” isn’t impervious to pressure. At the same time, Namajunas appears to be the more capable of the two at the range, particularly because she prefers to throw one-and-done strikes rather than settling into trade combinations. I prefer Namajunas’ movement and kicking skills to control the tempo on the feet as long as both women are fresh.
The question is how long Namajunas can maintain this level of performance. Andrade found increasing success walking her down as both of their fights continued, despite the fact that she can go five hard rounds (as we witnessed in another rematch versus Joanna Jedrzejczyk). Zhang isn’t afraid to walk through the fire, so if Namajunas can’t locate another quick death shot, things might quickly spiral out of control.
Even if she is forced to fight in survival mode for the last moments of the fight and lacks the wrestling skills to bring her lethal Brazilian jiu-jitsu to bear in this match, Namajunas has earned my trust. She wins the first three rounds and holds off a late comeback to keep the title.
Prediction: Namajunas def. Zhang via unanimous decision
135 lbs Frankie Edgar (24-9-1) vs. Marlon Vera (19-7-1)
He defeated Pedro Munhoz, a top-10 competitor who seemed tailor-made to knock apart “The Answer,” more than a decade after his epic upset of BJ Penn. His entire career is admirable, from his work ethic to his technological advances to his commitment to battle serial killer after serial killer.
He turned 40 last month and appears to be finally feeling the impact of numerous significant head hits, having lost three of his previous six fights in the first round. Edgar is used to being dropped early, therefore it’s not unusual for him to be dropped early. Many others have managed to put him on his back, from Gray Maynard to Benson Henderson to even a mediocre slugger like Jeremy Stephens.
That appears to be Vera’s problem, as he has some sneaky power to go along with his deadly ground game. The aged Edgar will almost certainly be hit with a kick, knee, or punch that will send him chicken dancing like in the old days, and Vera has more than enough deadly instinct to finish the job.
A prime Edgar would have survived the assault and fought “Chito” for the rest of the bout. I just don’t have faith in the current incarnation to take that initial step, especially after that train accident with Cory Sandhagen. If he can get out of the first, he still has the talent to win, but Vera is likely to clip him in the first few minutes and refuse to let the opportunity pass him by.
Prediction: Vera via first-round technical knockout
145 lbs Shane Burgos (13-3) vs. Billy Quarantillo (16-3)
This is Burgos’ fight to lose if he can still fire on all cylinders. Quarantillo isn’t your typical striking magician; instead, he depends on his breakneck speed to wear down opponents to the point where his powerful blows can actually connect. Burgos has demonstrated his ability to fight for 15 minutes and is a lot more potent boxer than many of his divisional counterparts, allowing him to continue attacking Quarantillo’s technical flaws for far longer than many of his divisional rivals.
That’s a big “if,” though.
The blows he took against Josh Emmett were some of the heaviest I’ve ever seen go unanswered, and his strange delayed reaction when Edson Barboza cracked him was a little concerning. This is a man who has taken 376 serious strikes in his last four fights, not considering the 22 strikes delivered by Makwan Amirkhani.
However, Burgos appeared to be in good shape versus Barboza before to the finish and was more than capable of holding his own at times, so I’m prepared to remain optimistic. I’ll grant that this could be wishful thinking, but I enjoy seeing Burgos work and sincerely hope that his distinct brand of gun-slinging hasn’t been knocked out of him by this point. Just remember that when I say that his superior boxing skills and heavier hands will propel him to victory in a “Fight of the Night”-style battle.
Prediction: Burgos def. Quarantillo by unanimous decision
155 lbs Justin Gaethje (22-3) vs. Michael Chandler (22-6)
I specifically mentioned Justin Gaethje and Charles Oliveira as two of the biggest roadblocks between Michael Chandler and UFC success back in January. On one point, I was proven correct, and I fully anticipate being vindicated once more by tomorrow evening.
Chandler could have probably destroyed the version of Gaethje who initially went into the Octagon. The violent conclusion of Dan Hooker by “Iron” shows that even concrete chins are vulnerable to his sledgehammers. Another narrative is about the patient, calculated version of “The Highlight” who annihilated Tony Ferguson’s career in a single night. Chandler’s explosive offense relies on opponents being too intimidated by his size to exploit his extremely linear progression, and Gaethje is one of the few players ready to stand his ground and throwback. Chandler’s low power stance won’t answer well to the division’s nastiest low kicks, and I can’t image Chandler’s low power stance responding well to the division’s nastiest low kicks.
Gaethje has simply progressed beyond the point where a pure hitter like Chandler can outrun him with raw power. Expect Chandler to establish an unarguable claim for a shot at gold with his takedown defense and striking ability to crush Chandler’s oft-checked chin.
Gaethje wins a technical knockout victory over Chandler in the first round.