An absolute banger of a card takes place from Madison Square Garden this weekend as UFC 268 finally is upon us.
A welterweight championship rematch headlines the card as Kamaru Usman looks to lap the division when he takes on Colby Covington in the main event, while Rose Namajunas is looking to bring some stability to strawweight but she’ll have to dispatch of Weili Zhang once again in the co-main.
We also have violence guaranteed in the main card opener between Justin Gaethje and Michael Chandler in a lightweight contender bout.
Last week at UFC 267 we had a great night, picking 12/14 fights correctly with four perfect picks to move us up to 458/716 (63.97%) with 194 perfect picks (42.36%).
Justin Gaethje (22-3) vs Michael Chandler (22-6) – (Lightweight/155lbs)
Not only my pick for fight of the night, but arguably and potentially the fight of the year opens up the UFC 268 main card. Gaethje is coming off his lightweight title shot defeat to Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 254 last October, following a four-fight win streak before that. Chandler is 1-1 in the UFC after KO’ing Dan Hooker at UFC 257 before losing his lightweight title shot to Charles Oliveira at UFC 262.
Gaethje is a straight up brawler, with persistent forward pressure and amazing punching power with a brilliant wrestling pedigree in his background too. Chandler is also a brilliant wrestler with a solid background, with powerful punching and solid hooks also. This fight is sure to be fireworks and that means Gaethje has the advantage.
His constant pressure and amazing cardio is brilliant to watch and he has genuine one-punch knockout power. He has great combinations and his leg kicks are legendary. With that said though, Chandler is arguably a more willing wrestler and that is his path to victory. Chandler could throw up a shock, but I can’t look past Gaethje earning yet another highlight reel knockout win.
PICK – Justin Gaethje via Knockout, Round 1
Shane Burgos (13-3) vs Billy Quarantillo (16-3) – (Featherweight/145lbs)
A very fun featherweight fight next between two guys looking to become contenders in the division. Burgos is on a two-fight losing streak after a decision loss to Josh Emmett before getting KO’d by Edson Barboza at UFC 262. Quarantillo suffered defeat to Gavin Tucker at UFC 256, but bounced back with a KO win over Gabriel Benitez at UFC Vegas 31.
Burgos is a very, very good boxer and is up there with Rob Font and Max Holloway as the best strikers in the division. Quarantillo is a fan favourite who is a brilliant cardio fighter, using his gas tank as a weapon to go along with his solid striking skills. This is set to be a striking fan’s paradise, with both guys going toe-to-toe and using their excellent technique to get one over their opponent.
Quarantillo has a jiu-jitsu advantage but Burgos’ wrestling is good enough to avoid that even coming into the equation and on the feet, I think he has the edge. He has big power, great combinations and excellent body work so I think he claims a fun decision win that gets fans up on their feet throughout.
PICK – Shane Burgos via Decision
Frankie Edgar (24-9-1) vs Marlon Vera (17-7-1) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
A very exciting fight in the bantamweight division between two guys looking to become contenders. Edgar opened his 135lbs career with a decision win over Pedro Munhoz at UFC Vegas 7, before a jump-knee KO defeat to Cory Sandhagen at UFC Vegas 18. Vera in the other corner has alternated wins and losses recently, KO’ing Sean O’Malley at UFC 252, then dropped a decision against Jose Aldo at UFC Vegas 17 before bouncing back with a win over Davey Grant at UFC Vegas 29.
Edgar is a legend of the game, previously holding the title at 155lbs, who has tremendous wrestling and an excellent ground game. Vera is a fighter who stylistically is relatively similar, with excellent ground game and powerful striking on the feet too with heavy leg kicks. This is a really even match up, but ultimately father time may have finally caught up with Edgar.
At 40-years-old now and with four defeats in his last six, it’s hard to see him claiming victory here. Vera can match him in the wrestling, is probably the better striker and has the output and cardio to go hard for 15 minutes so I think he claims an important decision victory.
PICK – Marlon Vera via Decision
Rose Namajunas (11-4) vs Weili Zhang (21-2) – (Strawweight/115lbs)
Without a doubt the hardest fight to pick on the entire card is the women’s strawweight title fight. Namajunas has won her last two-in-a-row, defeating Jessica Andrade before KO’ing Weili Zhang at UFC 261, snapping the Chinese fighter’s 21-fight winning streak.
Namajunas is a very well-rounded fighter, with much improved striking over the years and good power in her punches and kicks. She is also a very good grappler, with half of her career wins coming via submission. Zhang is a powerhouse of a fighter with ten knockout wins but also good wrestling and submissions herself. It’s a very well-rounded and evenly matched fight, which makes it so hard to pick.
In their first fight at UFC 261, I predicted Zhang to use her physicality and power to grind away and earn a stoppage. But after that fight, it’s hard to go against Namajunas. She has a speed advantage, uses her kicks brilliantly and can more than hold her own on the ground so I think she’ll be able to go 25 minutes and hang with Zhang to earn yet another win and cement herself as one of the best ever at this weight.
PICK – Rose Namajunas via Decision
Kamaru Usman (19-1) vs Colby Covington (16-2) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
The grudge match of all grudge matches at welterweight as the champ defends his title in a rematch from 2019. Usman is on an 18-fight win streak including a fifth-round KO of Covington in his first title defence at UFC 245. He’s since beaten Masvidal twice and KO’d Gilbert Burns at UFC 258 too. Covington has only fought once since, stopping Tyron Woodley at UFC Vegas 11 in September 2020.
Usman and Covington are both primary wrestlers, but have great volume and striking on the feet too which led to zero takedown attempts during their first fight. Usman has however greatly improved his striking since that fight, with two KO’s in three fights since. Covington went back to his pressuring wrestling against Woodley to earn a dominant win, but whether he can implement that style against Usman is hard to say.
Colby is unlikely to get into a straight striking war again after he got his jaw broken in their first fight, which means he’ll probably try to wrestle more. But Usman is the physically stronger fighter and arguably the superior wrestler, so it’s really tough to see how Covington can get a win. Usman’s striking is powerful and greatly improved under Trevor Wittman, and his wrestling is still unmatched in the division (maybe the company?). Ultimately, Usman is the best and won’t lose this title until he retires probably so I think he earns the big win yet again to cement his legacy as one of the best ever.
PICK – Kamaru Usman via Knockout, Round 3