On Saturday, UFC fans will get a New York City treat when the promotion’s 268th numbered event goes down at the legendary Madison Square Garden. With back-to-back numbered events carrying two titles on deck apiece, it sort of feels like Christmas came a little early for the MMA community. The memory of ho-hum Fight Night cards was quickly erased with last week’s UFC 267 show, and this next one promises to be just as entertaining, if not more so.
As mentioned earlier, this event also carries a pair of title fights, the first of which is the co-main event featuring Rose Namajunas defending her strawweight crown against former champ Weili Zhang. This immediate rematch comes just seven months after their first meeting where Namajunas scored a quick head kick knockout inside the two-minute mark of the fight.
Then we have the other title bout, a welterweight contest that will see another rematch, this time between sworn rivals Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington. In their first foray, reigning champion Usman scored a fifth-round knockout of Covington, breaking his jaw somewhere in the earlier stages of the fight. The Fight of the Night bonus went to these two scrappers, and the acrimonious air around the two has not changed a bit since their first tussle, even seeing Usman give Covington a huge shove at the pre-event press conference earlier in the week.
The rest of the card is fully stacked with important contender bouts and exciting prospect pairings. Justin Gaethje will take on former Bellator kingpin Michael Chandler and super slugger Shane Burgos will face off against the talented Billy Quarantillo. Long-time veteran Frankie Edgar will test his mettle against Marlon Vera and Bobby Green will meet native New Yorker Al Iaquinta. And let’s not forget that Ian Garry and Alex Pereira will be making their much-anticipated octagon debuts, as well. To call this card stacked would be a massive understatement.
There are plenty of other fights that will no doubt appeal to all sorts of combat appetites, but we’re going to take a look at the four that we feel are the most optimal bets to make on DraftKings Sportsbook.
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Kamaru Usman vs. Colby Covington
It’s hard to deny that Kamaru Usman has progressed leaps and bounds with his striking over the course of his UFC career. Once upon a time, you could just about count on his fights going to a decision, as he was heavily dependent on his stifling wrestling, and even had some lackluster performances, despite clearly sweeping the scorecards. That reputation has been replaced with one consisting of exciting scraps, tremendous collar-starching knockouts and utter thrashings.
Colby Covington is a durable, volume striker with an extraordinarily deep well of cardio that has carried him successfully through many high-paced battles. His furious pace has seen him to a 16-2 record, picking up an interim belt along the way. He’s fought just once since losing to Usman in 2019, but that was a one-sided beatdown of former champion Tyron Woodley that resulted in a 5th round TKO.
What this fight boils down to, in my opinion, is power, and Usman has that in droves, both in his wrestling and his striking. Colby doesn’t possess that kind of pop but he does do cumulative damage and he keeps an insane pace. He’s often lauded for his wrestling, which is very good, but he doesn’t tend to keep his opponents down for long stretches the way Usman does. He’s great in scrambles, but his top game is nowhere near Kamaru’s. Hanging onto a belt for multiple defenses the way Usman has is a feat unto itself, but at some point, cracks start showing in the armor. That’s not the case right now, and it’s doubtful that Covington will be the one to find and exploit those when they do start to show. I see this fight going much the same way the first one went, perhaps a bit more emphatically.
Rose Namajunas vs. Weili Zhang
“Thug” Rose Namajunas is an outstanding striker. She’s creative and aggressive, has phenomenal footwork, and finds entries for that head kick pretty consistently. Her cardio holds up well under pressure and she’s fairly durable (slam KO notwithstanding). Over the years, her skillset has blossomed into a diverse, well-rounded tool chest that has guided her to strawweight gold twice. Most find it insanely difficult to regain a belt once it’s been lost, but Rose has persevered and added that accomplishment to her running list.
Weili Zhang is also quite well-rounded and has gathered a belt for herself too, becoming the first Chinese UFC champion. She’s also a powerful knockout artist with 10 of her 21 wins coming by way of knockout. Her submission game is also top-notch, where she’s won seven of her fights via that route. Her fight with Joanna Jędrzejczyk is one of the greatest battles in MMA history and the way she dispatched former champion Jessica Andrade was a work of violent art.
I’m picking Namajunas to keep her belt based on the striking advantage and unpredictability of her attacks. She almost never telegraphs and explodes into action with a varied attack ranging from flying submissions to insane head kicks. She’s also a calm, collected fighter, making smart choices with her striking selection and able to withstand most standing assaults from her opponents. Her rematches with Joanna Jędrzejczyk and Jessica Andrade were prime examples of that. Zhang has the tools to make it a rough night for Rose, but I think Namajunas will dispatch her to the nether realm once again. Once she has your number, that’s it, and I believe she has Zhang’s number indelibly imprinted in her brain.
Justin Gaethje vs. Michael Chandler
Justin Gaethje is a juggernaut fueled by violence and bolstered by confidence. His excellent striking is powerful and only two of his wins have made it to decision. A staggering 19 men have tasted his power and one even saw himself submitted. He’s faced a Murderer’s Row of talent since his UFC debut, only losing to the very best. He’s nearly impossible to take down and has a very good wrestling base that should hold up against Chandler’s excellent pedigree.
Michael Chandler is an excellent wrestler with a sensational blast double and devastating top game. He has real knockout power and has seen 10 of his opponents fall to his punches, most recently Dan Hooker. His strength of schedule isn’t anywhere close to Gaethje’s and I feel this is to his detriment. Iron sharpens iron, and Justin is a finely honed blade. Chandler also has a pretty sizable button on his chin, having experienced knockouts in four of his six losses. To his credit, he’s a great grappler and should be able to hold his own in scrambles if the fight ends up on the ground. I don’t think that’s where this scrap will take place, but one can never rule out the possibility of it. This is Gaethje’s fight to lose, and I just don’t see him losing. Further, I think he makes an ultra-emphatic statement with a sensation knockout, cementing his spot in line for the next title shot. At the very least, cementing his spot in a title shot eliminator.
Shane Burgos vs. Billy Quarantillo
This fight is one of the most competitively matched on the card and a hard choice for me to pick. On the one hand, you have Shane Burgos, a striking juggernaut who prefers to keep the fight standing but can hold his own on the ground. He’s athletic and fairly durable, taking only three losses in his career to top-tier talent. He’s on a two-fight skid, but both losses hold up extremely well (Edson Barboza and Josh Emmett). His third loss came at the hands of Calvin Kattar and also holds up well under scrutiny.
Shane isn’t jam-packed with power, but he has a stinger of a jab and throws plenty of combinations. While I wouldn’t mind seeing him work the body more, he can certainly be counted on to pepper the midsection from time to time. He doesn’t seek to get the fight to the ground, but he’s not inept there and defends himself well on the occasions he’s found himself there. He’s got good cardio, however, you can find him pretty winded when he goes hell for leather to decision, case in point: his fight against Cub Swanson. He seems like the obvious choice, but I just can’t find myself fully on board just yet.
Billy Quarantillo isn’t as athletic as Burgos and also lacks a rocket launcher, but what he lacks in those departments he makes up for in scrappiness and grit. In his five-fight UFC run, he’s only lost once via unanimous decision to Gavin Tucker—a loss that is currently holding up well. His previous losses (only two) were earlier on in his career on the regional circuit.
Billy is quite savvy on the ground and does well chaining together submission attempts and winning scrambles. He has five submission wins and should have the advantage on the ground. He’s also got seven knockout wins, although only one is a complete starching, a third-round one-hitter-quitter he landed on Kyle Nelson last December. He’s crafty and composed, demonstrating a high fight IQ consistently.
Can Billy Q survive the onslaught of Shane’s pace? I’m making the gamble that he can. Both men have wins on a similar experience level, but Burgos has faced higher level competition. The problem is, he doesn’t get past them. He gave a spirited performance against his opponents in all three of his losses, winning Fight of the Night in every one of them, but they were still losses, two of them by TKO (Barboza and Kattar).
It’s not that I don’t like Burgos—I do. It’s just that I’m not sold on his ceiling being higher than Quaratillo’s at this current point. If he beats Billy, I’m sold. I know it’s a risky gamble, but I like Quarantillo here, by a gritty, hard-fought decision. This is me, going with my gut, and sometimes, that’s gotten me into some trouble, but like the Black Eyed Peas sang back in 2009, I got a feeling. Let’s just hope my gut feeling pays off with a win.
Let the sanctioned violence commence!
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