NEW YORK – Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington went back and forth Thursday during a heated news conference, fueled by a crowd starved for conflict. Usman shoved Covington during the staredown, sending the fans to another level of raucousness.
There has not been a major MMA show in New York City in two years, but on Saturday, the big show returns to the Big Apple.
Usman defends his UFC welterweight title against Covington in the main event of UFC 268 at Madison Square Garden. The two fought at UFC 245 in December 2019 with Usman winning via fifth-round TKO in what is considered one of the best title fights in UFC history.
ESPN ranks Usman as No.1 on its pound-for-pound list. At welterweight, Usman is No. 1 and Covington is No. 3. On Saturday, Usman will look to further his legacy as one of the best 170-pound fighters ever against Covington, who is trying to prove that Usman’s TKO win two years ago was just a one-time occurrence.
Usman (19-1) has 14 straight wins in the UFC — the second longest such UFC streak behind only Anderson Silva (16), who is considered one of the best of all time. The Nigeria native, who lives in Florida and trains in Colorado, is coming off a second-round knockout win over Jorge Masvidal at UFC 261 in April. Usman, 34, has four title defenses and is chasing the welterweight record of nine set by Georges St-Pierre.
Covington (16-2) has won eight of his last nine fights, with the only loss during that span coming to Usman. The California native fighting out of Florida has not fought since a fifth-round TKO win over Tyron Woodley in September 2020. Covington, 34, is the former UFC interim welterweight champion.
In the co-main event, UFC women’s strawweight champion Rose Namajunas defends her title against former champ Zhang Weili. Namajunas (10-4), a 29-year-old fighting out of Colorado, stopped Zhang in the first round with a head kick at UFC 261. Zhang (21-2), the first-ever UFC champion born in China, had her 21-fight winning streak snapped by Namajunas seven months ago.
Also on the card, former interim UFC lightweight champion Justin Gaethje faces former Bellator lightweight champion Michael Chandler in what could be a title eliminator. Plus, former lightweight champ Frankie Edgar meets Marlon “Chito” Vera in a bantamweight bout, and Al Iaquinta faces Bobby Green in a battle of fan-favorite lightweights.
Follow along as Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi and Jeff Wagenheim recap all the action or watch the fights on ESPN+ PPV.
Fight in progress: Heavyweight: Gian Villante (17-13, 7-10 UFC, -125) vs. Chris Barnett (21-7, 0-1 UFC, +105)
Light heavyweight: Dustin Jacoby (16-5-1, 4-2-1 UFC) def. John Allan (13-7 1 NC, 0-2 1NC UFC) by unanimous decision
Recap to come.
Men’s featherweight: Melsik Baghdasaryan (7-1, 2-0 UFC) def. Bruno Souza (10-2, 0-1 UFC ) by unanimous decision
On the night before the New York City Marathon, these two fighters put in the miles, circling each other inside the cage for the better part of 15 minutes. Baghdasaryan was in pursuit, but unable to land a whole lot, but his leg kicks and occasional flurries were enough to earn him the 29-28 nod on all three scorecards.
For Baghdasaryan, who is 29 and from Glendale, California, it was his seventh win in a row, including his last two in the UFC. He just never was able to cut off the cage on his elusive opponent.
Souza, a 25-year-old Brazilian who fights out of Los Angeles, saw a 10-fight winning streak come to an end in a fight in which he avoided significant damage, but did not mount much offense. — Wagenheim
Men’s flyweight: Ode’ Osbourne (10-4, 2-2 UFC) def. C.J. Vergara (9-3-1, 0-1 UFC) by unanimous decision
No, Osbourne didn’t exactly end the fight in spectacular fashion. Vergara was on top, landing ground and pound until the bell.
But Osbourne did enough early to earn a unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28) in the UFC 268 opener. Simply, Osbourne landed the harder blows in the first and second rounds. In the first, he blasted Vergara with some solid combinations and that continued in the second with Osbourne landing a sneaky left hand. In the third, Osbourne started hot with combinations, but seemed to tire and Vergara stole momentum with a takedown and top position.
Osbourne, 29, is now 2-2 in the UFC. The Jamaica native, who fights out of Milwaukee, is a Dana White’s Contender Series alum. Vergara, a 30-year-old Texan, was making his UFC debut. He missed weight by 1.4 pounds Friday. — Raimondi
Still to come:
Welterweight championship: Kamaru Usman (c) (19-1, 14-0 UFC, -310) vs. Colby Covington (16-2, 11-2 UFC, +250)
Strawweight championship: Rose Namajunas (c) (11-4, 8-3 UFC, -105) vs. Zhang Weili (21-2, 5-1 UFC, -115)
Men’s bantamweight: Frankie Edgar (23-9-1, 18-9-1 UFC, +135) vs. Marlon Vera (17-7-1, 11-6 UFC, -160)
Men’s featherweight: Shane Burgos (13-3, 6-3 UFC, -195) vs. Billy Quarantillo (16-3, 4-1 UFC, +165)
Lightweight: Justin Gaethje (22-3, 5-3 UFC, -210) vs. Michael Chandler (22-6, 1-1 UFC, +175)
Middleweight: Alex Pereira (3-1, 0-0 UFC, -260) vs. Andreas Michailidis (13-4, 1-1 UFC, +210)
Lightweight: Al Iaquinta (14-6-1, 9-5 UFC, +155) vs. Bobby Green (27-12-1, 8-7-1 UFC, -180)
Middleweight: Phil Hawes (11-2, 3-0 UFC, -330) vs. Chris Curtis (26-8, 0-0 UFC, +260)
Middleweight: Edmen Shahbazyan (11-2, 4-2 UFC, +100) vs. Nassourdine Imavov (10-3, 2-1 UFC, -120)
Welterweight: Ian Garry (7-0, 0-0 UFC, -380) vs. Jordan Williams (9-5, 0-2 UFC, +300)
(c) = defending champion