A Night of Champions

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Issue 6, Volume 112

By Nakib Abedin, Taee Chi 

In the same venue where George Saint-Pierre defeated Michael Bisping to become a two-division champion, where Andy Ruiz Jr. pulled off a dramatic upset by knocking out Anthony Joshua, and where Joe Frazier and Muhammed Ali had the fight of the century, Kamaru Usman took on Colby Covington to headline UFC 268. The event was stacked from top to bottom, including both seasoned veterans and hungry newcomers. Many fans expected UFC 268 to be one of the best sporting events of the year, and it certainly delivered.

Justin Gaethje vs. Michael Chandler

The main card started with a bang, with two of the top lightweights going head to head. Justin Gaethje (fittingly nicknamed “The Highlight Reel” for his entertaining fight style) took on Michael Chandler (occasionally referred to as “Iron Mike” for his resilience). Both of these fighters came agonizingly close to winning the title, with Gaethje losing to the legendary Khabib Nurmagomedov, and Chandler losing to the reigning champion Charles Oliveira. The stakes were high, with both men fighting for another chance to compete for the title.

As soon as the referee started the timer, Chandler began chasing down Gaethje, putting on immense pressure. In the middle of the first round, he landed a few vicious combinations on Gaethje, causing the latter to wobble in the middle of the cage. Many fans thought the fight would be over, but Gaethje displayed his incredible resilience and refused to go down. By the second round, Gaethje had recovered from the damage he took at the beginning of the bout. Meanwhile, Chandler, who had exerted an enormous amount of energy early on, started to show signs of early fatigue. Gaethje won the round, displaying his amazing fighting skills in the process. By the third round, however, both fighters showed signs of exhaustion. Nonetheless, they fought until the end like true warriors. Gaethje eventually won the fight via a unanimous decision. The brawl truly felt like watching two gladiators fight to the death. “Are you not entertained?” Chandler asked the press after the bout ended.

Rose Namajunas vs. Weili Zhang

The co-main event of the night saw strawweight champion Rose Namajunas defend her belt against challenger Weili Zhang in a highly contested five-round bout. The fight was a rematch following the pair’s first title fight earlier this year in April, where the American scored a vicious first-round knockout just 78 seconds into the match. The second fight, however, was a much closer contest than its predecessor, with Namajunas slightly edging Zhang for the victory via a split decision.

Zhang started the action in the first round of the fight, landing a few intermittent leg kicks as the two fighters cautiously circled around the octagon. Namajunas had her moment with a quick punching combination on Zhang, but the challenger was able to secure a takedown and score a few ground and pound strikes of her own. The round ended with the two fighters returning to their feet and exchanging blows. This calculated action continued into the second round, with both fighters waiting patiently for the perfect opportunity to land a shot. It was Zhang who found an opening first, landing a powerful counter right hand that staggered Namajunas. The defending champion stumbled and was brought to the mat by the challenger, but was able to work her way back up and end the round on top. The third round started out slow but quickly built up pace when Zhang landed a hard left hook and took down Namajunas, securing a full mount position and hitting her opponent with heavy elbow strikes. In the fourth round, Namajunas, likely sensing that she was down on the judges’ cards, came out with more urgency, quickly finding her mark with her punches and keeping the pressure high. Heading into the final round, the momentum shifted in favor of Namajunas, who secured a takedown in the center of the cage early. She landed ground and pound strikes while maintaining her top position for the remainder of the round.

At the end of the final round, two out of the three judges scored the fight 48-47 and 49-46 in favor of Namajunas, giving her the split decision victory. With this successful defense of her strawweight title, Namajunas now looks to face former champ Carla Esparaza in yet another rematch from their first bout in 2014. Zhang, on the other hand, has now lost twice in a row for the first time in her career, and it will be interesting to see how this loss will affect her in her upcoming bouts.

Kamaru Usman vs. Colby Covington

In the welterweight division of Mixed Martial Arts, two fighters, Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington, are a step above the others. Usman suffered a defeat in his second professional fight, and instead of letting an early loss ruin his career, the “Nigerian Nightmare” trained relentlessly and went on an 18-fight win streak to become the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. Since Usman’s first loss, Colby “Chaos” Covington was the only fighter who presented a challenge. Covington had a similar rise to stardom, rebounding off an early loss to become one of the most skilled fighters in the world. On their way up, it seemed inevitable that the two welterweights would have a showdown, and their first encounter was an instant classic. Usman went in as the Champion whilst Covington held the interim title. Their first fight was feral, even heading into the fifth round, but Usman was able to land a punch that broke Covington’s jaw. In devastating fashion, Usman defeated Covington to become the undisputed champion.

At UFC 268, Usman and Covington had their highly anticipated rematch. The fight started off with pure domination from the Nigerian Nightmare. In fact, in the second round, Usman knocked down Covington twice within the span of a few seconds. Things were looking rough for Covington, who was already deemed to be the underdog heading into the fight. As he headed back to his corner, he looked close to being finished. However, Covington refused to go down without a fight and came back toe to toe with Usman for the remainder of the brawl, winning a few rounds in the process. The fight went to the scorecards, and Usman was handed the victory due to his early dominance. Covington and Usman exchanged a few words at the end of the fight. Notorious for his trash-talking and belligerent personality, Covington was rather humble after his defeat, giving credit to his opponent.

The fight brought about an end to an epic rivalry between two of the most skilled fighters in the world. Though Covington lost, he was adamant that the fans haven’t seen the best of him. Since he is a relatively light welterweight, it is plausible for him to go down a division in order for him to challenge for the lightweight belt. Meanwhile, Usman has even more ambitious plans. After his fight ended, he was hinting at a possible boxing match against Mexican Canelo Alvarez. Even if this matchup fails to materialize, Usman can continue to fight in the UFC to secure his status as one of the all-time greats next to the likes of Jon Jones, Khabib Nurmagomedov, and George Saint-Pierre.

UFC 268 delivered to the fullest extent, providing its viewers with exciting, fast-paced action. Though all the fights were highly contested, the winners Gaethje, Usman, and Namajunas were able to rise to the occasion and defeat their opponents. Gaethje, though not yet a UFC champion, will likely receive a title shot in his upcoming bout. Needless to say, the night was a win for all combat sports fans.