I’ve been to Madison Square Garden. Not for a game or anything, unfortunately, just for a tour but it was still memorable. The concourse of the legendary arena has a timeline with every day of the year and the most notable occurrence inside MSG on that day. Massive boxing matches, historical Knicks’ moments, and even concerts make up the events that tell the course of the history of one of the most revered settings in all of sports
I don’t know what else has happened in Madison Square Garden on November 6, but I feel like UFC 268 has a chance to be added to that illustrious timeline.
If you would have told me that the three biggest fights on the card would have lacked any finishes and would all be decided by the judges, I would have been disappointed. Everybody loves a knockout inside the octagon (like this one by Chris Barnett in his UFC debut during the prelims). But it turns out the 65 combined minutes we got from some of the best fighters in the sport were equally enjoyable.
There is no other way to begin talking about UFC 268 than by discussing the way the card itself began. Justin Gaethje taking on Michael Chandler was the third-biggest fight on the card but was slotted into the opener because Gaethje’s coach Trevor Wittman also had fighters in the two championship bouts that would close the show.
So the top-five lightweight combatants opened the show with an absolute slugfest. I have mentioned before that I am a fairly new fan of the sport, but I can’t imagine you can find a better opening fight to a pay-per-view card than what Gaethje and Chandler did on Saturday.
Everyone knew they were going to come out and throw bombs, it is what both of them do, but what was unexpected was how they were able to continue throwing huge punches after 15 straight minutes of doing so.
Gaethje, who won by unanimous decision, landed the hardest shot of the night: a stiff right uppercut that sent Chandler onto his back on the mat. Somehow, Chandler was able to recover enough to grab hold of Gaethje’s leg and at least slow down the barrage of fists that was coming toward him.
Chandler dished out the punishment as well, routinely landing huge shots that visibly stunned Gaethje. But Gaethje would fire them right back, creating times where the competitors seemed like they had formed an agreement to just land dueling haymakers on each other until someone gave out.
Sometimes fighters’ styles just mesh perfectly and create fantastic matchups for fans to watch. There was quite a bit of that on this card, but possibly no more so than this opening bout.
Gaethje summed it up perfectly in his post-fight interview, saying that both himself and Chandler were in the wrong era, that they should have been battling it out to the death in the Colosseum. While fighting to the death to entertain Roman royalty is no longer socially acceptable, this fight might have been the closest thing we will get to that ancient tradition in a very long time.
The opening fight set the bar very high for the rest of the night. Although no bout technically surpassed it, Gaethje and Chandler won fight of the night honors for their brawl, the championship fights were not lacking in intrigue.
The first belt up for grabs was the Women’s Strawweight title held by “Thug” Rose Namajunas. She defended it in a rematch against No. 1 contender Zhang Weili, who she beat for the title via head kick the last time these two squared up.
This was another picture-perfect clash of styles because these two women complemented each other wonderfully inside the octagon.
It seemed at the start that Weili was well on her way to taking back the title. She looked to be proving that Namajunas’s win over her was due to a lucky shot, something she would not be able to replicate. It is certainly how the general public was viewing the rematch, with Weili closing as the betting favorite.
Namajunas kept herself in the fight by being tough, and when your nickname is “Thug” Rose you are definitely tough.
She took some hard shots from Weili but fired some back. She was taken to the ground by Weili but she was able to escape. For everything that Weili did, Namajunas had a response, which contributed to an incredibly close fight.
Eventually, Namajunas proved her championship mettle by doing her best work in the championship rounds. In rounds four and five, she was able to get Weili onto her back on the mat and control huge portions of the rounds while damaging her opponent with vicious ground strikes.
Namajunas certainly had momentum going into the reading of the scorecards, having won the final two rounds. After reading off the scorecards for the split decision victory, ring announcer Bruce Buffer exclaimed “And Still” as Namajunas got her hand raised the belt strapped back around her waist.
She absolutely deserved it. After going to war with Weili for 25 minutes, she proved that she deserves to be atop the division.
If all that action wasn’t enough for you, it was time for the main event. It was time for the best pound-for-pound fighter in the UFC to enter the octagon and put on a show for the fans, It was time for Kamaru Usman.
In another rematch for a championship belt, Usman took on No. 1 contender Colby Covington, who he beat almost two years ago. That fight was Usman’s first defense of his Welterweight championship; he has since added three more defenses to his name, including two by knockout within the first three rounds.
Before this fight, Usman had created a veil of uncertainty around whether or not there was anyone currently in the division that could challenge him. He had easily dispatched of his last two challengers and had added new weapons to his arsenal each time he entered the octagon to the point where he was looking almost invincible.
But Covington made Usman look vulnerable, even mortal, at times. He landed big shots to Usman that wobbled him and almost made you believe that he could really knock out the fighter that has never been knocked out before. There were times where Covington won striking exchanges, where he landed harder shots than Usman did.
There were still some aspects of Usman’s game that were as unflappable as ever. He was not taken down by Covington, who is one of the most dangerous wrestlers in the division. Covington tried on multiple occasions to wrestle the champ to the mat but each time Usman stood his ground and stuffed the takedown attempt.
The bout ended up going to a decision, but at times it didn’t seem like it would make it that far.
Toward the end of the second round, Usman was able to generate a brutal knockdown of Covington. He rocked him twice with punches that caused him to stumble and fall to the mat. Usman was able to take the back of his opponent the second time and land more shots to the head before he covered up. Then as the round was nearing an end, Usman teed off with body shots, adding more damage before the horn sounded.
Covington recovered well from that moment, which would prove to be the closest we got to a finish in the fight. He fought another solid 15 minutes, giving the champion his hardest test to date.
Usman ended up winning via unanimous decision, enabling Buffer to let out his second “And Still” of the night. Once again Usman was celebrating with the welterweight championship belt, extending his UFC record to a perfect 15-0.
He vanquished his toughest challenger in the division once again and will await someone new to step up to try and slay the proverbial dragon of the welterweight division. It is unclear who it will be, Leon Edwards probably has the best claim to a title shot right now, but I do not envy whoever finds themselves staring at Usman from across the octagon next.