This weekend’s card at Madison Square Garden was full of exciting fights up and down the card. Two champions in Kamaru Usman and Rose Namajunas retained their belts, and several fighters made big statements in their divisions. It was a card to be remembered and changed the landscapes of multiple weight classes, to boot. This card lived up to its billing, and here’s how it played out.
Kamaru Usman def. Colby Covington via unanimous decision to retain welterweight title
Rose Namajunas def. Zhang Weili via split decision to retain strawweight title
Dustin Jacoby def. John Allan via unanimous decision (29-28 x2, 30-27)
Melsik Baghdasaryan def. Bruno Souza via unanimous decision (29-28 x3)
Ode Osbourne def. Carlos Vergara via unanimous decision (29-28 x3)
Biggest Takeaways From Saturday Night
Ian Garry is Up Next:
Irish phenom Ian Garry (8-0-0 1-0-0 UFC) lit up Madison Square Garden in his promotional debut, beating former highly-touted prospect Jordan Williams (9-6-0 1 NC 0-3 UFC). The former Cage Warriors champion made the walk in one of the most significant environments in combat sports. He was under a lot of pressure to replicate the success of other Cage Warriors alumni, such as Paddy Pimblett, who also had a first-round finish in his debut. Needless to say, he delivered with a buzzer-beater knockout coming with 5 seconds left in the round, dropping Williams with a counter right just as the bell rang.
Garry could not gain much momentum early, as Williams eliminated Garry’s opportunity to counter by continuing to throw short combinations that threw off his timing and closed any offensive window he had. In his fight, Ian Garry showed a ton of heart as he weathered stiff shots from Williams early on that bloodied his face and left fans wondering how he would fare moving forward. He answered these questions as Williams entered in with yet another combination, firing a right over Williams’ lower guard that stumbled him and then finishing Williams with another crushing shot.
The Irishman continued his fantastic form after the fight with a memorable post-fight interview where he quoted Irish legend and former two-division champion Conor McGregor: “A wise Irishman once said before me, he stepped in this very cage, and he said, we’re not here to take part, we’re here to take over… This is the takeover, part two.”
Ian Garry has nothing but time on his side, as he is only 23 years old and has plenty of time to shore up his striking defense and grappling while continuing to grow as a fighter. Many European fans see this man as a future champion, and it is easy to see why.
Justin Gaethje is an Absolute Dog:
Arizona’s own Justin Gaethje (23-3-0 6-3-0 UFC) put on a show for fans with his fight against Michael Chandler (22-7-0 1-2-0 UFC), going to war for all three rounds in what was likely the fight of the year. Fans wondered who would step back first between the two, and neither disappointed. Chandler started hot, stumbling Gaethje early with two big right hands. We had seen that before, as Chandler starched Dan Hooker in his promotional debut. However, Gaethje weathered the storm by chewing up Chandler’s lead leg with heavy kicks as he continued to bite down on the mouthpiece and move forward.
The second round was much better for Gaethje as he landed a near-perfect uppercut to knock Chandler down, who somehow survived. By the end of the second, both men were extremely battered, but they began the third by digging deep and throwing shots with reckless abandon. Chandler threw countless hooks to the body of Gaethje, but it was not quite enough to stop Gaethje’s progress as he continued attacking Chandler’s leg. Even as he was facing heavy pressure from Chandler, Gaethje continued to advance, eating shot after shot that would crumble almost everyone and returning fire with as much intensity as his opponent. As the final bell rang, they embraced in a blood-spattered show of respect: they pushed each other to the brink, and both men recognized that they would be forever indebted to each other.
Somehow, the fight went to the judges’ scorecards, with Gaethje winning 29-28, 29-28, 30-27 across the cards. Make no mistake: he has always been about the kill-or-be-killed lifestyle in the UFC, smashing the record for most post-fight bonuses early on in his career. An ESPN article about the rise of Trevor Wittman details just how dedicated Gaethje was, and he doubled down on the mentality in his post-fight interview, calling Chandler a “warrior” and saying that the two should have been fighting to the death as gladiators in Rome.
“I knew exactly what that motherf—er was,” Gaethje said of his opponent in Michael Chandler. “He is a warrior and we are living in the wrong times. Me and him should have been fighting to the death in a coliseum.”
When it mattered most, Justin Gaethje dug deep and proved himself yet again, toppling the lightweight division’s best in what was just another day in the office for the “Human Highlight.”
There is No More Denying Kamaru Usman is Great, But He is Not Yet GSP Great:
Welterweight champion Kamaru Usman (20-1-0 14-0-0 UFC) has starched all of his competition en route to one of the greatest title runs in UFC history and has beaten almost everyone he has fought in his career. A reasonable comparison could be made to all-time great Georges-Saint Pierre, who established his supremacy in the 2000s and finished at the top of the sport. It is true GSP had losses to Matt Hughes (his only two came in those fights), but he avenged them with a second-round armbar win to close out the trilogy. He dominated almost every fighter he has faced, much like Usman, but there is something to be said in the realm of title defenses: GSP had nine while Usman only has four.
This debate comes off the heels of Kamaru Usman’s decision win over Colby Covington, where Covington clawed back from being down early only to fall just short of success. Usman was the better fighter that night as he was not afraid to let his hands fly and get the better of Covington at the end of almost every exchange. He continued to batter Covington into the second and third rounds, knocking him down with two left hands towards the end of the second. Usman was tested more than he ever was in his rematch with Covington, but it was nowhere near enough to dethrone one of the most dominant champions in recent history.
Usman is an amazing fighter, and he continues to dominate every opponent put in front of him. However, he needs more time before he can pass Georges Saint-Pierre as the greatest welterweight of all time. It may take a few more fights, but he must continue to stake his claim as the top dog in the welterweight division with more finishes and title defenses. Regardless, Usman is well on his way to being an all-time great in both the welterweight division and pound-for-pound.
UFC 268 was a fantastic card, and it is sure to take its place as one of the best cards of the year, if not in recent memory. It is hard to imagine a card that could top this, and it gave us plenty of things to take away.
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