Last weekend’s UFC 267 from Fight Island produced another 12-2 run on favorites. While the Russian contingent was almost all favored, I and others thought perhaps an underdog or two could upset the parlays that were sure to be stacked on each Russian stalwart. Such was not the case.
My release of Volkan Oezdemir had its best chance to win at publication because once he was in the cage with Magomed Ankalaev, it was apparent the Russian was the faster, more technical athlete.
Insight the Octagon approaches the last six slates of the year with a profitability reading of 27-20, + 10.72 units. Now let’s size up Saturday’s UFC 268 event at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Kamaru Usman (-300) vs. Colby Covington (+ 260)
Welterweight (170 pounds) championship, main event
This is a rematch of a 2019 bout that was highly competitive. Both men inflicted striking damage on the other until they entered the championship rounds, when the fight began to sway to Usman. In that bout, Usman opened -175 and closed -185.
Champion Usman is a stoic man and a highly trained fighting machine. He possesses a world-class wrestling base as a Division II champion and a striking game that has developed rapidly since teaming with Trevor Wittman at Elevation club in Colorado.
Usman, who on fight night will weigh at least 190 pounds, uses forward pressure to break down the will of his opponents with bludgeoning kicking, a piston-like jab attack and smothering wrestling. Usman has earned the title of top pound-for-pound fighter in the world based on his tools, his recent results and the momentum he totes into this tussle.
Covington, the No. 1-ranked contender, has competed only once since these two first fought, a dominant win over a washed-up Tyron Woodley. Covington previously portrayed himself to be a self-centered, bragging bombast, and while that was 100 percent schtick, the hatred he has received from fans carries into this bout even though his demeanor and public approach have changed drastically.
Covington’s wrestling is surely on par with Usman’s, for Covington was an all-American wrestler at Oregon State, which makes the most dominant weapon for each man a basic push. Covington’s striking is also potent, for he did compete with Usman effectively into the final round of their first bout. His strike defense allowed him to be touched by the powerful Nigerian.
Usman has fought three times since these men last met, and though he ramrodded overblown lightweight Jorge Masvidal twice, he did demolish an elite welterweight in Gilbert Burns in February. Covington has fought only once since the first bout, and that was in September 2020.
The edge Covington brings to this bout is that he’s almost the size of Usman and will be the quicker athlete in the cage, while the power lies with the champion.
What has Covington been doing since the Woodley result? Has he been in the gym, developing, learning and growing? We know he did spend this entire camp and previous time at MMA Masters, where he was able to focus on this opportunity.
Covington is no dummy, contrary to public perception, so if he is truly driven to become the champion, I am unaware what has transpired over the last several months that would make me think Usman should be priced any higher than what he closed at in the last bout, or maybe even -200 here.
As I handicap this bout, the tax on Usman is too high. He’s getting credit for recent success over smaller men, and it’s my judgment that Covington has the size to stay with the champion. If Covington has improved his movement and strike evasion since that last bout, he’s one live underdog in this spot.
Covington + 260
Covington via decision is + 450, not a poor choice for those looking to go long.
Total in this fight is 2.5 Over -180. It opened 2.5 Over -120.
Rose Namajunas (-110) vs. Weili Zhang (-110)
Women’s strawweight (115 pounds), co-main event
Here’s another rematch of a fight much less competitive than Usman vs. Covington. Namajunas knocked out Zhang early in the first round of their April championship fight.
Champion Namajunas is a dynamic mixed martial arts talent. She’s cerebral in mind and lethal in her striking and ground game. When she can get ruffled is when someone is able to bully her, press her backward and force her into close quarters. Namajunas needs space for her striking to be most effective.
Zhang is a physical monster, a forward-pressing destroyer who employs damaging strikes that originate from elbows, knees, fists, heels and shins. She’s aggressive and fearless, but she learned firsthand that blind aggression against a fluid ninja like Namajunas is an early pass to getting unglued, which is exactly what happened in April.
In this bout we’ll experience much the same, but perhaps we’ll get to watch Zhang get unleashed more and at least threaten Namajunas. Will the champion be able to maintain distance, control space and touch up the incoming striker? Will Zhang have learned a more effective way to rush into the pocket against a fighter who has mental radar connected to responding weaponry?
These questions are bound to be answered Saturday.
Winners of the first fight in UFC rematches are 69-44-2 in the second bout. However, winners of a first fight that lasts less than 90 seconds are 3-5-1 in the second fight. Namajunas has had three rematches and is 3-0 in those bouts.
Total for this fight: 4.5 rounds, Over -115.