Revenge will be in the air at Madison Square Garden on Sunday as a tantalizing UFC 268 card tees up two world title rematches.
Welterweight champion Kamaru Usman (19-1) faces Colby Covington (16-2) in New York in one of the sport’s most highly anticipated rematches ever, two years on from their first, grueling bout in December 2019.
That fight two years ago – at UFC 245 – saw the ‘Nigerian Nightmare’ defeat the American via a fifth-round technical knockout (TKO) in his first title defense.
Usman has since gone on to record three more victories – wins against Jorge Masvidal sandwiching a defeat of Gilbert Burns – while Covington beat compatriot Tyron Woodley in September 2020 in his only fight since facing Usman.
It is a fight that needs no additional hyping, but Thursday’s explosive pre-fight press conference in New York has only added to the anticipation as the pair exchanged verbal barbs in front of a raucous crowd.
“I wouldn’t say it’s the most difficult match-up,” Usman said.
“He is very talented, he works hard and he comes to fight each and every time, but in the era he exists in, he has to live with the fact that somebody was there that was better.”
Last month, Covington promised to inflict a “life-changing defeat” upon his rival and criticized Usman for his alleged shirking of a rematch following their first epic bout.
“I’m not going to be a coward. I’m going to give the people what they want,” Covington told Yahoo Sports.
“If they want this trilogy, I’ll do it right away. The thing is, after I finish him next weekend, he’s not going to want to come back. It’s going to be a life-changing defeat.
“He’s not going to want to come back for the trilogy, he’s probably going to retire.”
At yesterday’s press conference, the American doubled down, alleging that UFC President Dana White had to push the rematch through.
“He [Usman] avoided this rematch at all costs,” Covington said.
“Uncle Dana and the UFC had to force his hand – he was trying to fight other lightweights, he was trying to fight Nate Diaz, he wanted to fight anybody but this rematch.
“He knows who Daddy is, he knows who really won that fight. I don’t live in the past, Saturday night’s the future, and I’m destroying Marty fake-news-man.”
‘Just look at her resume’
The co-main event tees up another title fight rematch as strawweight champion Rose Namajunas (10-4) seeks to defend her title against the woman she won it from in April, Zhang Weili (21-2).
Namajunas pulled off a stunning upset in front of a home crowd at UFC 261 in Florida, knocking out the Chinese favorite with a devastating head-kick in the first round.
Perhaps unsurprising given the ferocity of the other main event’s press conference, Namajunas’ and Zhang’s exchanges were markedly more diplomatic, with a handshake at the end of the face-off.
“Just look at her [Zhang’s] resume and look what she’s done to her opponents, I’ve got to protect myself at all times and stay on my toes,” Namajunas said.
It might not be a title fight, but the lightweight bout between Justin Gaethje (23-2) and Michael Chandler (22-6) promises to be another entertaining watch for fans.
Kicking off the main card, an all-American matchup pits a knockout specialist in Gaethje – looking to bounce back from a title unification loss to Khabib Nurmagomedov last October – against a former Bellator champion in Chandler.
A featherweight bout between Shane Burgos and Billy Quarantillo, as well as a bantamweight clash between Frankie Edgar and Marlon Vera, rounds off the main card.
The main card is slated to begin at 10 p.m. ET, with the preliminary card starting at 8 p.m. ET.
Here’s how to watch the two title fights on Saturday
Africa: SuperSport Action
Australia: Main Event / Fetch TV / Kayo
Canada: BELL / Rogers / Shaw/ SaskTel / Videotron / Telus / Eastlink
France: RMC Sport 2
India: Sony TEN 1 / Sony TEN 2 / Sony TEN 3 / Sony LIV
Indonesia: Fox Sports
Middle East: AD Fight / Starzplay / UFC Arabia
Philippines: Fox Sports
Republic of Ireland: BT Sport 1
Singapore: Fox Sports / Fox+
Thailand: Fox Sports
United Kingdom: BT Sport 1
Click here to view the full list