Two years after Usman stopped Covington in the fifth round of one of the most competitive title fights in UFC history, the Nigerian-American again put the gold on the line against the Floridian this weekend.
And in the main event of UFC 268, in a sold-out Madison Square Garden in New York City, Usman again overcome Covington in a thrilling encounter.
This one went the distance, though predictions that Usman would finish Covington earlier this time looked rather astute by the end of the second round, when the champion twice dropped his challenger with clean left hooks.
Up to that point, it had been an intriguing and different meeting than their 2019 match-up, in which the elite wrestlers had set aside their usual gameplans to trade non-stop punches and kicks for the best part of 25 minutes. On this occasion, Covington took a more cautious approach in the early moments – wary of Usman’s power – before the pair traded takedown attempts. Covington’s initial effort was unsuccessful, whereas Usman drove ‘Chaos’ to the mat shortly thereafter as his challenger began to strike with greater abandon and charge forward with punches.
There had, therefore, already been more wrestling than in the rivals’ first bout, and there would be even more to come – although neither fighter could keep the other down for long.
In the second round, Usman found increasing success with his left hook, the shot that ultimately dropped Covington twice and led the 33-year-old to attempt a takedown out of desperation.
Covington made it to the buzzer but appeared to be on borrowed time. Somehow, however, the pantomime villain maintained his grin and began to turn the fight into an actual contest, landing combinations up top and near-enough putting Usman on the receiving end of a successful takedown for the first time in the champion’s career. That moment late in Round 3 seemed to steal it for Covington, who continued to primarily kickbox through the championship rounds.
The American even appeared to hurt Usman with a couple of his combinations, leading the ‘Nigerian Nightmare’ to simply look down at the canvas and throw wild punches. Covington, perhaps unwisely, shot for a takedown in Round 5 despite seeming to have staggered Usman with a series of strikes.
The fight went to the judges’ scorecards and, although a draw was conceivable – even a narrow Covington victory – Usman was declared the winner via unanimous decision (48-47, 48-47, 49-46).
Remarkably, he and Covington embraced before the scores were read aloud, with Covington seemingly telling his rival that any controversial comments directed at the champion had been about “the money”, and that he had “nothing but love” for the 34-year-old.
Indeed, Covington was surprisingly gracious in defeat, telling the Madison Square Garden crowd: “I had my moments, I wobbled him a couple of times, I just couldn’t capitalise. It was his night, he had a better night.
“Thank you to the first responders, military. Love me or hate me, I’m just getting started. I’ll be back in the gym on Monday. I don’t give a s*** if you hate me, I still love you.”
In the evening’s co-main event, strawweight Rose Namajunas also retained her title on points, beating Weili Zhang 48-47, 47-48, 49-46 for a split-decision victory. Earlier this year, Namajunas became a two-time strawweight champion by stopping Zhang via first-round head kick, but the Chinese star gave a much better account of herself in New York City, arguably unfortunate not to get the nod on the judges’ scorecards.
Earlier in the night, Justin Gaethje outpointed Michael Chandler to make it a hat-trick of victories for coach Trevor Wittman, who also trains Usman and Namajunas, with the main-card opener somehow over-delivering.
Gaethje’s meeting with fellow lightweight contender Chandler was expected by many fans to play out as fight of the night, yet somehow the contest was even more competitive and brutal than anticipated. A fine start by Chandler gave way to a second round in which the former Bellator champion was dropped by Gaethje, though Chandler would survive and go on to hurt his fellow American numerous times in a valiant losing effort.
The action was non-stop, with the pair trading punches and kicks at close range for the best part of 15 minutes, and Gaethje is now expected to once again challenge for the lightweight title as a result of his win.
Full UFC 267 results
Kamaru Usman (C) def. Colby Covington via unanimous decision (48-47, 48-47, 49-46)
Rose Namajunas (C) def. Weili Zhang via split decision (48-47, 47-48, 49-46)
Marlon Vera def. Frankie Edgar via third-round KO (front kick, 3:50)
Shane Burgos def. Billy Quarantillo via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Justin Gaethje def. Michael Chandler via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
Alex Pereira def. Andreas Michailidis via second-round TKO (jumping knee, 0:18)
Bobby Green def. Al Iaquinta via first-round TKO (strikes, 2:25)
Chris Curtis def. Phil Hawes via first-round KO (strikes, 4:27)
Nassourdine Imavov def. Edmen Shahbazyan via second-round TKO (elbows, 4:42)
Ian Garry def. Jordan Williams via first-round KO (4:59)
Chris Barnett def. Gian Villante via second-round TKO (2:23)
Dustin Jacoby def. John Allan via unanimous decision (29-28 29-28, 30-27)
Melsik Baghdasaryan def. Bruno Souza via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
Ode’ Osbourne def. Carlos Vergara via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
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