UFC 268 PPV Main Card on ESPN+ (10 p.m. ET):

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170 lbs.: UFC Welterweight champion Kamaru Usman vs. Colby Covington 2 – Ever since Kamaru Usman debuted in the UFC, I touted him to become a future champion. With a solid foundation, that being his wrestling and evolving striking, I believe he had the skills to make it happen. Then in his title fight against Tyron Woodley, I picked against him. I had believed that Woodley stylistically was a tough fight for him. Boy was I wrong. Next up was his first title defense against Colby Covington. Once again, I picked against Usman. Not because I no longer believed in the Nigerian Nightmare, but because many overlook Covington skillset due to his schtick. While ultimately Usman finished Covington in round five, the fight itself was extremely competitive through the first four rounds. Covington displayed his striking output, pace and pressure. What he lacked was using his wrestling and ability to grind. However, Usman is one of the best wrestlers in the UFC. With a lightning quick jab, precision and power, Usman is also one of the best strikers in the UFC. In brief, he’s the total package.

As for a prediction, I have Usman winning. While I expect yet another competitive fight, Usman is too accurate and powerful on the feet. Covington is an excellent striker, but he can at times be inaccurate given the amount of output he throws. Combine that with Usman’s good striking defense and I find Covington at a minor disadvantage on the feet. The one aspect of the fight that I’m curious if we see this time around, is wrestling exchanges. In the first fight, it seemed that because neither shot in for a takedown and they both had a point to prove, we didn’t get any wrestling. The same could be true for this fight, but I will say, if we have some wrestling exchanges this time, it’s Usman that I believe will find success in that department. In the end, I predict that Usman will defeat Covington once again via TKO.

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115 lbs.: UFC Strawweight champion Rose Namajunas vs. Zhang Weili 2 – This should in essence be an awesome fight, but as the first fight showed, it could end on a dime. Admittedly, I had predicted in the first fight that Zhang Weili was going to win. I thought that her pressure and volume were keys to taking the later rounds and ultimately the fight. Obviously that didn’t happen. Despite the defeat, Weili is still a Championship caliber fighter. She has excellent takedown defense and striking, landing 6.36 significant strikes per minute. With power to disrupt and excellent cardio, Weili is one of the most dangerous women in combat sports. However, Rose Namajunas happens to also be one of the most dangerous women in combat sports. With excellent technical striking and the ability to be a fast starter, Namajunas has often taken the early rounds or finished the fight. The latter has been the more likely result though, as Namajunas has won seven of her ten wins via stoppage.

As for a prediction, I have Namajunas winning. While I expect this fight to go longer than the first one, I do favor Namajunas to once again finish Weili. My concerns in the first fight were that Namajunas wanes the later the fight goes, and I still hold that to be true. However, the combination of Namajunas’ early storm, finishing abilities and perhaps Weili never truly being hit by a finisher like Thug Rose is a recipe for a repeat of the first fight. Another thing I’ll throw out there is, in the eight times in UFC history that the original title holder lost their belt and got an immediate rematch, only one time have they won. That one time happened back in 2004, at UFC 49, as Randy Couture reclaimed his belt against Vitor Belfort. In other words, history is on Namajunas’ side. So with all that said, I predict that Namajunas will defeat Weili via TKO.

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135 lbs.: Frankie Edgar vs. Marlon Vera – This may be Frankie Edgar’s last stand. The former Lightweight Champion has lost four of his last six fights, three of which he has been knocked out in. No longer carrying that lightning speed on the feet, Edgar is slowly becoming a shell of himself. I’m not ready to commit to the notion he’s done however, as Edgar at Bantamweight has always been where I believed he belonged. No longer dealing with a size disadvantage, the pride of Toms River may be able to implement more wrestling with his already solid striking. However, Marlon Vera will have a say in that. With decent takedown defense and good striking, Vera is comfortable wherever the fight goes. Even if Vera does find himself on the mat, he’s not someone who will let his opponent be comfortable in top control. Throwing up various submissions, Vera has eight submissions, two of which come via triangle choke.

As for a prediction, I have Edgar winning. While many are probably counting him out, I see this as a winnable fight. Marlon Vera is an excellent fighter and is a tough out for anyone. However, Edgar is the second best fighter to Jose Aldo that Vera has ever fought. In that Aldo fight, Vera looked very gun shy and in round three, he was controlled for the entire round. It’s almost as if the moment of fighting a legend got to him. Well here’s a second chance for Vera to prove himself. Unfortunately, Edgar throws slightly more volume than Aldo, has better cardio and has the wrestling to give Vera fits. In the end, I predict that Edgar will win via decision.

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145 lbs.: Shane Burgos vs. Billy Quarantillo – This card is chock full of exciting fights and this one is right up there with the best. Since signing with the UFC in 2016, Burgos has recorded six victories and four ‘Fight of the Night’ performance bonuses. With excellent takedown defense, cardio and boxing, Burgos is one of the toughest fights at Featherweight. The only problem for the New Yorker is his striking defense. Often willing to brawl, Burgos leaves himself open to being tagged. As evident by being knocked down five times in nine fights. Then there is Billy Quarantillo, who never stops fighting. With a well rounded game that features excellent cardio and output, Quarantillo looks to overwhelm opponents over fifteen minutes. The only thing that Quarantillo has struggled with is striking defense. Being hit on 57% of significant strikes thrown, Quarantillo has way too often depended on his chin.

As for a prediction, I have Burgos winning. I’ve always been fond of Quarantillo and his ability to put a pace on opponents that they couldn’t match. However, in the back of my head, I knew that once he fought a better striker that could keep up with his pace, he’d be in trouble. Well, Burgos is that guy. Considering Quarantillo isn’t someone who boasts power, I’d say Burgos is going to find success early and often on the feet. In my opinion, this one doesn’t go the distance. So with all that said, I predict that Burgos wins via TKO.

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155 lbs.: Michael Chandler vs. Justin Gaethje – In what should be an exciting fight for as long as it lasts, the UFC is clearly looking at this fight to open the card with a bang. Justin Gaethje is not only one of the most exciting men in combat sports, but one of the best Lightweight’s on the planet. An absolute workhorse, who’s cardio and pace can outlast anyone, Gaethje is not one you’d want to spend twenty-five minutes in the octagon with. As the Lightweight division’s all-time significant strikes per minute leader at 7.46 and striking accuracy at 59.4%, Gaethje is a handful for anyone who dares stand across from him. Michael Chandler, though, is up for the task. The former Bellator Champion for the longest time, was considered one of the best fighters to not compete in the UFC. Having already fought in two fights inside the octagon, one for the title, the UFC brass hold Chandler in high order. With power in his hands and a wrestling background, Chandler has made it known, he’s not here for a long time, he’s here for a good time.

As for a prediction, I have Gaethje winning. While Chandler may find success with his wrestling early, as the fight wanes, the pressure, pace and output of Gaethje is going to prove to be too much. Of course, Chandler has power in his hands and could knock out Gaethje. It won’t be easy however, as Eddie Alvarez knocked Gaethje out on his 155 significant strike. It also took Dustin Poirier 174th significant strike to put down Gaethje. In other words, one shot won’t do the trick. So with that said, I predict that Gaethje will win via knockout.

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UFC 268 Prelims Card on ESPNN/ESPN+ (8 p.m. ET):

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185 lbs.: Andreas Michailidis vs. Alex Pereira – To me, this fight feels a lot like a showcase for Alex Pereira. Not to discredit Andreas Michailidis, but the UFC did their due diligence when finding an opponent for Pereira. Michailidis is a striker, who has in his last eight wins, won six via knockout. However, Michailidis has lacked durability. He has suffered all four of his professional defeats via knockout. In Michailidis’ last loss, he couldn’t make it back up to his feet to end the round, forcing the referee to call an end to the fight. The one thing I will say, Michailidis has been a mixed martial artist since 2009. He has twelve years under his belt, whereas Pereira returned to MMA in 2020 after four years away from the sport.

As for a prediction, I have Pereira winning. While the Brazilian’s lack of grappling and ground game can be exploited, I’m not sure Michailidis’s wrestling and grappling is good enough to be the one to do it. I’m going to assume Michailidis will try however and quite frankly, I don’t blame him. Pereira is a world champion in kickboxing with twenty one knockouts in thirty three wins. Not that Michailidis can’t hold his own on the feet, but with four knockout defeats, to stand with Pereira increases the risk of being defeated. With all that said, I do believe Pereira wins via TKO.

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155 lbs.: Bobby Green vs. Al Iaquinta – This is one of the tougher predictions to make, as both men have some red flags heading into this fight. Al Iaquinta hasn’t fought in a little more than two years, is on a two-fight skid and has been having knee issues for much of his career. When healthy, Iaquinta is one of the best Lightweights. Up until this losing streak, Iaquinta had won nine of his last eleven fights in the UFC. The reason for Iaquinta’s success is his striking. He’s excellent defensively, and at times, he’s been a high output striker. Iaquinta also has some power, as he’s tied for seventh all-time in the Lightweight division with seven knockdowns. Bobby Green can dish it out too, although he is more technical in his approach. With precision and high output, Green looks to break you methodically on the feet, while mixing in timely takedowns. However, the red flags surrounding Green though are his silly tendencies. Green likes to keep his hands low and often shakes his head when being tagged. If Green avoided doing the latter, I have no doubt in my mind, the fights he deserved to win, he probably gets the nod.

As for a prediction, I’m siding with Green. There are just too many red flags with Iaquinta heading into this fight that I would rather side with someone who’s been more active. In fact, Green has fought six times since Iaquinta’s last fight. Another reason I like Green is that he offers a little more output and isn’t afraid to mix in a takedown. Iaquinta is mainly a striker, as his 18% takedown percentage implies that he isn’t an effective wrestler. So with all that said, I predict that Green will win via decision.

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185 lbs.: Chris Curtis vs. Phil Hawes – Originally, this fight almost came to fruition at UFC Fight Night: Dern vs. Rodriguez. Phil Hawes had been scheduled to fight Deron Winn, but Winn withdrew and Chris Curtis offered up his services. Hawes declined due to the short notice nature of the fight, but accepted a future date with Curtis. While I believe that Curtis is a good addition to the roster, I don’t see this fight going well for him. Not only is Hawes a big Middleweight, but he has legitimate skills. With excellent takedown defense, wrestling and power on the feet, it’s only a matter of time before Hawes is in some high profile fights. Now, Curtis is a solid striker with power. However, he’s a Welterweight who has had takedown defense issues. In other words, the wrong ingredients to have heading into a fight with Hawes.

As for a prediction, obviously I have Hawes. The man is a legitimate tank and has the skills to make a run in this division. Unless Curtis comes out of the gate and tries to stun Hawes, he should expect to be fighting off his back the entire fight. The combination of Hawes’ strength, wrestling and sheer size is going to overwhelm the Action man. In the end, I foresee Hawes getting the TKO stoppage victory due to ground-and-pound.

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185 lbs.: Nassourdine Imavov vs. Edmen Shahbazyan – As I phrased this fight, it’s an important one. Edmen Shahbazyan is on a tough skid, but at only 23 years old, the future still remains bright. Checking in at #11 in the UFC Middleweight Rankings, Shahbazyan remains in a good position. However, a loss would drop him out of the rankings and possibly back to square one. Shahbazyan is a talented striker. Boasting precision and power, Shahbazyan has recorded three knockdowns and two knockout victories in his four victories. The problem Shahbazyan has had of late is his takedown defense. In Shahbazyan’s last two fights, he has been taken down seven times. Perhaps something that Nassourdine Imavov might target, then again the Russian has only attempted one takedown in his last two fights. Nicknamed the Russian Sniper, Imavov is every bit of that on the feet. He is extremely accurate and excellent at range.

As for a prediction, I’m going with Imavov. The Russian impressed me in his most recent fight, shrugging off multiple takedown attempts and picking apart Ian Henisch on the feet. While I expect the stand-up exchanges to be tougher in this fight, given how good Shahbazyan is, I really do believe Imavov mixes in some takedowns to neutralize the Golden Boy. The blueprint is out, it’s a matter of whether Shahbazyan has improved or not. So with that said, I predict Imavov to win via decision.

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UFC 268 Early Prelims Card on ESPN+ (6 p.m. ET):

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170 lbs.: Ian Garry vs. Jordan Williams – Jordan Williams could be fighting for his job, as he has dropped two straight and three of his last four fights. While the talented striker is a fun fighter to watch, he’s had a hard time finding his footing since joining the UFC. With excellent takedown defense and high output on the feet, Williams in essence shouldn’t be struggling this hard. Things however don’t get easier, as Williams has to halt the hype of Ian Garry. The Irishman is an excellent striker, who is technical and precise. Garry often fancies throwing leg kicks as well, either chopping down foes or knocking them out via headkick. With improved wrestling and grappling, Garry is slowly rounding out his game.

As for a prediction, I have Garry winning. From the tape I’ve seen on the Irishman, he looks UFC ready despite his inexperience. In my opinion, Garry’s timing and crisp striking are on levels above those already in the promotion. Throw in the fact that he’s fought a five-round fight, and I’d say he’s more than ready to make the walk to the octagon. While I understand it’s best not to get lost in the hype, Garry seems like an exception. So with that said, I have Garry winning via decision.

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265 lbs.: Chris Barnett vs. Gian Villante – Once upon a time, Gian Villante was a top fifteen Light Heavyweight. Nowadays, he’s an overblown Heavyweight with maybe five to seven minutes of cardio. Obviously not the most flattering attributes, but more or less the truth. Unless Villante has taken this time to evolve or get in shape, it’s hard to find positives for the Long Islander coming into this fight. Then there is Chris Barnett. A journeyman who has fought all around the world, and has found himself in the UFC. With good striking and power, Barnett has won sixteen of his twenty one wins via knockout. If anything is certain, Barnett is not looking for the judges’ help in a fight.

As for a prediction, I have Barnett winning. There are just too many red flags surrounding Villante. In two fights at Heavyweight, not only has he lost to the bottom of the barrel in the division, but his cardio and his physical shape are just not where they need to be. While Barnett is not exactly well rounded, he has shown the striking and power necessary to make some noise in certain fights. This one I’d say qualifies, as I have Barnett winning via TKO.

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205 lbs.: John Allan vs. Dustin Jacoby – Since joining the UFC in 2019, John Allan hasn’t quite had the most memorable of times. The Brazilian has fought two tough opponents, saw one win overturned due to a failed drug test that cost him a year and now has an opponent change that is significantly a harder fight for him. However, Allan gets a third shot regardless. Featuring technical striking and a Muay Thai background, Allan has shown a real knack for finishing opponents. With twelve stoppages in thirteen wins, the Brazilian has made it known that he’d rather leave the judges out of a fight. Then there is Dustin Jacoby, who has been a new man during his second UFC stint. With a kickboxing background and excellent cardio, Jacoby has either made quick work of opponents or weathered the storm and mounted a comeback. Considering Jacoby hasn’t lost since 2015, I’d say his adjustments and style have been very successful.

As for a prediction, I have Jacoby winning. In what I expect to be an excellent striking contest, it’s the volume and cardio that I believe give Jacoby the edge in this fight. The only concern I have for Jacoby, is if the short notice nature of the fight does hamper his cardio in any way. Then again, Allan isn’t a workhorse or doesn’t push the pace in the fight. In essence, Jacoby should be good for three rounds. So with that said, I predict that Jacoby will win this fight via decision.

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145 lbs.: Melsik Baghdasaryan vs. Bruno Souza – As with the first fight of the night, this one too has a real chance to excite. Melsik Baghdasaryan is a former kickboxer who transitioned to mixed martial arts full-time in 2019. With an arsenal on his feet, Baghdasaryan has won five of his six wins via knockout. With pinpoint accuracy and improved takedown defense, Baghdasaryan could be just beginning his ascension in the Featherweight division. It won’t be easy though, as Bruno Souza comes into this fight riding high. From the tape I’ve seen on Souza, he’s a karate fighter. Using distance, Souza likes to stay on the outside and pick his moments to burst in with attacks. While I’ve noticed his takedown defense is lacking, in this particular fight, it should be mainly contested on the feet.

As for a prediction, I have Baghdasaryan. While Souza is on a ten-fight win streak, he has been saved by three split decisions and an illegal strike that halted what was going to result in a defeat. Not to discredit Souza by any means, but I don’t see anything special in the stand-up department that is going to give Baghdasaryan fits. The Armenian is a far better striker and is going to engulf Souza with his high output. In the end, I see Baghdasaryan winning via TKO.

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125 lbs.: Ode Osbourne vs. C.J. Vergara – This is a fun fight to open the card, as both men have had a knack for avoiding the scorecards of late. In fact, each’s last six fights have ended in a stoppage. While Ode Osbourne has been on the wrong end of stoppages of late, the Jamaican Sensation has gotten a fourth fight inside the octagon to prove himself. Osbourne is an explosive striker who has great size for the division. With some submission prowess off his back, Osbourne is dangerous wherever the fight is. Then there is the UFC debutant C.J. Vergara, who as an underdog, finished Bruno Korea in forty one seconds on Dana White’s Contender Series. With excellent movement and striking, Vergara has proven to be a tough man to stand with.

As for a prediction, I’m going with Vergara. While I do believe Ode Osbourne has the skills necessary to be something in this Flyweight division, I at the same time temper expectations given his eagerness and wild-like tendencies inside the octagon. Having not seen a round two in three UFC fights, two of which you were on the wrong side of, doesn’t exactly bode well for longevity nor an honest chance at being a contender. In the end, unless Osbourne has changed his ways, I believe Vergara is going to pick his shots on the feet and eventually put away the Jamaican Sensation via TKO.

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