After sharing the Octagon for nearly 10 full rounds across two fights, Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington finally shared a hug and admitted a level of mutual respect. That moment came after the main event of UFC 268 on Saturday night, a fight where Usman retained the welterweight championship with a unanimous decision win inside New York City’s Madison Square Garden.
The rematch didn’t have the same torrid pace as the first meeting between the two in December 2019. That fight saw the men combine for more than 300 significant strikes landed before Usman scored a TKO late in the fifth round. This go-round, both men showed respect for the other man’s power, picking and choosing when to engage with strikes.
Covington even chose to mix wrestling into his attack, trying to give Usman different looks and concerns. Usman was perfect in his takedown defense coming into the fight, having defended 20 of 20 attempted takedowns in his UFC career. Covington still used the threat to open up new attacking lanes, even as Usman actually won the wrestling exchanges with Covington failing on all 11 of his takedown attempts.
The biggest moment of the fight came in the second round when Usman dropped Covington twice with right hands near the end of the round.
Despite having clearly been hurt 90 seconds earlier, Covington came out for the third round and continued to be dangerous with effective body kicks and combination punching that kept Usman from fully unloading. Those body kicks paid off in the fourth round, with Usman appearing to have been hurt when one landed solidly.
With the fight hanging in the balance entering the final round, Usman was able to lean on his sharp jab to control the action and separate him in the championship rounds.
Ultimately, Usman had done enough after five rounds to earn the nod on the judges’ scorecards, winning by scores of 48-47, 48-47 and 49-46.
After the final horn sounded, Usman and Covington hugged with Covington appearing to admit that his trash talk was just a matter of helping the fight do better business before the fighters acknowledged their mutual respect.
“I just gotta give it up,” Usman said after the fight. “I know there was a lot of trash talk and bad blood and there’s still going to be some after tonight. But he’s a tough son of a b—. … I mean, when you share an octagon with someone this tough, you can’t help it. That respect is going to come. He hit me with some shots and I could tell they’ve been working on it. The power came up a little bit and I could tell they had been working on it. I had to give him that respect.”
Covington, a notorious character who throws as many verbal barbs as punches, took the loss in stride.
“I had my moments,” Covington said. “I wobbled him a couple times at the end of the round and I wasn’t able to capitalize. He had the better night.”
That’s not all, however. Women’s strawweight champion Rose Namajunas took home a split decision over Weili Zhang in their rematch from April to retain the title. Namajunas is now not only the first two-time women’s champion in promotional history, but also the first to successfully defend the title at least once in both reigns.
Plus, Justin Gaethje and Michael Chandler delivered one for the ages with an epic brawl over 15 minutes to start the PPV. Gaethje earned the decision after bloodying and dropping Chandler multiple times in the fight, but he also took his fair share of damage throughout the contest. Gaethje is likely to get the winner of Charles Oliveira vs. Dustin Poirier next for the lightweight title.