UFC 268: Kamaru ‘Usman v Colby Covington Preview & Prediction
By Cathal Geeney
Kamaru Usman will look to finally close the chapter on his rivalry with Colby Covington and defend his UFC welterweight strap for the fifth time in less than two years, at UFC 268 this weekend.
The two last went to war in December 2019 in a bout which proved to be one of the most entertaining of the year.
Both Usman and Covington are renowned for their grappling credentials, Kamaru having spent time as a resident at the United States Olympic Training Center and Colby with extensive collegiate wrestling experience. And so, their last fight played out as it often does when two experienced grapplers meet, entirely standing and exchanging strikes.
And it didn’t disappoint with a combined 755 strikes attempted (this is the highest combined strikes attempted in the history of the UFC welterweight division).
Colby has very much built a trademark style. He is not the most technically accomplished striker, but he is relentless in his approach. Constantly putting his opponent on the backfoot with his aggression and then mixing in his wrestling to get the fight to the mat. And to the credit of the challenger, this style has been very successful.
Of his last nine outings, his only defeat came against Usman. There are very few that can keep up with the pace he sets.
However, his pressure compensates for some holes in his game. At times, he was far too overzealous in his offence in their first meeting. Standing in his southpaw stance, he was throwing shots and leaving himself completely exposed to be countered by Usman, who generally fights orthodox.
While this made for an incredible watch, he took a lot of damage, particularly from the counter straight. He has since moved team and spoken about needing to improve his head movement, which is encouraging.
Since their last showdown, the Nigerian nightmare has been a lot more active than the challenger, having fought three times to Colby’s one. Usman has shown improvements in his game over this period, particularly in the striking department. While the Nigerian-born fighter was initially pigeonholed as a pure wrestler, Kamaru has looked to his striking of late, finishing his last two opponents, Gilbert Burns and Jorge Masvidal, with punches.
Usman is becoming an expert in utilising his reach and power and landing long, straight punches. This was a big factor in their first meeting and may prove to be the difference once again for the Onx Sports trained fighter.
It’s going to be interesting to see if either man looks to their wrestling background. In their first fight, there was a lot of gamesmanship and taunting on display throughout. It almost felt as if neither wanted to be the first to break and look for a takedown. It’s difficult to see how the same pace and output from their first fight could be matched, so I would expect to see at least some more clinching and grappling this time out.
Kamaru Usman will enter the octagon as the bookmaker’s favourite and rightfully so. He has been the most dominant welterweight champion since George St Pierre and has shown a major appetite to compete and improve. It’s rare we have witnessed a champion defend his belt three times in a calendar year, but that is what Kamaru will look to achieve this weekend.
His power has proved too much for any challengers and it will be a major obstacle for Colby to overcome.
Despite this, Covington has displayed a resilient streak and a superhuman will to keep pushing. The former welterweight interim titleholder’s fighting ability is often out shadowed by his ridiculous comments outside the octagon. But make no mistake about it, Covington can fight and was potentially two minutes away from taking the belt from Usman.
A blueprint exists for Covington. He needs to bring the same pressure he brought last time, while improving his striking defence and potentially mixing in his grappling more effectively.
Given he is going in as quite a significant underdog, I will take the risk and pick Colby to become the next undisputed welterweight champion. #UFC268