The UFC returned to the most famous arena in the world – Madison Square Garden – for a night of very exciting fights, including two championship rematches and a lightweight war for the ages. The results did not disappoint as the New York fans were treated to some of the best fights of the year, especially in the prelims.
Let’s take a look at some of the highlights of the night and break down the three fights we looked at in our UFC 268 preview.
I think everyone in the world has a new fighter after tonight. Heavyweight Chris Barnett spoiled the homecoming and final fight of Gian Villante when he dropped him with an unbelievable wheel kick to the head. He then pounced on his opponent and landed some big punches to score the 2nd round knockout and potentially a knockout of the year candidate. In his post-fight interview, Barnett was very gracious and allowed the New York crowd to cheer Villante as he stepped out of the octagon for the last time.
The future is here. 23-year-old Irishman Ian Garry took the first step in following in Conor McGregor’s footsteps tonight by scoring a knockout victory over Jordan Williams in the first round. Williams did land some good shots in the early going that bloodied up Garry’s nose, but it was a counter right hand that Garry scored to end the fight with just a second left in the first round. After the fight, Garry told us that “the takeover part two is on,” playing off of McGregor’s line from years ago.
In an important middleweight bout, Nassourdine Imavov managed to stop a very game Edmen Shahbazyan in the second round. The ranked Shahbazyan actually came in as the underdog against his unranked opponent here, but it didn’t take long for Imavov to show us why. Shahbazyan escaped what felt like a hundred very tight submission attempts but eventually fell victim to some vicious ground and pound. When the rankings are updated, Imavov will crack the top 15 in the middleweight division and will likely get a big name for his next opponent.
Typically I will highlight three of these prelim fights, but these guys made that impossible tonight. The heavy underdog Chris Curtis looked outmatched for the first four minutes of his contest against Phil Hawes, losing just about every striking exchange. However, he eventually landed one good left hand and stunned Hawes, who staggered and eventually dropped. Curtis pounced and scored the first round knockout in his UFC debut in front of a shocked MSG crowd. After that, Bobby Green finished Al Iaquinta in the first round, putting on a striking clinic. Then, in the final fight before the pay-per-view, highly-touted kickboxer Alex Pereira made his UFC debut with a spectacular flying knee knockout in the second round, putting the rest of the middleweight division on notice. The prelims really set the tone for the whole night with one finish after another.
OH MY BEAST BOYYYYYYYYY 😤[ #UFC268 | Early Prelims are LIVE on @UFCFightPass & ESPN+ ] pic.twitter.com/cRf5Z3ocq6
— UFC (@ufc) November 6, 2021
Main Card Highlights
Shane Burgos and Billy Quarantillo showed off some very impressive striking skills in a night that saw a whole lot of that. Burgos stunned Quarantillo in the first but showed patience and allowed him to recover. It was a fun clash of styles as Burgos remained composed and threw technical strikes while Quarantillo just kept coming forward relentlessly with every strike in his arsenal. At the end of the second, Burgos seemed to hurt Quarantillo again but couldn’t put him away as he sported a superhuman chin. You could hit this guy in the chin with a baseball bat and he would keep walking forward. In the third, it was Burgos’ leg kicks that showed some big results as Quarantillo just didn’t have his legs under him anymore. Still, he kept pressuring Burgos and managed to take him the distance. In the end, it was Burgos who earned the decision victory.
In a hard-fought bantamweight battle, Marlon Vera and Frankie Edgar went back and forth deep into the third round before the former landed a front kick right up the middle on the chin of the latter. Edgar dropped immediately and the ref called the fight before he even hit the ground. Edgar protested after the stoppage, but it was clear he was out. Had this gone to the scorecards, this would have been anyone’s fight but Vera made sure that didn’t happen.
Leg kicks paying dividends for @HurricaneShaneB 🦵[ #UFC268 | We’re LIVE on ESPN+ PPV: https://t.co/xRVlqJBhNX ] pic.twitter.com/ocUzdKb4K7
— UFC (@ufc) November 7, 2021
Justin Gaethje def. Michael Chandler
With this bout opening up the main card, the energy in MSG almost blew the roof off the place. I have been watching the UFC for about 15 years and I don’t remember more excitement for an opening fight. And the best part was, it did not disappoint! These two came out of the gate ready to put on a show as the wild striking battle began in seconds. Both fighters landed huge punches in the early going, but Chandler appeared to get the better of Gaethje on several exchanges. At one point, he even appeared to throw his hands up in frustration as if to say “what do I need to do to finish this guy?” He did stagger Gaethje, but the former champ survived and actually dropped Chandler in the second round. In the end, it was the leg kicks of Gaethje that made the big difference, as he took the lead leg away from his opponent entirely by the third round. Amazingly, this fight somehow went the distance and ended with Gaethje having his hand raised. Both of these guys got huge ovations from the MSG crowd and deservedly so. They’re both going to be huge fan-favorites for a long time to come. After the fight, Gaethje told Joe Rogan he wants a title fight next.
My pick: Gaethje via 3rd round submission
Result: Gaethje via decision
Rose Namajunas def. Weili Zhang
Back in April, these two met for the title. We expected an instant classic and a 25-minute war between two incredibly talented fighters. Instead, we got a head kick knockout and a new champ after just over a minute in the octagon. This time around, we got to see a lot more from these two and it lived up to the hype. It wasn’t the slugfest e saw earlier in the night, but instead we got two very technical fighters doing everything right and it was a lot of fun to watch. Whether it was on the feet or with their grappling, both of these women proved that they were two of the best in the world and very evenly matched.
Both fighters scored multiple takedowns and got top position but there was one glaring difference in their games. When Zhang got on top, Namajunas was constantly threatening from the bottom and almost always managed to escape and get back to her feet. When Namajunas had the top position, Zhang didn’t appear to have anything to in her arsenal to threaten Namajunas with and the champ managed to keep the position for long periods of time. When the scorecards came into play, that had to be the difference maker as Namajunas retained her title by a razor close split decision. It was a very fun, very technical fight and both fighters are likely only going to come back stronger, which is a scary thought for the rest of the division.
My pick: Zhang via 4th round knockout
Result: Namajunas via decision
Kamaru Usman def. Colby Covington
Very few main events feature two fighters who truly dislike each other as much as Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington. That made this fight feel even more intense than any other championship main event held in Madison Square Garden, and that’s saying something. These two absolutely went to war and put on a show. Usman landed two big left hands in the second round and dropped Covington twice. The challenger showed his toughness though and survived the round.
Even more impressively, Covington went on to seemingly win the next two rounds as he finally managed to find his range in the striking and even managed to (arguably) score the first successful takedown against Usman ever. Going into the fifth, it looked as though this was still anyone’s fight. The two traded some more exciting exchanges, but Usman got the better of them more often than not. When it was all said and done, it was Usman who earned the unanimous decision victory. The two bitter rivals even managed to share an embrace and voice their respect for each other. As Rogan brought up after the fight, Usman is very much in the conversation when talking about the greatest fighters of all time.
My pick: Usman via 3rd round knockout
Result: Usman via decision
The UFC will return to ESPN on Saturday, November 13th for UFC Fight Night: Holloway vs. Rodriguez. Be sure to check back for a preview of the event.
Mike is a writer that has covered comic cons, theme park events, video game showcases and other fun events. He is a fan of theme parks, sports, movies, Marvel Comics and is a self-proclaimed “nerd.”