Welcome back to TGIFighting, where we talk to top fighters, preview the weekend's combat sports action and make crotchety observations about the MMA news of the day. Ready? Let's proceed.
Come on. We all know Kamaru Usman isn't losing to Colby Covington.
It's the second straight rematch for Usman (19-1), and against an opponent he pretty much dominated in the initial go-around. First it was Jorge Masvidal (35-15), whom Usman flattened in April at UFC 261. Now it's Covington's (16-2) turn, with UFC President Dana White telling ESPN's Brett Okamoto these two will run it back. The bout has been targeted for UFC 268 on Nov. 6 at New York's Madison Square Garden.
No one should even pretend like this one will be any different than the original.
Why? Because this is gimmicky matchmaking at its finest, with the heated history between the two taking center stage over actual competitive merit. While Covington is a good fighter and this likely won't be as lopsided as Usman's beatdown of Masvidal, it's still Usman who controlled almost every phase of their original bout in December 2019. Unless radioactive spiders joined Covington's training team, this won't be close.
Let's take a more in-depth look at Usman-Covington I. According to UFC Stats, although both men have wrestling bases, neither attempted a takedown, effectively canceling each other out and tacitly agreeing to as slugfest. Even so, Usman went 5-of-5 on clinch entries, the champ's bread and butter and a close cousin to the takedown.
To his credit, Covington stayed busier than Usman on the feet behind a heavy left hand, with 395 significant strikes thrown to Usman's 360, and he likely nabbed the first round. But Usman's trademark efficiency shone through as the bout wore on, with the champ carefully managing his energy and outlanding the challenger by a handy 175-143 margin. The champ scored the only two knockdowns of the contest, both in the final frame. Oh, and he broke Covington's jaw, so there's that.
Covington showed striking, cardio and a solid chin but was outclassed and outlasted in each of those areas. The challenger was beaten at his own game, and that's your bottom line.
The smack talk for the rematch has already started, and so far it's not adding much fuel to the fire. Covington tried a performance-enhancing-drug accusation based on nothing but hearsay, and 2013 called and told him that was a pretty dated jab. Even Nick Diaz yawned. This isn't the first time Covington's made the accusation, and Usman denied it in 2019.
The UFC has every right to put on the biggest money fights it can find, and it's found another one. Covington is a big name and a big rival for arguably its top champion. But that's a two-sided coin. As a consumer, I have a right not to be interested, and this one's a foregone conclusion.
The Best Fight in Bellator History?
Patricio Freire (32-4) isn't just the Bellator featherweight and lightweight champion. He's more than the best fighter on the roster. With hat tips to Max Holloway (22-6) and Alex Volkanovski (22-1), Freire may be the best featherweight walking the planet.
On Friday at Bellator 263, Freire defends his 145-pound crown against the young but already great AJ McKee (17-0) in the $1 million final of the promotion's highly entertaining Featherweight World Grand Prix. All the 26-year-old McKee has done to get here is beat former World Series of Fighting champ Georgi Karakhanyan (30-11-1 ), longtime Bellator vet Derek Campos (20-11) and a former NCAA national wrestling champ in Darrion Caldwell (15-5). All three were by stoppage. Only Campos made it past the first 90 seconds. Karakhanyan didn't even make it past the first 10.
Obviously we won't know until the fight is over, but this has the makings to be an all-time great bout in Bellator history.
These two have an astonishing 35 stoppage wins between them. Freire's power, manifested mainly in a deadly left hook, belies his frame, which is not huge for featherweight. McKee, meanwhile, is creative and opportunistic in all phases.
Other potential best-fight candidates include the two classics between Michael Chandler (22-6) and Eddie Alvarez (30-8 ), with one winning each, or for sheer wattage the grudge match between Quinton "Rampage" Jackson (38-14) and Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal (21-10 ). Those were outstanding bouts, but none are so ironclad that a classic this Friday couldn't shoot to the top.
Yes, a Showtime subscription is required, but with this much skill, this much style and stakes this high inside the cage, this is as must-watch as MMA gets outside a UFC pay-per-view.
Stipe's Feeling Stuck
Remember the days when we thought Jon Jones (26-1 ) and Francis Ngannou (16-3) would fight for the heavyweight title in a once-per-year kind of blockbuster? Those were heady times, weren't they? And we thought we'd live forever.
Negotiations for the fight broke down because the UFC didn't want to pony up, and now we're left with Derrick Lewis (25-7 ) vs. Cyril Gane (9-0) for the interim heavyweight belt, which they'll contest August 7 at UFC 265. No disrespect to either fighter, including maybe the hardest hitter on the entire UFC roster in Lewis, but this is a step down and everyone knows it.
Now former champ Stipe Miocic (20-4), who also found himself in and out of the title mix as the gamesmanship unfolded, is sounding off. In an Instagram post (h/t MMA Junkie), Miocic noted, "I shouldn't have to wait for the winner. I have the most heavyweight title defenses of all time."
He has a point. It's a little mystifying that Gane got to leapfrog a Hall of Famer in Miocic. Gane is more boring than C-Span. His top win arguably came against Alexander Volkov (33-9), who is 3-3 in his past six contests.
This didn't have to be a mess. It could have been amazing. But here we are in another morass because the UFC couldn't get out of its own way at the negotiating table.
Stone Cold Lead-Pipe Lock of the Week
Record to date: 16-4
Did Julio Arce (17-4) come up big last weekend or what? In that second-round knockout of Andre Ewell (17-8), the 31-year-old showed he's ready to be a tough out again following his UFC debut at bantamweight.
This Saturday it's UFC on ESPN 28, and this is a decidedly, uh, quiet card. For our lock of the week, let's go to the featured preliminary bout, where Nicco Montano (4-3) is trying to become more than the answer to a UFC trivia question against Wu Yanan (11-4).
Montano won the inaugural UFC women's flyweight belt in 2017, but she moved up to bantamweight after being hospitalized following a weight cut in her previous class. That said, a two-year layoff because of injuries and COVID-19 likely left her with a tin man's worth of rust. Still, it shouldn't matter against Wu, whose grappling has left a lot to be desired in a 1-3 UFC tenure.
The ground game happens to be Montano's specialty. She is a -250 (bet $250 to win $100) favorite on DraftKings to take care of business. Conservative bettors like myself should lock that in all day.
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