NEW YORK -- Fights that are expected to be as violent as the one between Justin Gaethje and Michael Chandler sometimes under-deliver. Not this time. In fact, it was just the opposite.
In the most action-packed MMA fight of 2021, Gaethje defeated Chandler via unanimous decision (29-29, 29-28, 30-27) on the UFC 268 main card Saturday night at Madison Square Garden. Chandler rocked Gaethje in the first round. Gaethje nearly finished in the second, badly bloodying Chandler. And the third was a back-and-forth symphony of violence. Neither man gave an inch.
"I knew exactly who the f--- he was," Gaethje said in his postfight interview. "He's a warrior. We are living in the wrong times. He and I should have been fighting in the Colosseum. That's what should have happened."
ESPN had Gaethje ranked No. 3 and Chandler ranked No. 4 in the world at lightweight coming in. Gaethje has said all week that he believed he will have done enough for a title shot with a win. And he was the victor Saturday night.
"Of course," Gaethje said. "Who else?"
With the fans going back and forth chanting for both men, Chandler blasted Gaethje with a big combination in the first round, snapping his head back. Chandler flurried against the cage, but Gaethje survived in the onslaught. In the second round, it was Gaethje's turn. He dropped Chandler with an uppercut and attempted to finish on the ground. Chandler, bloodied and bruised, survived.
Chandler fired back with big combinations to the body in the third round. But the uppercut was there twice for Gaethje, doing major damage again. Still, Chandler kept coming forward -- smiling, with blood pouring from his face and egging Gaethje on. Chandler was waving for Gaethje to come forward and even picked him up for a big slam, though Gaethje scrambled when they hit the ground and took Chandler's back.
Gaethje (23-3) has won five of six with the only loss during that time coming against then-champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. The Arizona native fighting out of Colorado had not been to decision since 2014 in World Series of Fighting. Gaethje, 32, had nine performance bonuses in eight UFC fights coming in and is a shoo-in for his 10th.
Chandler (22-7) has dropped two straight. In his last bout, the Missouri native, who fights out of Florida, fell in a vacant title fight to Charles Oliveira at UFC 262 in May. Chandler, 35, is the former three-time Bellator lightweight champion.
Complete results from UFC 268:
Welterweight championship: Kamaru Usman (c) (20-1, 15-0 UFC) def. Colby Covington (16-3, 11-3 UFC) by unanimous decision (49-46, 48-47, 48-47) (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Kamaru Usman defeats Colby Covington via unanimous decision to defend his welterweight title at UFC 268.
Kamaru Usman has said repeatedly that he dislikes Colby Covington more than any other opponent he has ever faced. But after their 10th round in the cage together, Usman and Covington could do nothing except embrace.
Usman beat Covington via unanimous decision (48-47, 48-47, 49-46) in the main event of UFC 268 on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden. With a win in their rematch, Usman retained the UFC welterweight title.
Usman (20-1) has 15 straight wins in the UFC -- the second-longest such streak behind only Anderson Silva (16), who is considered one of the best of all time. The Nigeria-born Usman, who lives in Florida and trains in Colorado, was coming off a second-round knockout win over Jorge Masvidal at UFC 261 in April. Usman, 34, has five title defenses and is chasing the welterweight record of nine set by Georges St-Pierre.
More on this fight from Marc Raimondi
Strawweight championship: Rose Namajunas (c) (12-4, 9-3 UFC) def. Zhang Weili (21-3, 5-2 UFC) by split decision (49-46, 48-47, 47-48) (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Rose Namajunas successfully defended her strawweight crown on Saturday against Zhang Weili -- the same woman she took the belt from back in April.
Saturday's rematch, however, was a much different fight from the first. Namajunas (11-4) edged Zhang (21-3) by the slimmest of margins. She earned a split decision in the co-main event of UFC 268 inside Madison Square Garden. Two judges had it for Namajunas via scores of 49-46 and 48-47. A third scored it 48-47 for Zhang.
It was a much closer, more strategic fight than their first bout earlier this year, when Namajunas knocked out Zhang with a head kick just 78 seconds in.
👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼 awesome fight @rosenamajunas congrats.— Amanda Nunes (@Amanda_Leoa) November 7, 2021
More on this fight from Brett Okamoto
Men's bantamweight: Marlon Vera (18-7-1, 12-6 UFC) def. Frankie Edgar (23-10-1, 18-10-1 UFC) by third-round KO (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Each man had had a round go mostly his way, and the final session was playing out in a way that suggested that with just over a minute to go, it was anyone's fight. Vera was stalking, but Edgar was landing more and making his opponent miss. Until Vera didn't miss.
A front kick from Vera connected to the chin and collapsed Edgar to the mat, putting a stunning end to the fight at 3:50 of Round 3.
Vera, a 28-year-old Ecuadoran who fights out of Irvine, California, has won two in a row and eight of his last 10. He was taken down in each of the first two rounds, but after absorbing some shots while on his back in the first, he quickly got the fight back to standing in the second round and started to land his own damage.
Edgar, the former lightweight champion and three-time featherweight title challenger, has lost two fights in a row and four of his last five. He is 40 and from Toms River, New Jersey.
Men's featherweight: Shane Burgos (14-3, 7-3 UFC) def. Billy Quarantillo (16-4, 4-2 UFC) by unanimous decision (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
New York's Burgos is back in the win column for the first time since late 2019, thanks to a hard-earned unanimous decision. All three judges scored it for Burgos, 29-28.
Burgos and Quarantillo, of Tampa, Florida, unofficially broke the UFC featherweight record for combined strikes. Quarantillo landed 152 strikes, while Burgos landed 139. The division's previous record, 274, was set in 2011 by Nam Phan and Leonard Garcia.
Another banger! Well done lads #UFC268— Alex Volkanovski (@alexvolkanovski) November 7, 2021
Although Quarantillo landed a handful more strikes, Burgos caused more damage. He hurt Quarantillo with leg kicks throughout the fight, to the point where Quarantillo was visibly favoring his lead left leg by the end. Burgos also made him wobble multiple times with punches, although Quarantillo usually responded with punches of his own to swing momentum back in his favor.
Quarantillo tried to mix in takedowns, but Burgos' defense held up. It's a big win for Burgos, who was competitive in losses to Josh Emmett and Edson Barboza.
Middleweight: Alex Pereira (4-1, 1-0 UFC) def. Andreas Michailidis (13-5, 1-2 UFC) (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Alex Pereira wins his UFC debut with an incredible flying knee in the featured prelim bout of UFC 268.
It was a good night for UFC newcomers -- Pereira perhaps most of all.
The former GLORY kickboxing champion knocked out Michailidis with a devastating flying knee 18 seconds into the second round. Pereira, 34, from Brazil, landed the knee as Michailidis reached forward for a clinch. All four of Pereira's wins in MMA have come via knockout.
Jeez 😳 #UFC268— Tatiana Suarez (@tatianaufc) November 7, 2021
Pereira signed with the UFC this year to much fanfare. He holds two victories over UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya from their days in professional kickboxing. Michailidis won the first round by taking Pereira down and neutralizing his standup with grappling, but Pereira seemed unbothered.
Michailidis drops to 1-2 in the UFC.
Lightweight: Bobby Green (28-12-1, 9-7-1 UFC) def. Al Iaquinta (14-7-1, 9-6 UFC) by first-round TKO (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
The chants that resonated throughout the Garden -- "I-a-QUIN-ta! I-a-QUIN-ta!" -- had barely morphed into fans roaring every time their local guy closed in on Green against the cage.
Then Green responded, landing a quick one-two that dropped Iaquinta. Green pounced with more punches, prompting referee Marc Goddard to push him off his fallen foe for the TKO at 3:25.
Green, who is 35 and from Fontana, California, broke out of a two-fight losing streak with an explosive finish.
First round knockout 🔥🔥 Green is so explosive and mental, great performance #UFC268— Terrance McKinney (@twrecks155) November 7, 2021
Iaquinta, a 34-year-old from nearby Wantagh, New York, has lost four of his last five fights. The skid began with a 2018 bout in which Khabib Nurmagomedov won the vacant UFC lightweight title.
Middleweight: Chris Curtis (27-8, 1-0 UFC) def. Phil Hawes (11-3, 3-1 UFC) by first-round KO (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Chris Curtis knocks out Phil Hawes with an epic left hook in Round 1 as he wins his UFC debut in stunning fashion.
For 12 years, Curtis toiled mostly on the regional circuit, one day hoping to get signed by the UFC. Last month, it finally happened. And now Curtis has his first UFC victory to boot.
The MMA veteran stopped Hawes via knockout at 4:27 of the first round in a bout he was handily losing up until that point. Hawes stepped in for a left hand and dropped his other hand, allowing Curtis to snap off a slick left hook and put Hawes on jelly legs. Curtis followed up on the ground with punches until referee Todd Anderson pulled him off.
"I wish you guys knew," Curtis said in his postfight interview. "I wish I was here for about 10 years now. I beat so many people -- I just never got that chance."
Curtis, 34, has won six straight following a wild PFL playoff appearance in 2019. Curtis lost to Magomed Magomedkerimov in the PFL welterweight quarterfinals, then announced his retirement. But an alternate was needed for later in that night for the semifinals and Curtis was tabbed. It was one of the shortest retirements in MMA history, and Curtis lost in that second fight as well.
Wooooow hugeeeee debut for Curtis— Belal Muhammad (@bullyb170) November 7, 2021
The Ohio-born Curtis, fighting out of Las Vegas, was signed by the UFC last month on short notice to fight Hawes, but Hawes declined to fight him at the last minute and the match was rescheduled.
"I'm here," Curtis said. "But guys, I can't tell you. I've given up 14 years of my life for this. I've missed my son's birthdays. ... And now I get to make my UFC debut at Madison Square Garden."
The 32-year-old, New Jersey-born Hawes, fighting out of Florida, had a seven-fight winning streak snapped. -- Raimondi
Middleweight: Nassourdine Imavov (11-3, 3-1 UFC) def. Edmen Shahbazyan (11-3, 4-3 UFC) by second-round TKO (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
France's Imavov badly wanted to take Shahbazyan's neck home with him, but ultimately settled for a TKO instead.
The 25-year-old middleweight repeatedly looked to secure a guillotine in the first two rounds against Shahbazyan, but couldn't quite secure the finish. In the final minute of the second round, Imavov moved to a crucifix position and dropped elbows until referee Keith Peterson stopped the fight at the 4:42 mark.
It was a decisive finish to a very back-and-forth fight. Shahbazyan, who suffered his third consecutive defeat, did well with leg kicks early and nearly secured his own guillotine attempt in the second round. Imavov's grappling proved to be a step ahead, however, and he also had some success in boxing exchanges.
Shahbazyan went into 2020 on a wave of momentum, but has now lost to Derek Brunson, Jack Hermansson and Imavov. -- Okamoto
Welterweight: Ian Garry (8-0, 1-0 UFC) def. Jordan Williams (9-6, 0-3 UFC) by first-round KO (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Ian Garry finds it in himself to come back after being down in his fight to win his UFC debut at UFC 268.
The undefeated Garry's UFC debut was not going so well. The 23-year-old Irishman's face was reddened from absorbing several punches as the final seconds of the first round ticked off the clock. Then Williams, who is 31 and from Englewood, Colorado, tried to punctuate the round with one final left hand. He missed.
Garry returned fire and did not miss. He stepped back to avoid the punch and unleashed a counter right hand that connected on the button and dropped Williams in his tracks. Referee Mike Beltran jumped right in to declare it a knockout at 4:59.
Afterward, Garry spoke about being a future champ with all the boldness of another Irish fighter. The former Cage Warriors champion even quoted Conor McGregor's most famous line: "We're not here to take part; we're here to take over."
From the hardest first round of his entire career, to put in an incredible ko with seconds remaining #UFC268 @ufc— Juan Espino El Guapo (@juan_espino_ofi) November 6, 2021
Then Garry offered an addendum: "This is the takeover, Part 2." -- Wagenheim
Heavyweight: Chris Barnett (22-7, 1-1 UFC) def. Gian Villante (17-14, 7-11 UFC) by second-round TKO (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Chris Barnett front-flips on the mat after his finish of Gian Villante at UFC 268.
Barnett probably won't win a fitness competition any time soon, but "Beast Boy" can put together a highlight-reel finish in the cage -- that's for sure.
Barnett dropped Villante with a wicked spinning hook kick to the head and followed on the ground for a TKO victory at 2:23 of the second round. After the finish, Barnett did a front flip and landed butt first on the canvas as a celebration. Barnett is the first UFC heavyweight fighter to win via a spinning kick, per ESPN Stats & Information.
"My f---ing heel is killing me," Barnett said after the fight. "My man has the head of a cinderblock. My foot is on fire right now."
During that interview, Barnett praised the New York-born Villante in his final UFC fight. Before the finish, Barnett and Villante were trading hard kicks to the body and legs for the better part of two rounds. Barnett said he figured he had to switch it up with something flashy because Villante was matching him kick for kick.
Barnett, 35, picked up his first UFC victory on Saturday. Born in Spain and fighting out of Florida, he made his UFC debut in May after 12 years as a pro fighter in multiple disciplines all over the world. Villante, a 36-year-old Long Islander, has dropped four straight, the last three after moving up to heavyweight from light heavyweight. -- Raimondi
Ok he's awesome. I wanna hang out with him #UFC268— Niko Price (@Nikohybridprice) November 6, 2021
Light heavyweight: Dustin Jacoby (16-5-1, 4-2-1 UFC) def. John Allan (13-7 1 NC, 0-2 1NC UFC) by unanimous decision (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
Jacoby, of Colorado, cruised to an easy win on the scorecards, following a slow 15-minute affair. The 33-year-old took the fight on short notice, but had no problem picking at Allan from range with jabs and front kicks. Jacoby rarely threw anything behind the distance strikes though, and never appeared to have Allan hurt.
Despite the fact he was at a clear disadvantage, Allan, of Curitiba, Brazil, didn't appear to have a backup plan or just wasn't capable of executing one. He continued to fight Jacoby at range and had very few moments of success offensively.
Jacoby remains unbeaten in the UFC. He is 4-0-1 since signing with the promotion last year. -- Okamoto
Men's featherweight: Melsik Baghdasaryan (7-1, 2-0 UFC) def. Bruno Souza (10-2, 0-1 UFC ) by unanimous decision (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
On the night before the New York City Marathon, these two fighters put in the miles, circling each other inside the cage for the better part of 15 minutes. Baghdasaryan was in pursuit, but unable to land a whole lot, though his leg kicks and occasional flurries were enough to earn him the 29-28 nod on all three scorecards.
For Baghdasaryan, who is 29 and from Glendale, California, it was his seventh win in a row, including his last two in the UFC. He just never was able to cut off the cage on his elusive opponent.
Souza, a 25-year-old Brazilian who fights out of Los Angeles, saw a 10-fight winning streak come to an end in a fight in which he avoided significant damage, but did not mount much offense. -- Wagenheim
Men's flyweight: Ode' Osbourne (10-4, 2-2 UFC) def. C.J. Vergara (9-3-1, 0-1 UFC) by unanimous decision (Watch this fight on ESPN+)
No, Osbourne didn't exactly end the fight in spectacular fashion. Vergara was on top, landing ground and pound until the bell.
But Osbourne did enough early to earn a unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28) in the UFC 268 opener. Simply, Osbourne landed the harder blows in the first and second rounds. In the first, he blasted Vergara with some solid combinations and that continued in the second with Osbourne landing a sneaky left hand. In the third, Osbourne started hot with combinations, but seemed to tire and Vergara stole momentum with a takedown and top position.
Osbourne, 29, is now 2-2 in the UFC. The Jamaica-born Osbourne, who fights out of Milwaukee, is a Dana White's Contender Series alum. Vergara, a 30-year-old Texan, was making his UFC debut. He missed weight by 1.4 pounds Friday. -- Raimondi