Saturday night saw the MMA world descend on New York City’s world famous venue, Madison Square Garden, as Kamaru Usman and Rose Namajunas defended their titles in a pair of rematches for the ages.
It wasn’t just the main events that impressed the fans however. The UFC’s roster truly showed off it’s might on the night, as the prelims proved their worth to an eager crowd and featured six consecutive knockouts, started by new fan favourite Chris Barnett’s incredible wheel kick KO. That was followed by crowd-drawing Irishman Ian Garry’s fantastic step-back knockout blow, and the drama continued until we got into the main event.
The crowd were loud on the night, and they only got louder as former lightweight interim champion Justin Gaethje began his walk to the ring, where former Bellator champion Michael Chandler waited patiently for what would be another epic scrap to add to his resume.
The bout went the full three rounds, much to the surprise of everyone watching, although it felt like it yearned for another two rounds just to find a stoppage winner. After starting dominantly, Chandler failed to capitalise on his quick start and stunning attacks, as Gaethje found his reach and rhythm to begin his approach. On came a barrage of hefty blows to the head of Chandler, leaving him mangled and disfigured, even at one stage flat on the floor after a nasty uppercut.
Gaethje’s endless gas tank seemed to serve him well into the final minutes of the fight, still landing at will and with ease against the 35-year-old, making it look easy. It was at this point when Chandler managed to repeat the early success he had in the fight, as he came back and a second wind powered him on to take the slugfest to its bitter end.
Gaethje spent the remaining minute and a bit dancing around the cage as Chandler walked him down, taunting him around the ring and throwing jabs to make sure he kept him at a distance he liked. The building roared with every step made and the end of the fight horn was drowned out by rapturous applause from the New York crowd that was lucky enough to witness such a fight.
The next two fights before the title matchups were Shane Burgos, looking to defend his featherweight ranking against Billy Quarantillo, another fight that went the distance and saw Burgos piece together some combinations and outclass his opponent to get the unanimous decision win. Frankie Edgar and Marlon Vera followed, in what seemed to be a fight with bad blood due to the Ecuadorian’s frequent gestures towards the former champion throughout the fight, that reached it’s KO conclusion as Vera landed a heavy front kick, reminiscent of fellow South American, Anderson Silva’s front kick KO of Vitor Belfort in the 2000s that shocked the UFC. Nowadays it’s a rare finish but a common kick to see and mightily impressive when you see it come off in this fashion.
The two title fights didn’t see a changing of the guard, as Usman and Namajunas both got the job done on points in slightly underwhelming fashion in comparison to what preceded it. Usman finally got taken down for the first time in his career before keeping Colby Covington at bay, all until the final round where Covington looked for a finish on Usman but couldn’t get him any further past the point in mildly stunned. Namajunas dominated Weili on the ground and used the championship rounds smartly to stay on top of the Chinese fighter, staying just active enough to make sure that Mark Goddard didn’t stop the fight and Thug Rose was champion again.
Next up we have Max Holloway vs Yair Rodriguez, the former champion facing up against The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America winner. Deep into the card is the likes of Marc Diakiese, Thiago Moises and Miguel Baeza, as well as Felicia Spencer and Ben Rothwell making up some of the main card fights before everybody’s favourite Hawaiian returns to the cage, with the main event beginning at 9pm GMT.