UFC 268 betting guide: Can Usman KO Covington in epic rematch?

Kamaru Usman kicks Colby Covington in a mixed martial arts welterweight championship bout at UFC 245, Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019, in Las Vegas. (John Locher/AP)

UFC fans across the globe have been spoiled lately with quality cards in back-to-back weekends.

Last week saw a main event upset when Glover Teixeira tapped Jan Blachowicz at UFC 267 on Fight Island and the organization has upped the ante for this weekend’s UFC 268.

Madison Square Garden is a fitting setting for the anticipated welterweight championship rematch between Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington that headlines a lavish lineup.

There was tremendous buzz ahead of their UFC 245 meeting almost two years ago. It was a great style matchup between top 170-pounders and an added layer of personal animosity compounded the tension.

During his rise to stardom and an interim title, Covington became among the most polarizing figures in MMA, partly due to his outspoken support for former U.S. President Donald Trump. Covington also took some personal shots at Usman to get under his opponent’s skin, often mentioning the fact Usman’s father had previously served time in prison. Many fans, media members and Usman himself felt those comments crossed a line beyond the realm of standard sports trash talk.

For that reason, among others, Usman was extra elated to get a technical knockout victory over Covington and he has held that moment over Covington’s head ever since.

Their ongoing feud is reminiscent of Daniel Cormier’s rivalry with Jon Jones where the former was considered, for lack of a better term, the “good guy” and the latter the “bad guy.”

Usman is the hero champion as Covington continues to be perceived as the villain challenger. Ironically, or perhaps not, Covington and Jones were roommates at Iowa Central Community College years before either debuted in the UFC.

Covington had a compromised jaw heading into the final round at UFC 245 and Usman proved his championship mettle and wound up earning a controversial stoppage victory -- Covington never stopped intelligently defending himself despite getting knocked down twice -- with less than one minute remaining in the fight.

Usman believes he will win a second time and that Covington will have to live with knowing he was never as good as his top rival.

“Colby, I would place him in the top 15 welterweights of all-time,” Usman said. “Incredible fighter, I give him that respect, but he has to live with the fact that there was a pound-for-pound best on the planet during his time.”

With nearly two years of additional acrimony now built up, this fight has the makings of another modern classic.

Overall, it’s shaping up to be a great weekend for sports bettors with college football, CFL, NHL, NBA and NFL all in action, plus the anticipated Canelo Alvarez vs. Caleb Plant fight. But the three fan-friendly featured bouts at UFC 268 also happen to stand out in terms of potential entertainment value.

Here’s a closer look at those matchups and corresponding betting odds.

KAMRU USMAN vs. COLBY COVINGTON

Usman to win -310, Covington to win +240, Draw +6600
Usman by stoppage +115, Covington by stoppage +525
Usman by decision +165, Covington by decision +400

Over 4.5 rounds is priced at -110 while the under is -120, indicating oddsmakers are expecting it to hit the scorecards or end with a late finish just like their first fight. Stylistically, we could see more wrestling and clinch work this time around but it wouldn’t be surprising if it turned into another glorified kickboxing match with both fighters eyeing the knockout.

Covington is only listed as an underdog when he fights Usman. The first encounter closed with Usman a -190 favourite and Covington at +175. Both fighters have improved, but the market indicates Usman was the better fighter the first time and has made more improvements in the time since.

Why you bet Usman at -310: He has been the more active fighter, defending his title thrice since beating Covington, while Covington’s lone outing was a fifth-round TKO of Tyron Woodley. He has more pop in his hands and has become a dangerous finisher, something he wasn’t earlier in his career. No fighter in the UFC has been able to overcome Usman’s durability and takedown defence to date.

Why you bet Covington at +240: You won’t get value like this on a fighter of Covington’s calibre often. If Covington can’t handle Usman’s improved power or can’t win grappling exchanges then the good price is irrelevant, of course, however if this becomes another battle of attrition then Covington has an excellent shot on the scorecards as a volume fighter. Covington’s decision prop at +400 is something to ponder considering his low finishing rate in the UFC and Usman’s durability and champion's mindset.

Pick (and prop lean): Covington +240 (by decision at +400) with upside value being the main point of emphasis.

ROSE NAMAJUNAS vs. ZHANG WEILI

Namajunas to win -105, Zhang to win -115, Draw +6600
Namajunas by stoppage +205, Zhang by stoppage +245
Namajunas by decision +285, Zhang by decision +225

It took Rose Namajunas just 78 seconds to defeat Zhang Weili at UFC 261. Since that fight was over so quickly, we didn’t get a feel for how these two strawweights might match up over the course of a longer contest. If Zhang can get in a groove and start landing her own offence, what type of fight will we have on our hands? A five-round classic like Zhang’s tilt with Joanna Jedrzejczyk, another quick finish from “Thug Rose,” or something in between?

Why you bet Namajunas at -105: She has more ways to finish the fight and her skill set seems to be a level above her contemporaries when she is in the right frame of mind. Her previous title run was brief and she admitted the pressure of being champion impacted her then. Will history repeat itself or has she gotten past that as a more mature athlete and person? Namajunas has fought three rematches in her MMA career, winning each of the second fights by decision.

Why you bet Zhang at -115: It seems there might’ve been a slight overcorrection on this line considering Zhang was a -200 favourite compared to Namajunas’s +170 at UFC 261 in April. Quick finishes like that are rare in championship fights and you can bet the former champ will be more prepared for her opponent’s wide array of attacks. Her relentless pace and physical strength can be an advantage so long as Namajunas doesn’t out-finesse her.

Pick (and prop): Namajunas -105 (by decision +285)

JUSTIN GAETHJE vs. MICHAEL CHANDLER

Gaethje to win -210, Chandler to win +170, Draw +6600
Gaethje by stoppage -130, Chandler by stoppage +300
Gaethje by decision +425, Chandler by decision +450

If this doesn’t result in a Performance of the Night bonus for either of these 155-pound fan favourites or a Fight of the Night distinction, it’ll be a shocker. Even though this matchup is clearly the most anticipated non-title fight at UFC 268, it’s opening the main card which should set the tone for what could be a memorable night.

Why you bet Gaethje at -210: One of many former interim lightweight champions, Gaethje is considered the more durable fighter and he is more accurate with his high-volume striking. Chandler has been knocked out, most recently in May, and is susceptible to low kicks of which Gaethje is proficient. If you side with the favourite you’re better off betting him to win by stoppage at the better -130 price. The odds of this fight going the distance -- even though it’s only a three-rounder -- are staggeringly low.

Why you bet Chandler at +170: The former longtime Bellator MMA champion was mere seconds away from winning the vacant title when he had Charles Oliveira rocked at UFC 262. Yes, his durability will be tested, but he hits extremely hard and Gaethje has shown throughout his career he’s all too willing to eat shots while slinging leather. That’s a dangerous game against someone like Chandler, who would be wise to mix in some takedown attempts. Chandler came through as the dog against Dan Hooker and almost did it against Oliveira.

Pick (and prop lean): Chandler +170 (inside the distance at +300)

PARLAYS AND PROPS

The Trevor Wittman Parlay: The acclaimed trainer and striking coach helped prepare and will be in the corner for all three of Usman, Namajunas and Gaethje. If you like champs and chalk then you can get roughly +270 odds if Wittman’s three pupils all won on a parlay.

The Déjà Vu Double: Usman and Namajunas had main and co-main billing, respectively, back in April at UFC 261. The two stars both earned stoppage wins. If they do it again and you parlay it you can get a +556 return.

Ian Garry inside the distance at -200: The 23-year-old Dublin native has a high ceiling and hopes to make a statement in his UFC debut. His opponent, Jordan Williams, is more experienced but has multiple first-round losses and is in tough against this touted up-and-comer. Garry’s first-round finish odds are +120 and his second-round finish odds are +385, one of which is expected to hit.

All listed odds via Bodog as of Friday

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