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Champions Rose Namajunas, Kamaru Usman retain belts at UFC 268

Updated November 7, 2021 - 6:17 am

NEW YORK — Rose Namajunas needed to win the final round to keep the women’s strawweight title in the co-main event of UFC 268 at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night.

She responded with her best five minutes of the fight.

Namajunas took Zhang Weili down early in the round and controlled her on the mat to the final bell to secure a split-decision victory.

“I was pretty confident in the end that I had won it,” she said. “The first couple rounds were a little close, but I was just living in the moment. I wasn’t even too worried about the result.”

In the main event, welterweight champion Kamaru Usman also retained his belt in a rematch when he improved to 2-0 against Colby Covington with a unanimous-decision victory.

Usman nearly ended the fight at the end of the second round when he dropped Covington with two left hands but ran out of time.

Covington rallied late after a slow start, but it wasn’t enough.

Usman previously knocked out Covington in the fifth round of a December 2019 title bout. He has now won 19 straight fights, including 15 in the UFC. It was his fifth consecutive successful title defense.

The victory for Namajunas was dramatically different from her first meeting with Weili. She ended Weili’s 20-fight winning streak and her title reign back in April with a head-kick knockout just 78 seconds into the first round.

Weili switched her training to a wrestling-heavy camp in Arizona and put a new game plan into action on Saturday night with several early takedowns.

Namajunas rallied to win the final two rounds convincingly.

“I had a feeling it was going to be a way different fight and she improved a lot,” Namajunas said. “I give her props. I know what I have to work on.”

Weili was able to score takedowns in each of the first two rounds, then got one late in a third round in which Namajunas had looked strong.

In the end, the challenger wasn’t able to do enough when in control of the position to retain her title.

One judge gave Weili each of the first three rounds. Another gave her just the first.

The swing card proved decisive as Doug Crosby gave Weili the first and third rounds on his card.

“Everyone saw me fall,” Weili said. “I want to see everyone see me stand up. I want to be an inspiration for everyone that has been through adversity and overcome them. I’m sorry I didn’t do that tonight.”

A lightweight battle between top contender Justin Gaethje and former champion Michael Chandler that had been billed as a potential fight of the year candidate lived up to the hype.

The fight received a standing ovation from the sold-out crowd at the end of all three rounds as they exchanged haymakers for 15 minutes.

Gaethje scored a knockdown that nearly ended the fight in the second round and was eventually awarded the decision.

“I knew exactly what that (expletive) was,” Gaethje said. “He’s a warrior. We are living in the wrong times. Me and him should have been fighting to the death in the (expletive) Colosseum.”

Gaethje believes his next fight will be for a title.

“I’m ranked No.2 and I just got an impressive win,” he said of whether he deserved the shot. “Of course, who else?”

Also on the main card, bantamweight Marlon Vera landed a front kick right down the middle on the chin of Frankie Edgar to score a knockout late in the third and final round.

Kickboxing star Alex Pereira highlighted the preliminary card with a jumping knee knockout of middleweight Andreas Michailidis.

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on Twitter.

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