Colby Covington (left) and Kamaru Usman (Covington Photo/Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com; Usman photo/Lincoln Journal Star)
This weekend the MMA world will be focused on Madison Square Garden. UFC 268 is expected to be one of the biggest events for the sport in 2021. Not only is it a marquee card with big names, but also there are several former wrestlers in key fights. The following looks at some of the biggest names that might be memorable for wrestling fans.
In the main event of UFC 268, welterweight champion Kamaru Usman will attempt to defend his title for the second time against Colby Covington. Usman started his collegiate wrestling career at William Penn and qualified for the 2007 NAIA tournament. He then transferred to Nebraska-Kearney, where he was a three-time NCAA Division II All-American and a two-time finalist. As a senior in 2010, he won the title at 174 pounds.
Covington also had an extensive career that saw him compete for multiple schools. He won an NJCAA title at Iowa Central before transferring to Iowa. Covington then moved to Oregon State due to off-the-mat issues. With the Beavers, he was a two-time NCAA qualifier and finished fifth at 174 pounds as a senior in 2011 to become an All-American.
Despite their wrestling backgrounds, their first fight was a standing slugfest. Many expect the rematch to follow the same path since their wrestling might cancel out.
As a junior at Northern Colorado in 2010, Justin Gaethje finished seventh at 157 pounds at the NCAA tournament to become an All-American. Not only did he put himself in the record books, but he also became the first All-American for the Bears since 1970. On Saturday, he faces off against another former wrestler in Michael Chandler. During his career, he was a member of the Missouri squad. While with the Tigers, Chandler was a two-time Big 12 runner-up and qualified for three NCAA tournaments.
As a senior in high school, Frankie Edgar finished third at NHSCA Senior Nationals. He then moved on to Clarion University, where he was a three-time NCAA qualifier. Edgar turned professional as an MMA fighter in 2005 and is now a veteran of 34 fights. At UFC 268, he takes on Marlon Vera, who is 17-7-1 as a professional and coming off a win over Davey Grant last June.
While Al Iaquinta and Bobby Green may not have the same level of college accolades as some of the others on the card, they both wrestled extensively. Iaquinta was on the squad at Nassau Community College. Despite not wrestling until his sophomore year, Green was a two-time state placer in California for A.B. Miller High School.
Phil Hawes won an NJCAA title for Iowa Central in 2010, before transferring to Iowa State. After a year with the Cyclones, he moved again and finished his career at Division III powerhouse Wartburg. His opponent on Saturday, Chris Curtis, left the PFL in 2019 after three-straight losses. However, he has bounced back and made his way to the UFC after winning five straight.
Ode Osbourne was a multiple-time state finalist in high school before wrestling for Carroll University on the NCWA level. As a true freshman, he made the finals of the NCWA tournament. However, after that season, the program was dropped. He eventually found a home in MMA. Osbourne takes on C.J. Vergara, who recently made his way into MMA after scoring a first-round finish on the Contenders Series.