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UFC 296 Preview and Predictions

Leon Edwards Colby Covington UFC 296
UFC 296 is the final pay-per-view event of 2023. Thankfully, the UFC assembled a great fight card to close the year. (Photos by Per Haljestam, USA TODAY Sports)

UFC 296 Preview and Predictions

The final UFC PPV of the year is upon us. It is bittersweet as a multi-week break from MMA is on the horizon. Thankfully, the UFC pulled out all the stops for UFC 296. The event features two title fights and some of the UFC’s hottest names. 

Join Vendetta Sports Media as we preview and predict each fight on the UFC 296 main card. You can find our prediction records below. 

James: 138-76-3

Garrett: 131-83-3

Anthony: 113-70-2

Jerry: 115-66-2

No. 6 Josh Emmett vs. No. 10 Bryce Mitchell–Featherweight Bout 

James: UFC 296 opens with a featherweight bout between Josh Emmett and Bryce Mitchell. Mitchell took this fight on short notice after Emmett’s original opponent was forced out of the fight. Plus, it will be a relatively quick turnaround. Mitchell last fought in September. In that bout, he bounced back from his first career loss and got back in the win column with a decision victory over Dan Ige. Now, he is looking to stack victories. On the contrary, Emmett is riding a two-fight losing streak and is looking for a win. Before that rough patch, he won five consecutive fights. 

Emmett is one of the hardest hitters in the UFC featherweight division. That is mostly seen in his big hooks and overhands. Emmett does not throw much offensively, but his power can strike fear into opponents and make them fight more cautiously. Additionally, he has a wrestling background that has been put to use in the past. 

Mitchell is a great grappler with a balance of wrestling and BJJ skills. This balance can be seen in his takedowns. Mitchell is very willing to attempt takedowns in the middle of the octagon, which stops opponents from using the cage to stand up. He has great BJJ that he uses to transition into strong positions that allows him to rack up control time. 

In my opinion, this is one of the tougher fights to preview on UFC 296. I do not believe it is the closest fight on the card, but I have a lot of questions about Emmett. The veteran is 38 and is coming off two poor performances. I do not know how much he has left in the tank. If he is struggling with regression, wrestling is one of the first skills to deteriorate.

That is not promising ahead of a fight with Mitchell. On the other hand, a top-tier version of Emmett could provide Mitchell trouble because of his wrestling and power. Ultimately, I struggle to predict Emmett fights at a high level after suffering a ton of damage in his most recent bouts. I think that leads to early and often grappling success for Mitchell. I will take Mitchell by decision

Garrett: Mitchell via decision

Jerry: Mitchell via submission

Anthony: Emmett via decision

Tony Ferguson vs. Paddy Pimblett–Lightweight Bout 

James: At UFC 296, Tony Ferguson will fight Paddy Pimblett. Ferguson, a former interim champion, is far past his prime. At this point, he is sitting on six consecutive losses. That losing streak has led to questions about whether he should retire or be cut from the UFC. Pimblett is one of the biggest hype jobs in MMA. The Barstool Sports athlete is one of the most recognizable faces in MMA. Not to mention, he has compiled a 4-0 UFC record. Now, he has a chance to add a legend to his resume. 

Pimblett is a solid BJJ practitioner with creative submissions. That is certainly his best skill. On the feet, he is not very technical, but he throws hard. The issue is that his striking defense is awful. That was a massive issue in his fight against Jared Gordon. All things considered, Pimblett has solid skills, but he is wildly overrated.  

In his prime, Ferguson was a cardio monster with a unique style that consisted of unorthodox striking and lethal submissions. The 39-year-old’s speed is greatly reduced, which limits his offensive effectiveness. In addition, his takedown defense has greatly decreased. 

A prime Ferguson would do bad things to Pimblett. Unfortunately, Ferguson is 39. That swings this bout in Pimblett’s favor. I would love to see a prime Ferguson come out of nowhere, but it is irresponsible to predict that. Instead, I think Pimblett lands takedowns and works his way to finish. I will take Pimblett by second-round submission

Garrett: Pimblett via TKO

Jerry: Pimblett via KO/TKO

Anthony: Pimblett via decision

No. 5 Shavkat Rakhmonov vs. No. 6 Stephen Thompson–Welterweight Bout 

James: At UFC 296, Shavkat Rakhmonov will fight Stephen Thompson.

Rakhmonov, 29, is one of the best up-and-coming prospects in the UFC welterweight division. Rakhmonov currently sits at 17-0 with 17 finishes. Thompson, 40, is a veteran who has been at the top of the division for a long period. For either fighter, a win in this bout makes them a potential title challenger. 

Rakhmonov is an elite talent. Thus far into his career, he showed a well-rounded skill set. In striking exchanges, he has good length and can punish fighters from a distance. More importantly, Rakhmonov has elite grappling. Once he gets a fight to the ground, he has a great combination of ground-and-pound, submissions and top control. What is most impressive is that he is great at using the clinch to provide a bridge between his striking and grappling. In the clinch, he throws a mix of elbows and knees while also having takedowns from that position. The one major flaw is that his striking defense is not great. Thankfully, he has a great chin, but he does eat a lot of heavy strikes. 

Thompson is one of the only karate practitioners who has adapted his skills to MMA. That can be seen in his precision striking, distance management, and outstanding kick game. The problem is that Thompson has been playing catchup in the defensive grappling realm. Those struggles have become more pronounced at a later age. 

This UFC 296 preview heavily favors Rakhmonov. Thompson will have serious issues defending against Rakhmonov’s offensive grappling and clinch work. It would not be a shock to see him land hard strikes as Rakhmonov crashes the distances. Although, I do not think those shots will come often enough to win a decision or hard enough to land a knockout. I will take Rakhmonov by submission.

Garrett: Rakhmonov via TKO

Jerry: Rakhmonov via submission

Anthony: Rakhmonov via submission

C Alexandre Pantoja vs. No. 2 Brandon Royval–Flyweight Championship Bout 

James: The UFC 296 co-main event previews to be a fight of the night contender. Alexander Pantoja and Brandon Royval are two exciting fighters who never shy away from a fight. To make a great fight even better, the flyweight title is on the line.

Pantoja earned his title with a decision win over Brandon Moreno. Now, he is looking to log his first title defense. Royval earned this title shot with a beautiful first-round knockout over Matheus Nicolau, his third consecutive victory.  

Pantoja loves to push the pace with grappling exchanges. That is because he is sensational at taking the back and landing a rear-naked choke. Pantoja has mastered that position and has used it to his advantage throughout his career. In the striking realm, Pantoja is not very technical but hits hard and is very durable. The combination allows him to pressure opponents without using his grappling. 

Royval loves to push the pace as well. This begins with high-volume striking. Royval throws an absurd number of jabs and will throw at a high rate once the distance closes. In striking exchanges, he can change the pace with kicks and solid counters. Royval is a flawed grappler. The biggest issue is that he can be taken down; however, he constantly works to improve his position and has legitimate submission skills. 

I like Pantoja’s skill set. The problem is that I am concerned with his cardio. In his most recent fight against Moreno, he looked improved in that realm. I am not ready to push those concerns out of my mind, however. In this matchup, Royval will be able to push the pace continuously. That can be done with volume on the feet and scrambles on the ground.

Royval is capable of keeping himself safe in those grappling exchanges as well. I think that will wear on Pantoja and will allow him to take over after a couple of rounds. That is easier said than done. Royval will have to be diligent to avoid the early submission. I expect it to be a highly competitive fight, but I like leaning toward the fighter with better cardio. I will take Royval by third-round submission.

Garrett: Pantoja via decision

Jerry: Royval via decision

Anthony: Royval via KO/TKO

C Leon Edwards vs. No. 3 Colby Covington–Welterweight Championship Bout

James: The UFC 296 main event features a welterweight title fight between Leon Edwards and Colby Covington. Edwards has cemented himself as the top welterweight on the planet after beating Kamaru Usman twice to end his title reign. Now, he looking to take on the division’s top contenders.

That starts with Covington. The former title challenger has been viewed as one of the top welterweights for several years. The only problem is that he was unable to get past Usman. That largely relegated him to the second-best fighter in the division. At UFC 296, he has a chance to change his fortune and legacy. 

Edwards is a great striker with a lot of offensive weapons. From the outside, Edwards is a highly technical striker who can kick to all three levels, switch stances and box on the inside. I also like his clinch work. In clinch exchanges, Edwards implements knees and elbows well and it should be noted that Edwards has also shown growth in different aspects of grappling, the most obvious are takedown defense and getting off the fence. 

Covington is a wrestler who leans on his cardio advantage. This is done through a game plan that prioritizes pace, pressure, takedowns, and volume. In terms of more specific skills, Covington mostly boxes when striking. At times, he mixes in kicks, but long boxing combinations are his most used weapons. Despite shooting a lot of takedowns, he is pretty efficient at landing them. On the ground, he throws a lot of ground-and-pound and looks to wear on opponents. 

One interesting aspect of this fight is the trajectory of each fighter. Edwards, 32, is coming into his own as a champion and is making noticeable improvements. Covington, 35, is closer to the end of his prime. I am not proclaiming that Covington is washed, but it is worth noting that he appears to be on the downswing of his career. 

The UFC 296 main event is an interesting fight to preview. Edwards is being pushed against another respectable grappler. He did beat Usman twice, but Covington is different. Usman is much stronger and prioritizes control while Covington focuses on volume. That could play in Edwards’ favor, however. In this matchup, Edwards should use his strength to defend clinch takedowns.

In turn, that leads to Covington struggling to consistently land takedowns or control positions. That leads to more striking exchanges which will allow Edwards to land damaging leg kicks and body shots. I would not be shocked to see Edwards find success with clinch knees either. On the feet, Edwards’ ability to counter will present troubles. The only path to victory for Covington will be to attempt an absurd number of takedowns and hope Edwards gasses defending wrestling entries. I will take Edwards by third-round knockout

Garrett: Edwards via decision

Jerry: Edwards via KO/TKO

Anthony: Edwards via decision

***

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