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UFC 296: Edwards v Covington Predictions

Welterweight champion Leon Edwards and brash challenger Colby Covington collide in what’s set to be an enthralling war of attrition in one of two title fights at UFC 296 in Las Vegas on Saturday night (Sunday morning SA time), writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.


Welterweight champion Leon Edwards and brash challenger Colby Covington collide in what’s set to be an enthralling war of attrition in one of two title fights at UFC 296 in Las Vegas on Saturday night (Sunday morning SA time), writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.

The UFC will close out the year with a bang at the T-Mobile Arena where fans are in for a stacked card. The co-main event will see Alexandre Pantoja make the first defence of his flyweight title against familiar foe Brandon Royval.

Four men in the welterweight top 10 jockey for position in two bangers as Shavkat Rakhmonov takes on Stephen Thompson and Vicente Luque trades leather with Ian Machado Garry, while Tony Ferguson and Paddy Pimblett face off in a much-anticipated lightweight bout.

MAIN CARD (from 5 AM Sunday SA time):

Leon Edwards (1.67) v Colby Covington (2.24) (Welterweight Championship)

Will the Edwards era truly take off or will it come crashing down?

“Rocky” did the unthinkable when he pulled a last-gasp head kick knockout to end Kamaru Usman’s 15-fight unbeaten streak inside the Octagon and reign of terror in the welterweight division last August.

The UK star showed his title triumph was no fluke when he beat Usman, one of the greatest 170 pounders of all time, by majority decision in the rematch in March to rubberstamp the changing of the guard. 

Edwards is on a run for the ages. Unbeaten since 2016, he’s on an 11-fight win streak and only now entering his prime. His back-to-back battles with “The Nigerian Nightmare” have seen him break into the truly elite level; he’s mastered his game and is firing on all cylinders.

Edwards, whose record stands at 21-3, is a striking tactician whose intelligence, footwork and angles make him a point-fighter extraordinaire. With solid grappling and takedown defence to boot, he’s an efficient if not explosive complete competitor.

Winner of nine of his last 11 fights, Covington’s no stranger to the title scene. He unsuccessfully challenged Usman for the belt twice, in 2019 and 2021, and a dominant victory over Jorge Masvidal last March has earned him a third crack at the strap. 

Since becoming an outspoken WWE-esque character a few years ago, Covington’s profile – for better or worse – has skyrocketed. Trash-talking every opponent he comes across, “Chaos” has a flair for making things personal and this weekend’s main event, scheduled for five rounds, is no different.

He’s not only talked the talk but walked the walk to cement himself as one of the best welterweights in the world, and he’s vowed to win the big one in front of his special guest, former US president Donald Trump.

Covington is a world-class wrestler who weaponizes his cyborg-like conditioning to melt opponents. Few can keep up with the relentless pressure the former interim champion pushes.

A prime example of his otherworldly output saw him set a then-UFC record for most strikes thrown in a fight – a mind-blowing 541 over five rounds – when he mauled former champion Robbie Lawler in 2019.

Neither man is known for their finishing ability. Prior to his 2022 Knockout of the Year over Usman, Edwards hadn’t scored a stoppage since his win over Peter Sobotta in 2018, while Covington’s only finish in the last six years is a TKO victory over Tyron Woodley in 2020.

Therefore, this is likely to be a combat chess match of the highest order. Covington is essentially a less dangerous version of Usman. He has the same elite-level wrestler but isn’t as explosive nor possesses the one-punch knockout power of the former titleholder.

He’ll probably look to wrestle more than Usman did, but Edwards has such exceptional takedown defence that it’ll be a tall order to get him to the mat and an even tougher task to keep him there.

Edwards has a slight advantage on the feet, both in the power and technical departments, and has such momentum that it’ll take something extraordinary for Covington, who could be rusty, to dethrone him, and I just don’t see the American pulling a rabbit out of the hat.

Instead, I expect Edwards to edge an action-packed five-rounder to remain at the top of the mountain.

Prediction: Edwards by decision.

Best Bet: Edwards at 1.67.

Alternative Bet: Edwards by decision.

Alexandre Pantoja (1.54) v Brandon Royval (2.54) (Flyweight Championship)

The co-main event is a bout of unfinished business for the flyweight championship.

These two have a history dating back to 2021 when Pantoja (26-5) submitted Royval (15-6). He went on the highway to gold from there, his journey culminating in him beating Brandon Moreno by split decision to become champion back in July.

Royval, in turn, had to hit the dirt road after that defeat and did so spectacularly. Extremely motivated, he hasn’t lost since, finishing his last three opponents on the trot to earn an opportunity to avenge his loss to Pantoja and become the king of the flyweights.

While both men have improved considerably since their first meeting, “The Cannibal” remains marginally better across the board and should lead the dance and retain his title.

Prediction: Pantoja by decision.

Best Bet: Pantoja at 1.54.

Alternative Bet: Pantoja by decision (check markets).

Shavkat Rakhmonov (1.18) v Stephen Thompson (5.10) (Welterweight)

A stone-cold killer from Kazakhstan, fifth-ranked Rakhmonov has all the makings of a future champion. A perfect 17-0 with a 100% finish rate (eight knockouts and nine submissions), he’s the most frightening force in the welterweight division and can establish himself as a title contender with a victory over veteran striker Thompson (17-6-1).

“Wonderboy” is a striker unlike any other, a karate master whose unique movement and spectacularly diverse and unpredictable style make him a tricky puzzle to solve and have made him a mainstay in the welterweight elite. A former two-time title challenger, his career is winding down and he needs to find a way to win to keep his title dreams alive.

“Nomad” is a special breed of athlete with a killer instinct second to none. As tricky as sixth-ranked Thompson is, Rakhmonov is set to overpower and maul him. 

Prediction: Rakhmonov by submission.

Best Bet: Rakhmonov by submission (check markets).

Alternative Bet: Rakhmonov by KO/TKO/Submission/DQ (check markets).

Tony Ferguson (3.40) v Paddy Pimblett (1.33) (Lightweight)

In a battle of old school versus new school, lightweight legend Ferguson (25-9) faces uber-popular prospect Pimblett (20-3).

One of the baddest 155-pounders in history, “El Cucuy” went on an iconic 12-fight win streak and claimed the interim lightweight title in his prime but the twilight of his career hasn’t been kind to him.

A loss here would be his seventh in a row and would all but end his tenure in the UFC while a win over a possible superstar like Pimblett would reignite his career.

Pimblett is a phenomenon outside of the Octagon and unbeaten inside of it. Oozing with “it” factor, “The Baddy” brings plenty of casual and new eyeballs to the sport with his Beatles-like look and charisma but just how good he is remains a mystery.

Now, with a serious step up in competition, Pimblett has an opportunity to prove he’s every bit as good as he says he is by taking down a future Hall of Famer. 

Pimblett will look to ground and suffocate Ferguson from the get-go. The veteran has a wrestling background and solid takedown defence, though, and with Pimblett leaving a lot of openings on the feet, I like Ferguson as a juicy underdog.

Prediction: Ferguson by KO/TKO/DQ.

Best Bet: Ferguson at 3.40.

Alternative Bet: Ferguson by KO/TKO/DQ (check markets).

Vicente Luque (3.75) v Ian Machado Garry (1.28) (Welterweight)

Like Rakhmonov, No 10-ranked Machado Garry is an unbeaten rising star at 13-0 with eight finishes, including seven knockouts.

Unlike Rakhmonov, “The Future” is a borderline arrogant, trash-talker in the mould of his countryman Conor McGregor. He also shares a similar striking pedigree as “The Notorious” that enables him to not only talk the talk but walk the walk as well.

Ninth-ranked Luque (22-9-1) is a dangerous man. Skilled everywhere, “The Silent Assassin” takes no prisoners as his 11 knockouts and eight submissions attest. However, he’s often been aggressive to a fault and I expect that to be the case here, with the younger, faster Machado Garry using his agility and precision striking to get him out of there.  

Prediction: Machado Garry by knockout.

Best Bet: Machado Garry by KO/TKO/DQ (check markets).

Alternative Bet: Under 1.5 rounds (check markets).

Quintin Van Jaarsveld is a former MDDA-Sanlam SA Local Sports Journalist of the Year and a former three-time Vodacom KwaZulu-Natal Sports Journalist of the Year. Formerly the sports editor and Outstanding Journalist of the Year award winner at The Fever Media Group, deputy editor at eHowzit, editor at and senior staff writer at, he boasts over 15 years’ experience and is currently a freelance sports writer.

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