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Fight By Fight Preview | UFC 296: Edwards vs Covington

Outlining The Action That Is About To Hit The Octagon As The UFC Heads To T-Mobile Arena For The Last Pay-Per-View Of The Year

The UFC wraps its 2023 campaign with a pay-per-view event from its larger Las Vegas residence this weekend as UFC 296 touches down at T-Mobile Arena.

After a couple years with fight night events serving as the close out to the year’s action inside the Octagon, Saturday’s finale is a return to the days when the year ended with a pay-per-view extravaganza where titles were on the line and divisional hierarchies were reconstructed ahead of the holidays, giving us plenty to discuss during holiday parties and family gatherings… or is that just me?

Order UFC 296: Edwards vs Covington

The welterweight division is front and center this weekend, though all but three weight classes are represented on the card to close out the year, and it should be an action-packed evening in “The Fight Capital of the World” as the UFC wraps up its 30th year.

All the best to you and yours this holiday season, and enjoy the fisticuffs!

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Main Event: Leon Edwards vs. Colby Covington

Co-Main Event: Alexandre Pantoja vs. Brandon Royval

Location: T-Mobile Arena — Las Vegas, NV

Where to Watch: ESPN+ / ESPN2

Other Main Card Matches:

  • Shavkat Rakhmonov vs. Stephen Thompson
  • Tony Ferguson vs. Paddy Pimblett
  • Vicente Luque vs. Ian Machado Garry

Prelim Matches:

  • Josh Emmett vs. Bryce Mitchell
  • Irene Aldana vs. Karol Rosa
  • Cody Garbrandt vs. Brian Kelleher
  • Casey O’Neill vs. Ariane Lipski
  • Alonzo Menifield vs. Dustin Jacoby
  • Tagir Ulanbekov vs. Cody Durden
  • Andre Fili vs. Lucas Almeida
  • Martin Buday vs. Shamil Gaziev
  • Randy Brown vs. Muslim Salikhov

Main Event: Leon Edwards vs. Colby Covington

The final fight of the year sees Leon Edwards put the welterweight title on the line against two-time title challenger Colby Covington.

Order UFC 296: Edwards vs Covington

Edwards successfully retained the title with a majority decision win over Kamaru Usman in March at UFC 286 in London. On paper, the fight looks closer than it was due to a third-round point deduction against Edwards for grabbing the fence, but the British champion looked like the better man throughout that contest, running his unbeaten streak to an even dozen in the process.

Colby Covington | Top Finishes
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Colby Covington | Top Finishes
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Covington weighed in as the alternate for that fight in London and was then declared next in line by UFC CEO Dana White. The 35-year-old dropped a pair of close championship fights to Usman towards the end of 2019 and 2021, with wins over Tyron Woodley and Jorge Masvidal coming after each of those setbacks. At his best, Covington is a tireless pressure fighter with strong wrestling and better hands than he gets credit for most days, but he’s been out of action since March 2022, and it will be interesting to see if he can back up the big claims he’s made about what he’s going to do to Edwards on Saturday night.

Co-Main Event: Alexandre Pantoja vs. Brandon Royval

The co-main event on Saturday night is a crackerjack of a fight for the flyweight title between new champ Alexandre Pantoja and dynamic challenger Brandon Royval.

Pantoja claimed the title with a split decision win over Brandon Moreno at UFC 290 during International Fight Week, using his grappling skills to secure three rounds on two scorecards to register a third victory over the Mexican champion and wrest the belt away from him. The American Top Team representative has won four straight, and eight of his last 10, while exhibiting both the technical skills to win calculated battles and the grit and griminess to earn victory in brawls as well.

Royval has been hovering around title contention basically since touching down in the UFC, having registered submission wins over Tim Elliott and Kai Kara-France in his first two appearances inside the Octagon. A two-fight skid and shoulder injury slowed his roll a little, but since then, the Factory X man has posted a trio of quality wins over Rogerio Bontorin, Matt Schnell, and Matheus Nicolau to land his first title opportunity in the UFC.

Along with just being a compelling clash between two always entertaining fighters, Saturday’s co-main event is also a rematch, as Pantoja bested Royval two summers back, submitting him by rear-naked choke in the second round. Both have certainly grown and changed since then, but that familiarity between the two adds another interesting wrinkle to the proceedings, especially given that we just saw the champion successfully navigate a third pairing with Moreno in the summer.

Other Main Card Fights

Shavkat Rakhmonov vs. Stephen Thompson

The middle bout on the UFC 296 main card features Shavkat Rakhmonov taking on Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson in a critical welterweight pairing.

MORE PANTOJA: The Story Of How Alexandre Pantoja Proved Who He Was | Get To Know The Champ | Pantoja’s Five Favorite UFC Fights | Pantoja Breaks Down The Flyweight Division

The 29-year-old Rakhmonov is at the top of the list of ascending talents in the 170-pound weight class, sporting a perfect 17-0 record with an astonishing 100 percent finishing rate. Last time out, “Nomad” was pushed hard by Geoff Neal and yet he still managed to find a finish, latching onto a standing rear-naked choke late in the third round of their tremendous UFC 285 battle in March.

Thompson returns for the first time since last December, looking to build off his stoppage win over Kevin Holland and show that he’s still got plenty to offer despite having turned 40 back in February. He’s done well against emerging talents in the past, having previously posted quality wins over Holland, Neal, and Vicente Luque, and his footwork, movement, and unique striking style is capable of giving anyone fits if they look to engage with him on the feet for extended periods.

Tony Ferguson vs. Paddy Pimblett

Tony Ferguson | Top 5 Moments
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Tony Ferguson | Top 5 Moments
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Tony Ferguson and Paddy Pimblett square off in a main card lightweight fixture that carries the potential to answer any and all lingering questions about each man.

WATCH: UFC Flyweight Champion Alexandre Pantoja Breaks Down The 125-Pound Division

The fates conspired against Ferguson and kept him from challenging for the undisputed lightweight title during his lengthy unbeaten run, with his final opportunity being quashed by a global pandemic. Since then, “El Cucuy” has fallen on hard times, entering Saturday’s contest on a six-fight losing streak, including back-to-back submission defeats against Nathan Diaz and Bobby Green.

Paddy Pimblett | Best Moments
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Unlock MORE of your inner combat sports fan with UFC Fight Pass! Fighting is what we live for. And no one brings you MORE live fights, new shows, and events across multiple combat sports from around the world. With a never-ending supply of fighting in every discipline, there’s always something new to watch. Leave it to the world’s authority in MMA to bring you the Ultimate 24/7 platform for MORE combat sports, UFC Fight Pass!

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Paddy Pimblett | Best Moments
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“Paddy the Baddy” fights for the first time since registering a debated decision win over Jared Gordon last December at UFC 282, having spent the majority of the year on the sidelines recovering from ankle surgery. The popular Liverpool lad is 4-0 in the UFC and riding a six-fight winning streak overall, but questions about how high up the divisional ranks he can climb have increased in volume since last year, making this a pivotal outing for the 28-year-old.

Vicente Luque vs. Ian Machado Garry

 Ian Garry of Ireland kicks Neil Magny in a welterweight fight during the UFC 292 event at TD Garden on August 19, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC)
Ian Garry of Ireland kicks Neil Magny in a welterweight fight during the UFC 292 event at TD Garden on August 19, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC)

The first of Saturday’s three pay-per-view welterweight contests features former training partners Vicente Luque and Ian Machado Garry facing off in what is easily the most anticipated non-title bout on the card.

Luque spent a year on the sidelines following his loss to Neal last summer but returned in August to register a unanimous decision win over fellow Brazilian Rafael Dos Anjos. The Kill Cliff FC representative has faced an assortment of the top names within the division and has the ability to finish a fight standing or on the ground, having earned stoppages in 13 of his 15 UFC victories thus far.

MORE COVINGTON: The Journey Means More To Covington | Covington’s Top Finishes | Covington’s Best Mic Moments | Covington’s Dream Fights

Through six UFC starts and 13 appearances overall, Machado Garry has remained perfect, ascending into the Top 10 in less than two years on the UFC roster and validating all the advance hype that has accompanied him into the Octagon through this run. The 26-year-old Dublin man has already posted three wins this year, stopping Song Kenan and Daniel Rodriguez before thoroughly out-working Neil Magny in August, and he can take another big step forward in his pursuit of championship gold by turning back his former teammate Luque on Saturday.

Preliminary Card Fights

Josh Emmett vs. Bryce Mitchell

Bryce Mitchell | Creating A Life Worth Living
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Unlock MORE of your inner combat sports fan with UFC Fight Pass! Fighting is what we live for. And no one brings you MORE live fights, new shows, and events across multiple combat sports from around the world. With a never-ending supply of fighting in every discipline, there’s always something new to watch. Leave it to the world’s authority in MMA to bring you the Ultimate 24/7 platform for MORE combat sports, UFC Fight Pass!

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Bryce Mitchell | Creating A Life Worth Living
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An outstanding featherweight contest closes out the prelims as Josh Emmett squares off with Bryce Mitchell in what should be a fascinating clash of styles on Saturday night.

The hard-hitting Emmett entered the year on a five-fight winning streak and set to challenge for the interim featherweight title, but now arrives at his third bout of 2023 looking to halt a two-fight skid following losses to Yair Rodriguez and Ilia Topuria. Mitchell steps in for the injured Giga Chikadze, aiming to build on his unanimous decision victory over Dan Ige in September and catapult himself to new heights in the 145-pound weight class.

Irene Aldana vs. Karol Rosa

Rise of Irene Aldana
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Unlock MORE of your inner combat sports fan with UFC Fight Pass! Fighting is what we live for. And no one brings you MORE live fights, new shows, and events across multiple combat sports from around the world. With a never-ending supply of fighting in every discipline, there’s always something new to watch. Leave it to the world’s authority in MMA to bring you the Ultimate 24/7 platform for MORE combat sports, UFC Fight Pass!

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Rise of Irene Aldana
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Top 10 bantamweights meet here as Irene Aldana returns to face off with Karol Rosa.

Fighting for the first time since her championship opportunity at UFC 289 in June, Aldana looks to get things moving in the right direction again and return to the form that produced finishes over Ketlen Vieira, Yana Santos, and Macy Chiasson. After beginning her UFC run with four straight wins, Rosa has alternated losses and wins over her last four outings, entering off a split decision win over Santos in July.

Cody Garbrandt vs. Brian Kelleher

Fighter Timeline: Cody Garbrandt
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Unlock MORE of your inner combat sports fan with UFC Fight Pass! Fighting is what we live for. And no one brings you MORE live fights, new shows, and events across multiple combat sports from around the world. With a never-ending supply of fighting in every discipline, there’s always something new to watch. Leave it to the world’s authority in MMA to bring you the Ultimate 24/7 platform for MORE combat sports, UFC Fight Pass!

Unlock MORE of your inner combat sports fan with UFC Fight Pass! Fighting is what we live for. And no one brings you MORE live fights, new shows, and events across multiple combat sports from around the world. With a never-ending supply of fighting in every discipline, there’s always something new to watch. Leave it to the world’s authority in MMA to bring you the Ultimate 24/7 platform for MORE combat sports, UFC Fight Pass!

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Fighter Timeline: Cody Garbrandt
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Former bantamweight champ Cody Garbrandt goes searching for a second straight win as he welcomes fan favorite Brian Kelleher back to action in this preliminary card pairing.

FREE FIGHTS: Leon Edwards vs Nate Diaz | Colby Covington vs Jorge Masvidal | Alexandre Pantoja vs Brandon Royval 1 | Brandon Royval vs Matt Schnell

“No Love” has struggled to find success in seven starts since winning the strap all the way back at UFC 207, but arrives back in Las Vegas off a unanimous decision win over Trevin Jones in March. A neck injury forced Kelleher from an April assignment, but “Boom” is now healthy and angling to halt a two-fight skid when he steps in with Garbrandt on Saturday evening.

Casey O’Neill vs. Ariane Lipski

Casey O'Neill dominates in her Octagon debut | UFC Fight Night: Blaydes vs Lewis
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Unlock MORE of your inner combat sports fan with UFC Fight Pass! Fighting is what we live for. And no one brings you MORE live fights, new shows, and events across multiple combat sports from around the world. With a never-ending supply of fighting in every discipline, there’s always something new to watch. Leave it to the world’s authority in MMA to bring you the Ultimate 24/7 platform for MORE combat sports, UFC Fight Pass!

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Casey O'Neill dominates in her Octagon debut | UFC Fight Night: Blaydes vs Lewis
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Casey O’Neill and Ariane Lipski collide in an intriguing flyweight contest this weekend, where each woman is looking to make a statement to close out the year.

After beginning her career with nine straight wins, O’Neill suffered a knee injury in the spring of 2022, and dropped a unanimous decision to Jennifer Maia in her return to action at UFC 286 in London earlier this year. A champion under the KSW banner, Lipski has been inconsistent throughout her UFC run, but has turned in consecutive quality outings against JJ Aldrich and Melissa Gatto, and looks to punch her ticket to the rankings by registering a third straight win this weekend.

Alonzo Menifield vs. Dustin Jacoby

Alonzo Menifield punches Jimmy Crute of Australia in a light heavyweight fight during the UFC 290 event at T-Mobile Arena on July 08, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Alonzo Menifield punches Jimmy Crute of Australia in a light heavyweight fight during the UFC 290 event at T-Mobile Arena on July 08, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Alonzo Menifield and Dustin Jacoby face off in this meeting of ranked light heavyweights with very different approaches.

Unbeaten in his last four, Menifield is all power and explosiveness, carrying devastating power in both hands and having a penchant for finishing things early. Conversely, Jacoby is one of the more technical strikers in the division, a former Glory Kickboxing standout who got things moving in the right direction again with a win over Menifield’s former Fortis MMA teammate Kennedy Nzechukwu last time out in Nashville.

Tagir Ulanbekov vs. Cody Durden

Cody Durden Stops JP Buys In The First Round | UFC Fight Night: Tsarukyan vs Gamrot
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Unlock MORE of your inner combat sports fan with UFC Fight Pass! Fighting is what we live for. And no one brings you MORE live fights, new shows, and events across multiple combat sports from around the world. With a never-ending supply of fighting in every discipline, there’s always something new to watch. Leave it to the world’s authority in MMA to bring you the Ultimate 24/7 platform for MORE combat sports, UFC Fight Pass!

Unlock MORE of your inner combat sports fan with UFC Fight Pass! Fighting is what we live for. And no one brings you MORE live fights, new shows, and events across multiple combat sports from around the world. With a never-ending supply of fighting in every discipline, there’s always something new to watch. Leave it to the world’s authority in MMA to bring you the Ultimate 24/7 platform for MORE combat sports, UFC Fight Pass!

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Cody Durden Stops JP Buys In The First Round | UFC Fight Night: Tsarukyan vs Gamrot
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Before the title goes on the line in the co-main event, Tagir Ulanbekov and Cody Durden clash in an important flyweight fixture on the prelims.

Order UFC 296: Edwards vs Covington

The 32-year-old Ulanbekov is 14-2 overall and coming off a first-round submission win over Nate Maness in his last appearance last November, while Durden arrives on a four-fight winning streak, having more recently out-hustled Jake Hadley in August. Both are excellent grapplers, so expect a scramble-heavy battle on the canvas with a place in the Top 15 likely up for grabs.

Andre Fili vs. Lucas Almeida

Andre Fili kicks Nathaniel Wood of England in their featherweight fight during the UFC Fight Night at The O2 Arena on July 22, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Andre Fili kicks Nathaniel Wood of England in their featherweight fight during the UFC Fight Night at The O2 Arena on July 22, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Featherweight stalwart Andre Fili faces off with Dana White’s Contender Series alum Lucas Almeida in what should be an early candidate for Fight of the Night.

Leon Edwards’ Career Highlights

Wrapping his 10th year on the UFC roster, Fili has faced a host of top talents in the 145-pound weight class over the years, and looks to rebound from a competitive decision loss to Nathaniel Wood in July. Almeida registered a third-round stoppage win over Michael Trizano in his promotional debut in the summer of 2022, but was dominated on the canvas last time out by Pat Sabatini.

Martin Buday vs. Shamil Gaziev

 Martin Buday of Slovakia punches Josh Parisian in a heavyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on August 12, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Al Powers/Zuffa LLC)
Martin Buday of Slovakia punches Josh Parisian in a heavyweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on August 12, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Al Powers/Zuffa LLC)

Big boys collide early in the night as Martin Buday welcomes fellow DWCS grad Shamil Gaziev to the Octagon for the first time in this intriguing heavyweight pairing.

Buday has posted four straight wins since graduating to the UFC, pushing his overall winning streak to a dozen with a first-round submission finish of Josh Parisian last time out. Gaziev punched his ticket to the UFC with a first-round submission win on this past season of the annual talent-search series, moving his record to 11-0 in the process.

Randy Brown vs. Muslim Salikhov

Randy Brown of Jamaica kicks Wellington Turman of Brazil in their welterweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena on June 24, 2023 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)
Randy Brown of Jamaica kicks Wellington Turman of Brazil in their welterweight fight during the UFC Fight Night event at Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena on June 24, 2023 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)

Welterweights open the show as well as close the show at UFC 296, with veterans Randy Brown and Muslim Salikhov chosen to get the festivities underway on Saturday night in Las Vegas.

Brown has built a solid career for himself over the course of his UFC tenure, posting an 11-5 record while residing just outside the Top 15 in the talent-rich 170-pound ranks. Salikhov briefly occupied a place in the rankings thanks to a previous five-fight winning streak, but the 39-year-old comes into this one looking to get back in the win column after dropping a decision to Nicolas Dalby back in June.

Order UFC 296: Edwards vs Covington

UFC 296: Edwards vs Covington took place live from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada on December 16, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass