UFC 296 is Saturday, and the last card of 2023 is one of the year’s most stacked.
The main event sees welterweight champion Leon Edwards looking to defend his title against former interim champion Colby Covington. The co-main event features a second title fight between flyweight king Alexandre Pantoja and challenger Brandon Royval.
The main card is rounded out by the undefeated Shavkat Rakhmonov looking to stay perfect against former title challenger Stephen Thompson, Paddy Pimblett looking to continue his climb against former interim lightweight champ Tony Ferguson, and Bryce Mitchell looking to climb the featherweight rankings against Josh Emmett.
The card features a stacked preliminary portion, too. Here are five of the best match-ups.
Alonzo Menifield vs. Dustin Jacoby
Menifield and Jacoby are set to throw down in a clash of ranked light heavyweights with KO power. No. 14 Menifield is 3-0-1 in his last four, submitting Jimmy Crute after they drew. He also finished Misha Cirkunov and Askar Mozharov during his run.
No. 15 Jacoby got back into the win column with a stunning TKO of Kennedy Nzechukwu. He lost a controversial split decision to current No. 8 Khalil Rountree but was on a tear before that.
Two highly skilled strikers with the potential to end the fight in one shot are set to throw down. Fans won’t want to miss this one, especially since it now headlines the preliminary portion of the card after Josh Emmett vs. Bryce Mitchell was moved up to the main card, replacing Vicente Luque vs. Ian Garry after Garry fell ill.
Cody Garbrandt vs. Brian Kelleher
Garbrandt, the former bantamweight champion, draws the dynamic Kelleher for his next bout.
Garbrandt defeated Trevin Jones to get back into the win column after a rough 1-5 stretch that saw him lose to T.J. Dillashaw twice for the bantamweight championship. Things haven’t come easy for Garbrandt since he dethroned Dominick Cruz in December 2016, but after a one-fight stint at flyweight and taking time off, Garbrandt is ready to reclimb the bantamweight ladder. Kelleher is the next man up.
Kelleher has wins over the likes of Kevin Croom, Hunter Azure and Ode Osbourne. He packs a punch and can lock up a slick guillotine for those who aren’t careful, meaning he can end the fight at any time.
While Garbrandt returned to his wrestling against Jones, fans could delight if he stands against Kelleher.
Tagir Ulanbekov vs. Cody Durden
Top-15 flyweights Ulanbekov and Durden will scrap to see who will get closer to a top-10 match-up at 125.
Ulanbekov is 3-1 in the UFC, securing wins over Nate Maness, Allan Nascimento and Bruno Silva. His one loss was a close decision against a veteran in Tim Elliott.
Durden has rallied off four wins in a row since a loss to blue-chip prospect Muhammad Mokaev. The red-hot Durden defeated J.P. Buys, Carlos Mota, Charles Johnson and Jake Hadley, and now gets to test his mettle against Ulanbekov.
This will be a fun fight between talented flyweights sure to bring the action.
Irene Aldana vs. Karol Rosa
Aldana, ranked at No. 5 in the bantamweight division alongside Holly Holm, will look to retain her top-5 spot against Rosa, who is No. 9. Rosa could find herself at No. 5 or 6 with a win. Women’s bantamweight has never been more wide open since the retirement of former queen Amanda Nunes, either.
While Aldana lost to Nunes in the champ’s final career fight, she could be one or two good wins away from another title shot, as Mayra Bueno Silva and Raquel Pennington are set to compete for the vacancy next month. Former bantamweight champ Julianna Pena, who is 1-1 against Nunes, is also very much in the mix, meaning the winner of Aldana and Rosa will need to do something spectacular if they want a chance of having the next shot.
Aldana has recent wins over Macy Chiasson via upkick to the liver and Yana Santos via ground and pound. She also KO’d Ketlen Viera four years ago.
Rosa has alternated wins and losses over her last five, getting the better of Santos, Lina Lansberg and Bethe Correia in that span.
There are certainly hefty divisional ramifications here to keep an eye on.
Casey O’Neill vs. Ariane Lipski
O’Neill will look to rebound since suffering the first loss of her professional career to Jennifer Maia. She gets another Brazilian in Lipski. O’Neill holds wins over the likes of Roxanne Modafferi and Antonina Shevchenko.
The rejuvenated Lipski is 2-0 with wins over Melissa Gatto and JJ Aldrich since taking a more measured approach to fighting. The “Queen of Violence” still carries more power than most of the women at flyweight, though.
O’Neill, who brings a high motor, a strong ground game and high-paced striking to the Octagon, will look to challenge Lipski in what should be a fun fight with a lot of action.
O’Neill, ranked No. 12 at flyweight, is also putting her number on the line against the unranked Lipski, so there are divisional ramifications here, too.
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